By Allison Hantschel
Reviewed August 30, 2008
A bit of personal history. My journalism career began in 2003, when (as an inexperienced freshman who thought writing was the only thing he could do for a living) I walked into the fall organizational meeting of The Daily Cardinal. Choosing it over its rival The Badger Herald based on its age (110 at the time) and clearer format, I provided my information not knowing what to expect. That next week, I became a campus news reporter.
I left the paper four years later, having served on the news, arts, features and copy desks at various intervals, and knowing writing was all I’d do for a living. I’d been the literature columnist my junior year (a column this blog takes its name from) and served as the Page 2 editor. I’d made dozens of friends and worked for a professional publication thanks to a Cardinal contact. It was tense, exhausting, and the most fun I had at college – in fact, I sometimes think it was worth more than my diploma.
For all the fun I had at the paper though, I never really took the time to learn about its history beyond some war stories – a history that Allison Hantschel chronicled with “It Doesn’t End With Us: The Story of the Daily Cardinal.” Touching on the conflicts and growing pains that have roiled the paper since its birth, Hantschel puts together not just a solid history of one paper but an account of what people will do to keep an institution alive.
Hantschel goes all the way back to the Cardinal’s founding in 1892, when William Wesley Young, a student hungry for valid newspaper experience and chafing at the skepticism of his professors, scraped together funds and started publishing a daily paper. Defying expectations, the paper grew to tens of thousands of copies, giving hundreds of students a journalism education better than the school and making itself a voice on war, politics and the errors of the university.
The Cardinal comes from rebellious origins, and it’s through this maverick prism that Hantschel views the paper’s history. Events covered are the stories the Cardinal would’ve send reporters to if it wasn’t happening to them: Editors are accused of being Communists and lambasted daily, but stand by their editorial policies. A Cardinal writer is tried for the bombing of a building and the editors try to give money to his defense. A rival editor uses little-known bylaws to take over the Cardinal’s board, and another loophole lets loyalists dissolve and reform to get it right back. These stories are united by the common thread that the players are student journalists – by definition prideful and naïve – but they care deeply about keeping the paper alive, a passion that only gets stronger as it gets older.
There’s always an implicit danger of editorializing whenever a history is written by someone involved, but Hantschel manages to avoid that even in the conflicts she participated in. Editor-in-chief of the Cardinal in 1994 prior to its seven-month shutdown from budgetary issues, she doesn’t try to remove herself from her faulty decisions, admitting her inexperience and ready to credit others first in putting the paper back together.
This doesn’t mean that the book is unbiased, however – Hantschel clearly wrote this book in large part because she loves the Cardinal, and that affection colors all the written history. Introduction and conclusion both are full of almost flowery language when students are working, and while the text regularly shakes its head at stupid moves by students there’s more unconcealed pride at what they’ve done.
Perhaps to temper that voice a history of the paper should be written by an outsider, but the stories Hantschel is telling would suffer if they weren’t written by someone who didn’t share the Cardinal passion. The last few chapters go to a long list of groundbreaking stories, writers who would win Pulitzers and hold top reporting jobs – all details normal researchers would get, but which Hantschel supplements with stories of long-time friendships and romances the paper created. They seem thrown in at the end, but put an exclamation point on the Cardinal’s impact on people rather than the other way around.
It’s a passionate story rather than a cold history, but passion is something that’s formed the paper to begin with and Hantschel – like any good reporter – has done the research needed to back it up. Staffers of the Cardinal, and indeed staffers of any student or professional daily would do well to read this for inspiring stories of young journalism – and also some cautionary tales about knowing what the hell you’re doing.