Makuski takes the Metro Wire to print

By Lisa Pett

Next month, the Point/Plover Metro-Wire will celebrate its fourth birthday. This publication was born amongst unprecedented upheaval in the world of daily news. Owner, publisher, and editor Brandi Makuski’s motivation to jump into what could be considered a dying business model speaks to both her dedication to journalism and her determination.

Makuski has no formal journalism training (besides Nancy Zavodsky’s help with the AP Style Book and formatting for the school paper for St. Pete’s Middle School). She spent three years as a reporter at the Stevens Point Journal before jumping into the deep end of the news business.

In 2010, Makuski created a hyperlocal news website called the Stevens Point City Times—a scrappy newcomer that offered a weekly print edition to readers in 2013. She sold the news site to Multi Media Channels, a publishing company that owned and printed The Buyer’s Guide shopper, in 2014, where she would be responsible for editorial content and keep her position as editor.

It is a decision she now regrets, calling City Times “her biggest success” to date.

She was summarily fired from the organization she poured everything into in November of 2017.

Down, but not out, she immediately went online days later with the Point/Plover Metro Wire

Makuski’s career in journalism is not without controversy. She has learned on the job and certainly made mistakes. She has faced threats and lawsuits. She is alternately excoriated as both a left-wing shill and a right-wing pundit. Charges of bias, incorrect reporting, and slanted reporting continue. Makuski stands firmly behind everything she publishes.

It is impossible to separate the person from the organization since Makuski is the face and keyboard behind the PPMW. There is a business side, a controversial, conservative columnist, and the occasional contributing reporter. But for all intents and purposes, Makuski is the PPMW. And her relationship with city and county elected representatives can be fraught.

The current mayor of Stevens Point remains banned from commenting on PPMW’s Facebook page, and weekly meetings in the mayor’s office subsequently stopped. Some city alders refuse to speak to her at all. Some prefer to communicate directly through Facebook.

Journalism is the only career in this country that is enshrined in the Constitution. Freedom of speech (written and spoken) was deemed so vitally important to democracy that government control or interference in public speech is severely limited. 

And yet while those journalistic endeavors are protected from government intrusions, they are still subject to the vagaries and challenges of a capitalist marketplace. Money still speaks loudest. Corporate and monied interests can manipulate media to their advantage.

The only people standing in their way are journalists.

It’s shocking to think that the bottom dropped out of journalism in just one generation. Newspapers have been the watchdog of governmental transparency. They have exposed capitalist corruption and law enforcement malfeasance. They cover city council meetings, local school board meetings, and war zones with the same kind of dedication.

Currently, print newspapers have shriveled away to nearly nothing. After all, printing is expensive and distribution is slow compared to the speed of the internet. The internet opened up the world—but it’s one that is chaotic, confusing, and riddled with misinformation.

How do local news organizations compete with that? Corporate ownership of daily news organizations in Wisconsin is dominated by Gannett—which owns the Stevens Point Journal, and the powerhouse publication, the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel. The collapse of print newspaper subscriptions and the advertising dollars propping up the businesses increased the need to adapt to an online media model. The switch has not been easy. Media organizations still struggle to regain the income needed to operate and pay their greatly reduced staff.

Even though the internet and social media helped lead to the collapse of the printed daily paper, the shift to online news and social media advertising is still the direction journalism is taking. You can’t put the genie back into the bottle.

Compared to other news organizations (Stevens Point Journal, Stevens Point City-Times/Portage County Gazette—MMC purchased the latter and combined their staff and online presence) the Metro Wire remains small but determined. With over 3,000 paying subscribers and 49,000 unique visitors to the website last month, it’s still going. And it’s about to go into print. 

The Point Plover Metro Wire is getting ready to produce a weekly print edition, which, given the current news landscape, seems like a big risk. But Makuski’s nostalgia for the “paper” in “newspaper” might meet the demands of her readership. The Metro Wire will cease sending out the weekly Wired In e-edition in deference to the new print version. 

It’s obvious that no matter what happens, Makuski isn’t going anywhere. Her dedication to journalism cannot be denied, regardless of what you think of her reporting. Makuski will continue making a case for the legitimacy of her organization. 

Lisa Pett is an occasional contributor to the Metro Wire. She lives her with family in Hull.

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