This publication will be a weekly newspaper, published each Saturday morning and devoted to the interests of the city of Platteville, and to aid us in bringing this city prominently before the public eye, we have adopted the name Platteville Journal.
Tuesday will be the 115th anniversary of the first edition of your favorite weekly newspaper, from which came this column’s first paragraph.
Apparently at the time, it was just known as the Platteville Journal. At some point between then and now, this became The Platteville Journal, as our front page and each other page of The Journal states.
“Salutatory,” from which is excerpted the first paragraph, notes that “In politics the Journal will be independent and both in politics and in other matters we will publish an article on any side of any question that is proper matter for admission to the columns of any newspaper. We shall earnestly endeavor to be impartial at all times … We will make mistakes as we are mortal, but we are ready to acknowledge the mistake if called to our notice.”
The first thought that comes to my mind is to wonder what a normal week would be like with a Saturday newspaper. Wednesday, the day The Journal reaches subscribers, is my Monday, so to speak, and my weekend could be said to be in the middle of the week, except that it is part of the work week if something is going on in the area on Saturday and/or Sunday.
That, of course, was the reality of Dick Brockman’s life basically every week. Dick owned the Journal from 1971, when he purchased it from his parents, until 2003, when he sold The Journal to Morris Newspapers. Dick ran a newspaper that came out twice a week, and, oh by the way, ran a printing business. That was how the “old guys” — Rex Goldthorpe in Cuba City, the Roethes in Fennimore, and the Goldsmiths in Boscobel, among others — worked in the days when type was set by hand, and photos — black and white, of course — in the newspaper came from big film cameras and a cumbersome printing process too involved to explain here.
(As much work as Dick and his parents put into the newspaper, everyone here is a piker compared to William Goldthorpe, who published what became the Tri-County Press in Cuba City from 1901 to 1964. Goldthorpe also was a state representative, postmaster of Cuba City, and leader of the Cuba City band, building on his experience organizing the Platteville Normal School band. He also organized the Wisconsin Press Association band, the first of its kind (according to a late 1930s Wisconsin Blue Book) in the U.S.; the WPA is now the Wisconsin Newspaper Association, whose convention I’m going to next week, though sadly with no WNA band.)
The second thought is the use of what we ink-stained wretches call “the editorial we.” If that sounds similar to “the royal we” or “the papal we,” it should. It harkens back to the days when editorials without anyone’s name on them represented the views of the newspaper as an institution. The area daily newspapers still do that, but I think that’s one reason for the accusation of bias, the assumption that those editorial opinions represent the views of everyone at the newspaper, when they really only represent the views of those whose titles include deciding and writing opinions. That’s why my name is on this column, because it expresses the views of myself and only myself … along with whoever agrees 100 percent with me, if that person exists on planet Earth.
When you get to the story on page 6A (because you read from front to back, right?), you’ll notice The Journal was one of three newspapers in Platteville in 1899. The oldest was the Grant County Witness, which printed from 1859 to, two name changes later, 1937. The Grant County Democrat printed from 1885 to January 1890, then, possibly noticing which party was winning elections in this area (hint: it wasn’t the Democrats), changed its name to the Grant County News one week later. The News closed in 1952, and it appears from old Journals I’ve seen that the Brockmans may have purchased the News and folded it into The Journal.
One newspaper, the American, lasted one issue; the Wisconsin Whig printed one issue in April and one in September 1842; the Northern Badger, Platteville’s first newspaper, printed five issues between August 1840 and February 1841. Perhaps the Whig’s owner printed one edition, noticed how much work that one newspaper took, and decided he’d had enough of newspaper publishing.
One thing this newspaper does not have, and should have, is a column — commonly called “Looking Back” or “Flashback” or something like that — that reprints snippets of old issues of that newspaper. The reason The Journal doesn’t have such a column is because we don’t have the newspapers. Dick Brockman donated them to the Rollo Jamison Museum upon his sale of The Journal, and all we have in this office are issues that date back to 2005.
Publishers own newspapers, but they’re really only stewards of the newspaper, because the newspaper is an institution that is supposed to last for generations. (I say that as one late publication’s last publisher and editor, though I didn’t own the publication; the decision to make me the publisher and editor of its last issue was made above my pay grade.) A 115-year-old newspaper should, if my math is correct (and journalism is the opposite of math), have chronicled five or six generations of Southwest Wisconsin families. Or, less fortunately, 115 years of Platteville Common Council meetings, the primary election for which shall be reported next week.