Managing editor wakes up, groans


Joseph Schulz, Managing Editor

Fall semester two years ago, during my junior year at UW Oshkosh, I made a series of decisions that would inevitably change the entire trajectory of my life. I had just moved out on my own, I was working at Walmart with a minor substance abuse problem and I really didn’t have a whole lot of direction in my life.

It was then as I was sitting in my “media writing” course, a journalism major for all of 5 minutes, that Professor Vince Filak simultaneously put the fear of God in me and gave me something to strive toward.

Vince began giving the speech he gives at the beginning of every semester, barring a pandemic, about how it’s very, very difficult to find a job in journalism if you don’t do student media. He told the story of a talented writer he once knew, who didn’t participate in student journalism and could not find a job upon graduation.

This freaked me out because, on a good day, I’m a halfway decent writer. So after class, I did the only logical thing I could think of: I emailed Vince and inquired about how to join The Advance-Titan. He connected me with Christina Basken and Nikki Brahm, former news editors at the A-T and the duo that really taught me how to be a reporter.

I was also in the “Intro to Radio” course offered by the Radio/TV/Film department, which boasted hands-on broadcast experience at 90.3 WRST-FM. The class was taught by Randall Davidson, a Fox Valley native and lifelong broadcaster. It was in RTF 120 where I learned that a kid from the Fox Valley could forge a successful career in media. Until then, I thought the only people working in media graduated from UW-Madison, Marquette or some Ivy League school.

Quickly after, the journalism department hosted its 50th Anniversary with keynote speaker Jim VandeHei, an Oshkosh native who rose to journalism heights. VandeHei’s speech made me believe that if you work hard enough, stick to the facts and trust your gut, anything is possible.

At this point, a highly motivated and naive 21-year-old me began cranking out stories for The Advance-Titan. Soon after, I met Advance-Titan adviser and journalism department internship coordinator Barb Benish who helped me get more involved at the A-T and land a summer internship at The Ripon Commonwealth Press writing the seasonal tabloid, The Green Laker.

The next semester, I continued on in both student media organizations, meeting Calvin Skalet, Jack Tierney, Neal Hogden, Evan Moris and Cody Wiesner, a group of dudes that made me genuinely feel included. In fact, Calvin, Jack, Neal and Evan are still sworn to secrecy in regards to the events that took place after one night after a journalism conference. All I can say is that Evan was a college bartender, and I was trying to keep up when we went clubbing in Minneapolis. That’s my story and I’m sticking to it.

Anyway, I spent that summer learning from Tim Lyke and Jonathan Bailey, a pair of journalism pros. That summer, I learned that not every story needs a news lede and people like seeing photos of other people. It was the first time I was a paid staff member at a real newspaper, and I made every dumb mistake in the book before hitting my stride.

I returned to the A-T the next fall, sick of writing fluff pieces and ready to do “hard news,” and was thrust into a leadership position that I was not ready for. I wasn’t mature enough that first semester as Managing Editor. Tasked with ensuring everyone had content by production, and if they didn’t plug the holes, I was not the easiest person to work with. Thank God folks like Jack, Cody and Leo Costello were there to reel me back into reality. That semester I also built friendships with Kaitlyn Scoville, Amber Brockman and Bethanie Gengler, and ripped off Michael Scott’s “Boom Roasted” scene from “The Office.”

During the break between semesters, I had a couple of job interviews that didn’t pan out and The Ripon Commonwealth had been sold, dimming the chances of my summer position being available. Additionally, this was the first time that I had experienced a sustained period of nothing because the A-T had wrapped up for the semester and I wasn’t writing regularly. I was off for the first time in what seemed like forever, and I didn’t really know what to do with myself.

Then, my dad had a heart attack and missed our family Christmas. We had a rocky relationship up until that point, but at the time I remembered thinking to myself, “What if the last conversation you ever had with your dad was an argument about whether to impeach the president?” Ultimately, the heart attack was a good thing because doctors found a blockage in my dad’s heart that could have spelled doom if it had gone untreated. Even so, I grew up from that situation and, in a lot of ways, that winter of uncertainty prepared me for the next year.

When I returned to school in the spring, I was helping run the A-T and WRST, while writing for Miles Maguire’s news blog, The Oshkosh Examiner, and The Oshkosh Herald. Let me tell you, that semester, the A-T was firing on all cylinders. Carter Uslabar, our fearless leader, was ensuring each page was visually appealing while being the best Arts & Entertainment reporter around; Amber and Kaitlyn were absolutely killing it on news every week with hard-hitting reports as well as fluffy features; Sophia Voight was letting her voice be heard and spreading wisdom on the opinion page; Cory Sparks and Greg Sense (the sports bros) high-stepped it into the end zone on the sports page. Man, those were the glory days. Every Tuesday night was a party in the newsroom (figuratively speaking), and the paper looked stunning each and every week.

And then COVID-19 hit. We moved our production entirely online, abandoning the print product for months. The comaradarie of Tuesday nights was gone. Still, we forged ahead and managed to cover the early days of the pandemic, arguably better than The Oshkosh Northwestern. Amid the craziness of covering stay at home orders, business closures, event cancellations and criminal justice, a staff departure at The Ripon Commonwealth allowed me to return to my internship.

I’ve stayed on at the Commonwealth throughout my final semester at the A-T, reporting on local government, business and education. Unfortunately, due to industry pressures, the Commonwealth and The Oshkosh Herald are a few of the only local newspapers still doing it the right way. In returning, I’m still learning valuable lessons. For example, Tim taught that it’s our duty to call out local officials when they are wrong, which has recently gotten me into a little trouble.

My only regret this semester is that I didn’t spend enough time in Reeve 19. I’ve had to miss several production nights due to other work commitments and it eats at me sometimes. I spent three months missing my friends and missing the newsroom, but I’m gone most of the time.

Leaving is bittersweet. I’m ready to join the “real world” and, officially, begin working full-time at the Commonwealth. But at the same time, I’m definitely going to miss my friends and mentors at UWO. The only part I won’t miss is juggling three jobs and being a full-time student.

There are too many people to thank each individually, but I’m going to list a few anyway because it’s my article and I’ll cry if I want to.

To Vince, thank you for putting the fear of God in me all those semesters ago, for teaching me the journalism rules, for encouraging me to reach out to The Herald, for always giving me a space to vent on-campus and for the amazing Vince memes on the A-T server.

To Randall, thank you for helping me see that someone from this area could have a career in journalism, for believing in me, for the endless stories, for always having something positive to say and for letting me call you on your home phone in retirement whenever I feel the need to chat.

To Miles, thank you for emphasizing “document-based reporting,” which forced me to dig through court records, economic statistics and various other public documents, for giving me a place to publish work between semesters, for pushing me to be a better reporter and for letting us watch “The Post” in law class.

To Calvin, Christina, Jack, Neal, Carter, Cody, Amber, Kaitlyn, Sophia and the countless others, thank you for teaching me how to be a leader in the newsroom, for giving me space to grow as a journalist, for being good friends and for putting up with my shit each week (it’s not easy). You are all way smarter than me and are either already off doing great things, or are well on your way.

To Barb, thank you for believing in me since I joined the A-T, for seeing leadership potential in me, for being my legal counsel, for being our “newsroom mom,” for your never ending dedication to the A-T, for letting us have pizza parties at your house, for your nightlife policy when we’re at conferences and for always being there for us. Seriously, Barb, you are a superhero.