Other Views: Killing state magazine is a bad idea
Many people have asked me about Gov. Scott Walker’s proposal, in his 2017-19 budget, to eliminate the magazine I used to work for, Wisconsin Natural Resources.
The nearly 100-year-old magazine, which I edited for five years until mid-2016, is entirely subscriber-funded with a subscriber base of nearly 85,000 and a pass-along readership of about 400,000. About half its subscribers are people who buy conservation patron licenses; a recent survey found that 88 percent of these license holders read the magazine.
Despite these signs that the magazine is healthy and appreciated, the governor’s move to kill it comes as no surprise. During my stint as editor, I saw the level of editorial oversight dramatically increase after the magazine ran a 2013 insert on climate change funded by the Nelson Institute for Environmental Studies.
From then on, all stories were vetted by officials within the state Department of Natural Resources. They spiked stories having to do with climate change, a federally endangered mammal living near a proposed iron mine, and challenges to the privatization of groundwater.
Neither I, as editor, nor my direct supervisor was permitted to join the “strike team” assigned to decide if the magazine was “core work” at DNR. When the public, through taxes and license fees, pays for much of the work you do, reporting back to stakeholders should be considered core work.
The DNR has social media, but you can’t adequately cover a complex environmental issue in a 140-character tweet. The agency’s Facebook mission is to share posts about having fun in Wisconsin’s outdoors—not take on timely environmental topics.
Wisconsin Natural Resources magazine helps people, even those who can’t hunt or hike like they used to, stay connected to the state’s environment. Among my favorite pieces were a story on preventing tree stand falls and another on guidance for keeping properties safe from wildfires. I once saw a man in a doctor’s office stealthily remove the magazine’s spring fishing forecast and stick it in his pocket as he left.
At a time of low DNR staffing levels, members of the public may play an increasingly key role in wildlife surveys, invasive species removal and campground hosting. The magazine generates interest in these opportunities and provides basic training. And it supports the state’s economy and promotes tourism.
The administration argues that private magazines cover the same content. However, magazine editors around the state recently debunked that argument, saying they think the magazine serves a unique purpose.
Since the governor unveiled his budget, thousands of people have shown support for Wisconsin Natural Resources by subscribing. Many are giving the magazine as a gift.
Please consider subscribing, writing the governor to urge that he reconsider his decision, and attending upcoming Joint Committee on Finance public hearings, held from April 3-21, to express your support for the magazine—and for transparency in state government.
Natasha Kassulke is former editor of Wisconsin Natural Resources magazine. She lives in Madison and is a teacher and professional communicator.
This column was distributed by the Progressive Media Project, run by The Progressive, a Wisconsin-based political magazine.