5 years on the beat: Wisconsin Gazette celebrates an anniversary

The Wisconsin Gazette

The Wisconsin Gazette was conceived over dinner at a sushi restaurant in Kenosha in June 2009. Present were photographer Jason Smith, journalist Lisa Neff and Louis Weisberg, who’d worked in both journalism and marketing. The three, who had worked together at weekly LGBT newspapers in Chicago, presented Milwaukee businessman Leonard Sobczak with a terrible idea: to start a new LGBT publication at the depth of the worst recession in memory.

Despite the odds, Sobczak agreed to fund the enterprise, primarily as a public service for the state’s LGBT community. The paper’s first cover story on Nov. 19, 2009, was an interview with U.S. Rep. Tammy Baldwin, who said that she might consider running for U.S. Senate some day — a succesful campaign WiG would still be around to cover.

WiG found widespread acceptance from the start. Responding to its broadening audience and seeking to connect the LGBT community with other progressive supporters and causes, WiG rebranded in 2013 as an independent alternative voice for all things progressive. Last summer, WiG joined the national Association of Alternative Newsmedia as an affiliate member, receiving a unanimous recommendation from the group’s board.

With a lot of hard work, talent and sufficient capitalization, WiG has grown in every way, proving that print is far from dead. The print run of this edition is 25,500 papers, nearly three times the number of our first edition. The papers are distributed at more than 650 sites in southeastern Wisconsin and Madison. Online, www.wisconsingazette.com has twice won awards from the Milwaukee Press Club for best local news website, and WiG’s Facebook community is the most actively engaged of any alternative paper in Milwaukee and the second-most active in Madison. 

WiG’s backbone

Senior editor Lisa Neff, above at her desk in Anna Maria, Florida, has proven that distance is no obstacle when it comes to reporting the news. It helps that Neff is a native of Waukegan, Illinois, and has close family ties to Kenosha. It also helps that she’s one of the most professional and hard-working journalists in the nation, having racked up awards and respect at daily newspapers from New England to Rock Island, Illinois. Neff and WiG publisher Louis Weisberg have a magical yin-and-yang rapport that dates back two decades. In 1999, they were part of a group of colleagues who founded the Chicago Free Press, which quickly grew to become the largest LGBT weekly newspaper in that city until Neff departed for sunnier climes and Weisberg left for what proved to be a temporary career in marketing and advertising.

Much to celebrate

The past five years have been a rollercoaster for progressives in Wisconsin, and WiG’s staff has been privileged to chronicle such a dynamic slice of history. LGBT acceptance in the state has soared, but women, unions, immigrants and people of color have faced daunting discrimination and injustice. The fight for social and economic justice has never met with greater resistance in the state, and WiG is on top of every facet of that overarching story. We hope to continue promoting those goals, along with conservation, animal welfare, good government and support for the state’s incomparable arts scene, for many years to come.

Our efforts have been rewarding, professionally and personally. The Milwaukee Press Club has recognized us with 17 awards since 2011. And when a federal judge in Wisconsin overturned the state’s anti-gay marriage ban in June, WiG publisher Louis Weisberg and original circulation manager Robert Wright were among the first to say “I do” at the Milwaukee County Courthouse.