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The Daily Cardinal Est. 1892
Friday, April 19, 2024

The next 120 years


Our editor in chief shares her insights on the Cardinal and looks ahead to the paper’s future

The date is April 3, 1892. The first editor in chief William Wesley Young rides his horse down State Street late at night to a local pressroom and signs off to print 2,000 copies of the very first Daily Cardinal.

The next day, the issues are distributed to the student body at 3 cents apiece.

Today, 120 years later, I am editor in chief. I am just one of over 100 editors in chief before me. I am not The Daily Cardinal’s history. I am only here thanks to it. I am the future to those who passed, starting with the vision and dedication of William Wesley Young.

“We have felt it our duty as students, as well as our pleasure, to establish The Daily Cardinal and to it we will devote our time and talents during the remainder of our college course,” Young writes in the first edition of the Cardinal.

Although Young did not know what would become of his infant dream, he felt in his gut the need for a publication to serve the student body, created by the student body.

Young could not have known the young people to come who would take devoting their “time and talents” so literally. The students who would bleed Cardinal red onto the pages of the newspaper for 12 decades. The staff would become their family, the office their home and the newspaper their child. Those young people, chugging coffee over typewriters, slamming Mountain Dew bottles over computer monitors, downing energy drinks over MacBooks would never stop writing.

Through personal conflict, whether final exams or a romantic breakup with the photo editor, their “duty” was to put out a newspaper every day. Through widespread conflict in the form of war, protest or depression, they find hope in their pens, in their personal camaraderie and professional devotion.

Young could not have known how this tradition of dedication and diligence would cast lines throughout the country, hooking the most ambitious and the most curious to its office door frame.

The Cardinal has a way of beckoning.

And then giving back more than what’s given to it.

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By the Cardinal’s 50th anniversary, Young could write, “Journalism in America has been influenced and enriched by the talents of hundreds of men and women who got their start on the Daily Cardinal.”

He was so right. Look at those the Cardinal has produced.

Cardinalistas have worked as editors at The Wisconsin State Journal, The New York Times, The Washington Post and Rolling Stone. They have been producers of “60 Minutes,” “NBC News” and “The Daily Show.” Together, our alumni have garnered 17 Pulitzer Prizes, 88 Emmy Awards and even two Nobel Prizes.

The Cardinal taught these people how to channel their youthful passion into something productive with a hard 2 a.m. deadline beating on their back.

Young created more than a newspaper. He created a timeless teacher, or as he called it, “a living school of journalism.”

The Cardinal takes a lost undergrad under its wing, challenges him or her with long hours, hard questions and relentless deadlines, and gives to society an inquisitive adult.

But Young knew the Cardinal’s destiny and that of its staff was not entirely of its own making.

“This [success] is a tribute not only to the skill they acquired in their formative years by working on the staff of the Daily Cardinal, but to our university and the famous brand of education it gives,” Young wrote on the 50th anniversary.

As we celebrate the 120th anniversary, we must remember once again, as Young did 70 years ago, to recognize the university that the newspaper was created to serve.

The two dance a strange sort of tango. Sometimes their steps fall in line. At other times one partner pulls away and the dance disintegrates into two unchoreographed solos. While performing on the same stage, they are so different in style that they appear worlds apart to their audience.

The Cardinal’s unwavering progressive tradition—and on occasion radicalism—has led the two to miss a beat at times. Controversial editorials have been the Cardinal’s stock and trade. Ultimately, it led the university to strip the Cardinal of its “official university newspaper” title.

While divisions flavor the university and Cardinal’s lengthy relationship, one cannot forget that they are eternal partners.

The world-class education and undeniable progressiveness of the university must be credited in part for the work ethic and ideology practiced by Cardinalistas.

The university contributes more than liberal ideals to the student newspaper. The Cardinal could not provide the news without the continued support of university staff. Their willingness to grant interviews to inexperienced reporters and to explain complex issues within our pages is what allows us to deliver news.

The Daily Cardinal acknowledges this contribution every day with a quotation from the Board of Regents on the bottom of every front page:

“The great state University of Wisconsin should ever encourage that continual and fearless sifting and winnowing by which alone the truth can be found.”

Muckraking Cardinalistas have often surfaced university scandals. All it took was a watchful eye for a reporter to discover university officials had photoshopped a black student’s face into a Badger football crowd for an undergraduate application cover in 2000.

Over the years the Cardinal has also attacked the university for allowing an army research center on campus during Vietnam to its corporation holdings in South Africa during apartheid.

Finally, Young knew that the quest for excellence was an ongoing process. “This, the first number, is necessarily far from perfect, but we expect to make each succeeding number more valuable and useful,” he said.

Through shutdowns and attempted takeovers, we have strove to do just that, each issue building on the next.

As the editors carve their initials into the big wooden news table on the last night of their term, they see themselves transform into a part of the history with pride. Future editors may dance upon those signatures at a Thursday-night office party. They may stop tweeting to admire the issue with the headline “We are at war” from World War II hanging lopsided on the wall.

We are surrounded by our history, and we are contributing to it.

When we take a deep breath after meeting the 2 a.m. deadline each night, we hope tomorrow’s product is better than today’s. In its basic production, a newspaper looks to the future. Today we put together the paper for tomorrow. And tomorrow we begin again.  

Journalism is changing and with it, so must the historic Daily Cardinal. Social media will provide instant and constant coverage through blogs and tweets. Our staff, with its long history for being on journalism’s cutting edge, will assuredly flourish in the ever-changing world of journalism and provide you, the reader, with the information you need to understand what is happening in both the campus and world community.

As we ring in 120 years, we celebrate our history. But look to the future.

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