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Milwaukee ‘Onion’ RIP

Dec. 18, 2013
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We were all sad to learn that last week was the final print edition of The Onion newspaper in Milwaukee. Though we were competitors on some level, we were more allies in trying to provide a free publication of interest to the people of Milwaukee and southeast Wisconsin. The cover page of The Onion was funny and when I read it, it always brought a laugh or at least a smile. So it is always sad to see the demise of another print publication. 

After The Onion announced that its final print edition would come out on Dec. 12, I began to get phone calls and emails from supporters asking me about the health and future of the Shepherd, and what they can do to keep the Shepherd alive and well in Milwaukee. Everyone has heard the proclamations that “print is dead.” The newspaper industry is certainly a very tough one to be in these days, but newspapers are important and more than any other medium play a critical role in creating social cohesion in a community, according to social scientists. Thankfully, the Shepherd’s readers seem to understand that, and over the past five years, when many newspapers were in decline, the Shepherd continued to print and distribute 60,000 copies a week with an average pick-up rate of between 96% and 97%. Every week we deliver to more than 1,200 locations as far north as Port Washington in Ozaukee County, as far south as the Kenosha County line and as far west as Oconomowoc. Media Audit, the third-party research firm used by newspapers, radio and TV, shows the Shepherd’s readership at 253,000 readers, which has been pretty steady over the past five years.

Having said all of that, we don’t deny that it is a very difficult industry, but newspapers will survive. Decades ago, radio did not kill newspapers, in the 1950s television did not kill radio and now the Internet is not going to kill newspapers, radio or television, but there will be a shake out. Each of the media platforms will find its place in the new media world. Each has its unique strengths and each will survive.

The Shepherd, like Isthmus in Madison and the other approximately 125 weekly alternative newspapers throughout the country, has gone from being a newspaper 10 years ago to a media company today. In addition to the newspaper, we have an excellent website, expressmilwaukee.com, we produce commercial collateral materials for businesses and organizations, we build and maintain social media networks for businesses, we commercially produce and provide videos, and we organize events for our readers. This past April, for example, we had a couple thousand people at Stein & Dine, our first annual beer, cheese and sausage event at the State Fair Park Expo Center. Next year’s Stein & Dine will be Saturday, April 26, 2014, again at State Fair Park. We are also producing Woman Up!, a festival of and for women with the title playing off the expression “man up.” Woman Up! is Saturday, Feb. 8, 2014, at the 85,000-square-foot State Fair Park Expo Center.

So yes, aside from the cuts and bruises the Shepherd sustained as the advertising business gets more and more competitive and as the media world seeks out its new equilibrium, the Shepherd plans to keep fighting to survive and maybe even grow as we continue to provide Milwaukee and southeastern Wisconsin with its free newspaper each week. We will continue to be locally owned and controlled; to truthfully cover the news as the facts explain it; to provide our readers with the best arts, entertainment and music coverage in the area; and to have the courage to speak truth to power.

So what can you do to support the Shepherd to ensure that it can continue to exist for another 31 years? 

First of all, please patronize our advertisers and when you visit their establishments, please thank them for advertising in the Shepherd

Second, please consider attending our events like Stein & Dine and Woman Up! because it is events like these that also help support our efforts to provide you with a free newspaper each week.


Louis Fortis


Shepherd Express


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