Heinen: A credit to our profession

To say finding a career in journalism saved my life sounds a tad dramatic.
typewriter with remembering journalists above it

To say finding a career in journalism saved my life sounds a tad dramatic. I do wonder, though, what would have become of me had I not. Let’s just say that next to choosing to share my life with my extraordinary wife, Nancy, pursuing writing as a way to spend my days was the smartest decision I ever made.

When I look back at the life experiences which prepared me for writing for a living, I remember the importance of journalists during the Vietnam War and Watergate eras who wrote for the most influential newspapers and network radio and television stations in the country, and the impact of journalists of a different sort writing for The New Yorker and Rolling Stone. One of the great joys of my long career has been establishing collegial relationships and some deep friendships with fellow writers, reporters and editors. It saddened me to lose an unusual number last year. In December alone we lost Ron McCrea, Whitney Gould, Karl Meyer and William Greider who were among the best. The loss is even more poignant in these times in which we all have been laboring — an environment unlike any we’ve experienced in this nation’s history.

Other journalists of note also died in 2019, including Cokie Roberts, Russell Baker and Pat Schneider. But while I would cross paths with Schneider occasionally during the years she was a respected reporter at The Capital Times, getting to know McCrea, Gould, Meyer and Greider was a professional honor and personal pleasure, and it saddens me that they are now gone.

I actually covered McCrea during the 1977 Madison Newspapers strike by union employees. I got to know him better when he served as press secretary to Gov. Tony Earl and later when he returned to The Capital Times as city editor in 1995. The Capital Times of the 1970s, ’80s and ’90s was staffed by extraordinarily talented journalists that included Gould, an award-winning environmental reporter and editorial page editor, who would later serve as urban landscape and architecture critic for the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. That was her position when she spoke on a panel about Frank Lloyd Wright I moderated at Taliesin during the National Conference of Editorial Writers convention in 1997. Her co-panelist, Meyer, was on the editorial board of The New York Times at the time. He was born in Madison and graduated from the University of Wisconsin–Madison where he wrote for The Daily Cardinal. He and Gould captivated the convention attendees with their stories about Wright and his influence. A couple of years later I had Meyer and his wife Shareen Blair Brysac on the television version of “For The Record” to talk about “Tournament of Shadows,” the book they cowrote.

Greider was on “For The Record” twice. The first time was to discuss his book “Who Will Tell the People?: The Betrayal of American Democracy,” a troubling and prescient examination of power in Washington, D.C.

It was a joy to get to know these folks, each of whom made a profound impact on their readers and respective communities.

Which leads me to welcome Sarah Gray, the new news director for News 3 Now, to the Morgan Murphy Media family. She is smart, talented and she cares — three of the most important attributes for a journalist. I find it meaningful to watch another journalist follow in the footsteps of those I’ve most admired in our profession.

Neil Heinen is editorial director of Madison Magazine and WISC-TV.