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30 Years of the Shepherd Express

Aug. 23, 2012
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Although his byline is infrequent, Louis Fortis—the publisher and editor of the Shepherd Express—provides the guiding vision for the newspaper's news coverage.

"We believe in honest journalism," he says, smiling at the cliché. "Yes, there are facts, but people interpret them in different ways. There are always biases, whether the writer is aware of them or not. Everybody brings things to the table—gender, class and personal experience. For example, biases affect who you choose to interview. So we do have a point of view; the difference is we're honest about it. We admit that we're coming from a center-left perspective. At the same time, we are meticulous in our fact-checking, which is why you seldom find corrections."

In 2005, Fortis hired Lisa Kaiser as assistant editor. Over the years, she's become a major voice of the news section, often writing two prominent news stories each week, as well as contributing to "Issue of the Week" commentaries. Kaiser works closely with Fortis as they choose what stories to cover and who will write them. Fortis continues to shape the vision and carefully edits all the news articles.

"I spend a lot of time reading—policy papers, press releases, the Journal Sentinel, The Business Journal—to get a sense of what is under-covered," Kaiser explains. "I know what the Shepherd readers are interested in, such as public education, environmental issues, safety issues, civil liberties and voting rights. Readers look to the Shepherd to know what to pay attention to amid all the noise and media chatter about the controversies of the day. I try to find things with more substance, to write about bigger issues in an intelligent way. I try not to sensationalize; I find that insulting.

"Milwaukee has a lot of problems, but there are a lot of people who are trying to make it better, and it is important to recognize that," she adds.

The Shepherd articles are often written in reaction to the Journal Sentinel and other center-right or right-wing media in an effort to provide balance. Fortis' career has brought the paper a deep network of knowledgeable, involved sources among politicians, economists, educators and business people, and Kaiser has developed more. These people, Kaiser says, appreciate that they'll be quoted accurately and at length, with the subjects clearly explained. In this way, she tries to "blow through the right-wing rhetoric" that distorts the issues.

As copy editor since November 2004, Robbie Hartman plays a pivotal role in the workflow and overall quality of the Shepherd Express. He is responsible for fact-checking, editing and proofreading the editorial content of each week's newspaper, as well as special issues and projects such as Best Of Milwaukee and the biannual Fine Arts guides. Hartman works directly with the news, A&E and music editors and coordinates content between the editorial and production departments. "It would be very difficult to get the newspaper out each week without Robbie," Fortis says.

The news section also offers weekly columns by Joe Conason and Joel McNally. Conason provides a compatible perspective on national issues and McNally has been a journalist-observer of state and local politics for 40 years. "Joel articulates a progressive voice in our community," Fortis says. "His opinions are usually in sync with the Shepherd's, but not always. But they are his opinions and everyone understands that."

Written by new Office Manager Amanda Sullivan, "Hero of the Week" provides news about the serious work of area nonprofit organizations that are working to make Milwaukee a better place to live. Readers learn about a variety of positive efforts and may want to join or volunteer support. Another picture of the city is provided by the "Readers' Poll." The questions, posed collectively by Fortis, Kaiser, Hartman and Music Editor Evan Rytlewski, generate several thousand responses each week on a range of issues.

"Boris and Doris On the Town," by Pam Percy and Martin Hintz, is an alternative to the traditional society page, providing news on grassroots and creative fundraisers and charitable events. Tom Tomorrow's "This Modern World," a staple of alternative newspapers across the country, completes the news section with timely targets and clever cartooning. (John Schneider)

Louis G. Fortis

Editor and Publisher

Louis Fortis brings a very unique background to the position of editor and publisher of the Shepherd Express. He started his career as a community organizer in the inner city of Milwaukee. He was raised on the South Side of Chicago by a widowed mother and came to Milwaukee as a volunteer for VISTA, the domestic Peace Corps. He left Milwaukee for graduate school at the University of Massachusetts, where he was formally trained as an economist (Ph.D.), and then taught economics at the largest all-women's college in the country, Smith College. His area of expertise was economic development.

When he returned to Wisconsin, he created the Wisconsin Community Development Finance Authority, a statewide economic development institution working in low-income communities. Fortis was then elected to the Wisconsin Assembly, where he chaired the Financial Institutions and Insurance Committee. After serving three terms, he left the Assembly and worked as an international consultant on U.S. Agency for International Development contracts, advising in two areas: economic development and parliamentary strengthening. He worked in such countries as Bolivia, Slovakia, West Bank and Gaza Strip, Romania, Uganda, Mongolia, the Indonesian part of Borneo and Bulgaria. He has also been very successful in the business world, which has enabled him to support the Shepherd during this time of recession so that there were no layoffs, forced furloughs or pay cuts. Fortis is also a frequent participant on public radio's (WHAD 90.7 FM) "Week in Review," where he debates a representative of the conservative community.

Fifteen years ago, Fortis—as an unpaid consultant—came to the Shepherd Express at the request of its board members, when the board was about to close down the Shepherd. In two years the Shepherd Express was back on its feet financially, with Fortis as editor and publisher. In 2003, he co-founded the Milwaukee International Film Festival and served as board chair for the first five years.

Lisa Kaiser

Assistant Editor

Lisa Kaiser earned her bachelor's degree in political science and master's degree in journalism at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. She spent several years working on the Capitol Square doing constituent outreach for advocacy groups. After graduating, she moved to New York, where she wrote and edited books and helped to develop first-generation e-commerce sites and next-generation publishing models. After returning to her hometown in 2004, she became the assistant editor of the Shepherd Express, where she covers local and state politics and noteworthy Milwaukeeans. Kaiser is a regular Thursday guest on "The Morning Magazine" with Eric Von (1290 WMCS-AM).

Arts and Entertainment

The Shepherd Express is Milwaukee's premier source for reporting on the city's cultural life. According to the 2012 Media Audit survey, our A&E section ranks first as the media outlet Milwaukeeans turn to when deciding where to go and what to see.

The coverage is diverse. The weekly Shepherd Express includes sections on food, film, visual art, theater, books, classical music and dance. Special sections include the Fall Arts Guide, Spring Arts Guide and the annual tribute to what's best about Milwaukee, the City Guide. Our website, expressmilwaukee.com, offers reviews not found in print as well as regular columns by some of our most prominent writers.

David Luhrssen, arts and entertainment editor since 1994, describes the section's philosophy as walking the line "between the extremes of mindless boosterism and bitter negativism" that plague the media. Committed to covering everything worthwhile in the Milwaukee area, Luhrssen adds that the Shepherd Express benefits from the "wealth of background and enthusiasm that our writers bring to their work." Many of them are celebrated members of the Milwaukee community in their own right.

Local artists and their supporters attest to the Shepherd Express' role in Milwaukee.

"Over the past 30 years, the Shepherd Express has been an important partner in our efforts to make the broader community aware of all Milwaukee Ballet has to offer," says Michael Pink, artistic director for the Milwaukee Ballet. "From performance previews, to reviews, to in-depth articles on our education programs, the Shepherd's coverage has been extensive."

Debra Brehmer, director of Portrait Society Gallery, describes the paper's coverage as "democratic," stating, "It doesn't play favorites, but tries to look around broadly and give as much support to the art community as possible." In reference to her own establishment, she notes that the paper has "been generous in its coverage, helpful in promoting shows and letting people know about my rather tucked-away gallery."

Milwaukee's foremost visual arts organization—the Milwaukee Art Museum—has a thriving rapport with the paper. According to Public Relations Manager Kristin Settle, "The Milwaukee Art Museum has a great relationship with the Shepherd Express. We appreciate the thought, creativity and enthusiasm that go into the stories about our art and exhibitions. We can count on the Shepherd Express and its many writers for insightful reviews."

Through its diverse staff of writers, broad and in-depth coverage of arts events and commitment to educational endeavors such as its biannual writing internship program, the Shepherd Express' A&E section has carved an enduring place for itself in the Milwaukee arts community. (Selena Milewski)

David Luhrssen

A&E Editor

In 1978, David Luhrssen and musician Kevn Kinney founded the Express as a punk-rock paper. Luhrssen returned to the source as arts and entertainment editor of the Shepherd Express in 1994. In between, he wrote for the Milwaukee Journal, Billboard, Art Muscle, the New York Rocker and other publications, and taught history and popular culture at the Milwaukee Institute of Art & Design, Milwaukee Area Technical College and UW-Milwaukee.

Luhrssen's most recent book, Hammer of the Gods, examines the occult roots of Nazism. He is also co-author of Elvis Presley: Reluctant Rebel, Changing Times: The Life of Barack Obama, Searching for Rock and Roll and A Time of Paradox: America Since 1890. His next book, Mamoulian: Life on Stage and Screen, examines the work of film and theater director Rouben Mamoulian. He has also written for numerous scholarly journals in the United States and United Kingdom, including History Today and The Journal of American History. Luhrssen is a regular commentator on film for WUWM's "Lake Effect."

John Schneider

Assistant A&E Editor

After graduating from St. Norbert College in 1970, John Schneider became a member of the experimental ensemble Theatre X in Milwaukee, and was its artistic leader and resident playwright from 1974 until the company disbanded in 2004. Theatre X presented its original work internationally while also maintaining an alternative art center in Milwaukee that supported artists in many disciplines. Schneider's plays continue to receive productions: Recently, the Baltimore Theatre Project produced A Fierce Longing, Northwestern University produced The Unnamed in its summer actor training program and Sidewalk Studio Theatre in Los Angeles produced My Werewolf. His plays have been translated to Swedish, German and Flemish for productions in Stockholm, Gothenburg, Münster and Antwerp. His honors include fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts and Milwaukee County, and the first annual Artist of the Year Award, created by the Milwaukee Arts Board in 1995 to recognize outstanding contributions to the city's cultural life.

Schneider worked for the Theatre and Inter-Arts Programs of the NEA as a site reporter, panelist and screener. In 2000, he became an artist-in-residence and member of the performing arts faculty of Marquette University. In 2001, he founded the much-awarded Project Non-Violence in which young people from Milwaukee's toughest neighborhoods create and perform plays, dances and songs on subjects of serious concern to them. He also leads the John Schneider Orchestra, a cabaret-jazz ensemble performing the American Songbook.


Through national band interviews, CD and concert reviews, a local music column and listings, the weekly Shepherd Express provides what Music Editor Evan Rytlewski describes as "smart and critical writing." Coverage also includes annual magazines previewing Summerfest and State Fair, plus an extensive online component. It's no surprise that the 2012 Media Audit showed Shepherd Express readers were 73% more likely to have attended a rock/pop music concert than non-readers in the last 12 months.

Rytlewski stresses the paper's unique writing standards and the goal of covering "the entire music scene, including everything from local hip-hop to world music." Of the dozen writers who contribute to this section, he asserts, "They all have a very good understanding of what the Milwaukee music scene is."

Among these writers is Rytlewski himself, who, reading the Shepherd Express as a teen in the '90s, found it to be "the only good source of musical coverage, and completely indispensable." Erin Wolf, a DJ for WMSE and an area musician, and Kevin Lynch, former music writer for daily papers in Milwaukee and Madison, are among the regular contributors.

Milwaukee musicians testify to the Shepherd Express' value. "It has been an honor every time the Shepherd Express has done an article on me and my music," says pianist-singer Jayme Dawicki. "From promoting my piano-pop original albums to show announcements to celebrating song placements on national TV shows, the Shepherd Express has been such an amazing support system for me in the Milwaukee community. I feel fortunate to have a print media outlet in this town that is focused on the community in such a positive manner."

Local hip-hop artist and community activist JC Poppe similarly praises the paper for "helping to spread the word about the things I get involved in, be it my music personally, the music of artists I managed, my 'Hip-Hop Hates' benefit concert series, or even a quick mention of an article I wrote for the competition on occasion. It is valuable because in this day-and-age of e-zines, here-today-gone-tomorrow blogs, misinformation, etc., the Shepherd Express has been a consistent resource for people interested in looking in on a community as well as being a part of it. Community-minded people will always turn to a community-minded resource, and without question, the Shepherd Express is that community-minded resource."

Jazz guitarist and Wisconsin Conservatory of Music instructor Paul Silbergleit adds: "It's nice that there's a hometown ground-level entertainment news source that is down-to-earth enough that a local musician like myself can call up and say, 'Hey, there's a thing I'm doing," and actually get a look from the media.

Of the paper's particular style, Silbergleit notes, "The Shepherd feels more grassroots than the larger papers, and has a special appeal for East Siders, club-goers and other members of the Milwaukee community particularly interested in the arts."

Critical yet sensitive and inclusive, the Shepherd Express music section provides readers with an outstanding source for astute and uncommon coverage. (Selena Milewski)

Evan Rytlewski

Music Editor

A native Milwaukeean, Evan Rytlewski began his journalism career in Madison, where he was a music columnist for The Daily Cardinal, the UW campus' student newspaper. He later became the paper's editor-in-chief. He subsequently covered city news for the Wisconsin State Journal and served as the arts and entertainment editor for the city's Core Weekly before returning to Milwaukee to work at the Shepherd Express, where he has been the paper's music editor since 2006. Rytlewski has also contributed writing to magazines including Paste, American Songwriter and Under the Radar, and has been a featured guest on NPR's "On Point" and ABC's "Nightline." He has appeared regularly on FM 102/1 and WMSE 91.7, where he can be heard most Wednesdays at noon weighing in on local music and city matters.

                                                                              Express Milwaukee

Express Milwaukee launched in November 2007 to "create a more advanced and up-to-date online platform for Shepherd Express readers," says Justin Krol, online editor since the site began. He has witnessed firsthand how expressmilwaukee.com has drawn readers who are enthusiastic about accessing the Shepherd Express online as well as reading the website's unique editorial content.

"The site has grown considerably since its inception, in terms of both content and readership numbers," Krol says. "Currently, we still see growth from 8%-10% every month readership-wise, and in the last year we have had about 1.5 million page views."

The mission of expressmilwaukee.com is to present quality community-oriented writing, including local news and thoughtful blogs along with exciting arts, music and events coverage. Editorial content is the backbone of expressmilwaukee.com, and great importance is placed on easy access via an efficient, navigation-friendly platform.

"It's easy to get stories that have been posted and re-posted on social network sites, but when it comes to passionate stories about our community, that build a sense of community and local pride, expressmilwaukee.com offers them regularly with a personality that mainstream media seldom offers," says Brian Kramp, from the "Kramp & Adler" morning show on FM 102/1. "The quality content keeps it a relevant source for news, music, food and fun."

Express Milwaukee encourages lively dialogue and welcomes all opinions, believing that reader engagement is extremely important in today's ultra-competitive World Wide Web. The site values and respects the opinions of readers and has a completely open policy when it comes to reader comments and feedback.

"If you as a reader like something, tell us about it," Krol says. "If you don't agree, we want to know why; the lines of communication are always open."

We are in the process of launching expressmilwaukee.com 3.0, which includes a much-anticipated new events calendar system and promises "a new, growing roster of online-only content," Krol says. "I have procured a number of excellent, brand-new writers who will be contributing regular content soon; needless to say, we're very excited to further expand our coverage and online presence."

Join us in shaping the future of online community media in Milwaukee by checking out expressmilwaukee.com and letting us know what you think. Also, don't forget to like us on Facebook (facebook.com/ShepherdExpress) or follow us on Twitter (@shepherdexpress). (Amanda Sullivan)

Justin Krol

Online Editor

Justin Krol has enjoyed a varied and accomplished career on the drums, an instrument he has played since picking up the sticks at age 6. He first became known on the Milwaukee music scene during the 2000s for his stints with the straight-ahead rock band Invade Rome, which released two CDs and toured extensively, followed by the noise rock band Death Dream. Krol teaches drums and currently plays with four bands. The punk group Hot Coffin, a regular on the Milwaukee-Chicago-Madison-Green Bay circuit, has released a 7-inch and has a longplayer slated for fall. Hugh Bob & the Hustle is on the road most weekends, traveling from the Mississippi River to the Atlantic shore with a modern take on traditional country. Hugh Bob's CD North Country (out next month) features appearances by several prominent country musicians, including singer-recording artist Nikki Lane. His other two groups, Spring Break and Nightshark, will debut this fall. "When I'm not here working, I'm playing, and when I'm not playing, I'm back on my laptop working," Krol says.

Shepherd Stories

Dave Sobelman

With three eateries bearing his name, Dave Sobelman has become a name to watch for when seeking a good hamburger in Milwaukee. Before the Shepherd Express wrote about him, he ran a little-known bar in the Menomonee Valley with a grill in back. A review by the Shepherd Express' Dave Luhrssen changed his life.

"My burger career started the day I looked at the Shepherd Express and read the cover of the paper: 'Eat at the Bar—The Fine Art of Pub and Grub.' I picked it up immediately, hoping I'd be in it, but wasn't. I quickly called the paper, asked who was in charge and got your voice mail. I asked you to come down and try one of my burgers. You were here in two days and the following week did a short story on me, the pub and my burgers and buns. That day, I knew I was out of the corner-bar biz and was in the race to become Milwaukee's best burger place. Thank you, Dave Luhrssen."

James LaPaz

I was around at the founding of The Crazy Shepherd. At that time I was finishing up my bachelor's in contemporary history and political science and became acquainted with Bill Lueders, James McCarter, Petr Kotz, Rob Czarnezki and many others. For the March 1984 issue, I wrote an article titled "A Revolution Under Fire" that dealt with the situation in Nicaragua. I still proudly have a copy of that issue.

I returned to UWM for an MLIS, worked at the Harry W. Schwartz Bookshop, and then made my way into librarianship. I still read every issue of the Shepherd and encourage my kids to do the same. There is no better source for entertainment in the area than the Shepherd. But the most important reason that I still read the Shepherd is to keep my moral compass in tune. Your paper stands for what is often unpopular, but right. Happy anniversary: I hope that you see another 30.

Richard Wruk

An article in the Shepherd in 1988 talked about the dangers of working in confined spaces. As an employee of the Milwaukee Water Works starting in 1984, I worked in confined spaces a lot. A fellow worker informed me of the article, as I was the union steward. At that time the Water Works had no confined space training or policies. The article directed me to WisCOSH, where I received all the information about the requirements, including state regulations concerning training and equipment needed for working in confined spaces safely. I talked with management, with no results. Armed with the information I received from WisCOSH, thanks to the Shepherd, I made a complaint with the state. The state inspected and ordered the Water Works to come in compliance with the regulations. Thanks to the information provided by the Shepherd, and the protection and support I received from my union, AFSCME, I was able to make my work environment a safer place for myself and my co-workers.

Greg Tennyson

In 1990 I was dating a girl named Brenda Wetzel. The Shepherd wasn't as widely available back then, so I was always heading to spots that I knew had carried them. One of the spots that we love is Conejito's on Sixth and Virginia. It was common for us to grab a Shepherd as we walked through the door and read it as we enjoyed our first margarita. At the time, there was a free section in the classifieds that readers used to send messages to each other. We always got some laughs when we read that section. I decided to propose to Brenda on her birthday in June 1991. I thought putting a message in the Shepherd would be great! I requested they print, "Brenda, I love you! Will you marry me? Greg." I picked her up after her shift at Elmbrook Hospital on a Saturday afternoon and headed to Conejito's with the ring in my pocket. I was a bit nervous since I hadn't seen that week's copy yet. I had called several times to verify that the ad had made that issue, and I was told it had.

We walked in the door and grabbed the Shepherd as usual. I quickly flipped open the paper to look for the ad. It was there, but it had been shortened a bit. They had omitted my name! Now I was worried... Will she get it? I was unusually quiet, but my heart was racing. I pushed the paper her way and pointed out the ad. She kind of blew it off as coincidence since she isn't the only Brenda in the city. She realized it wasn't coincidence after I dropped to one knee on the floor next to her with a ring in my hand. All eyes were on us as I proposed. She said YES! We were married in August 1992 and are celebrating our 20th anniversary this year. We still grab the Shepherd all the time and love the fact that it is more widely available. We make it a point to patronize businesses that carry the Shepherd.

Congratulations on 30 great years!

Mary Ann Getse

On July 29, 1985, my husband, Joe, and I closed the door on our Chicago lives and set out for our "Up North" adventure. We were moving to Milwaukee. Our Second City friends and family reacted to our news with a continuum of emotions that ranged from shock to hysteria: "Are you nuts?," "Have you been to Milwaukee?" and, "For God's sake, they like the Packers up there!"

Adamant about our decision, we regaled them with bucolic images of the green space along the lake, the ease of parking, the availability of beer in shopping malls, and our ace in the hole—the legacy of a Socialist mayor. We thought, if that didn't convince our seemingly progressive liberal friends, nothing would...

We stumbled into Kalt's and spied the Shepherd Express. It was like nectar from the gods. It was reminiscent of our beloved Chicago Reader, a comparable weekly montage of culture, cuisine and political observation. Since that day we have read the Shepherd Express weekly for the past 27 years. It is our road map. Like the North Star, it guides us toward places of inspiration and creativity. This community chronicle draws us into new and amazing eateries and theaters alike. And as if that isn't enough, it understands our political curiosity and challenges us with astute journalism.

Now, our Chicago friends travel here for plays and music. We scan the Express together to find our next Milwaukee adventure. They tell us that they praise the Festival City to their friends back home. After all, the parking is cheap and the vibe is second to none.


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