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Trails’ End?
It appears to be curtains for a once-quirky statewide magazine.

The other hiking boot is dropping at Wisconsin Trails. Pressroom Buzz has learned that the bimonthly magazine will soon stop publishing, 52 years after its launch.

Asked about the development, Betsy Brenner, publisher of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, which maintains the magazine under its special media division, said Wednesday via email: “We haven’t announced any ‘decision’ affecting any of our publications, so I'm afraid we have no comment.”

But barring an eleventh-hour rescue – and none is known to be in the offing – word is out both inside and outside the JS newsroom that the magazine’s January issue will reportedly be its last. 

It’s a sad end to what was once a distinctive institution. 

Founded in 1960 as a quarterly magazine, Wisconsin Tales & Trails was taken over the next year by Howard and Nancy Mead, who went on to publish it out of their Madison home for nearly four decades. Along the way, the Meads lovingly sculpted it into a distinctive piece of Wisconsin journalistic heritage – a celebration of the state’s natural beauty and recreation combined with a sort of public diary of the Mead family.

“We did what you couldn’t possibly do today,” Howard Mead told me two years ago for a Pressroom column in the November 2010 issue of Milwaukee Magazine. “We never expected to get rich, but we expected to have a lot of fun, which is the way it worked out.”

After owning the magazine for a decade, the Meads shortened the name to Wisconsin Trails in 1971. In 1983 they converted it to a bimonthly magazine.

Along the way they and the magazine made a mark. Perhaps none was more prominent than the role the publication played in raising awareness of Lake Superior’s Apostle Islands. A series of articles on the landmark eventually helped spur Sen. Gaylord Nelson’s successful campaign to have the area declared a national lakeshore in 1970. Howard Mead also chronicled the growing up of the couple’s children in his regular editor’s column over the years.

The Meads got out of the business in 1998, selling the magazine to Scott Klug when Klug retired from Congress. (“He made us an offer we couldn’t refuse,” Mead said in our interview.)

Klug was still the owner when the Chicago Tribune named it one of the nation’s 50 best magazines in 2006. In 2007, Journal Communications bought two of Klug’s three magazines – Wisconsin Trails and a new title, the upscale shelter magazine Milwaukee Home and Fine Living, that Klug had launched in 2003. (Some speculated that Journal only wanted Milwaukee Home and was forced to take Trails along with it, but that has never been confirmed.)

The magazines were put under the JS specialty media umbrella. Over time, however, some specialty titles have fallen (including alt-weekly MKE and Hispanic-oriented Aqui). Milwaukee Home closed in August of 2010 – just as Trails was putting out its 50th-anniversary issue. 

Under JS operation, Trails evolved increasingly to be an in-state travel magazine with a mix of offbeat and more conventional features and often splendid photography. But circulation dwindled, and as online resources of travel information grew, travel advertising became harder to sell and less lucrative as well. The magazine’s masthead shrank noticeably in the last year. At the same time, Trails has turned increasingly to JS reporters for copy instead of its own staff or freelancers. 

It’s not known what will happen with the magazine’s website, Wisconsintrails.com, which hosts a limited archive of stories as well as some original content, including blogs and photography. As it carries at least some brand equity, the website could theoretically be kept operating – perhaps in conjunction with the outdoor, travel or lifestyle departments at the Journal Sentinel, or, alternatively, in some kind of partnership with the community unit’s rural Wisconsin papers. But whether either arrangement, or some other repurposing of the website, is in the offing remains to be seen.

Meanwhile, the JS customer service department hasn’t yet been informed of any change. The subscription number on the Trails website goes to the company’s main circulation line, which gives callers options for subscribing to the daily paper, local papers published by its Journal Community Publishing Group, and Wisconsin Trails and other publications. Callers wishing to sign up for a Trails subscription are offered a year of six issues for $24.95.

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Get Your Twitter On: There’s still time for working journalists to sign up for a social media seminar put on by the newly formed local professional chapter of The Society of Professional Journalists (SPJ Milwaukee-Pro for short). The event includes three, count ‘em, three, Milwaukee Magazine editors, who will among other things discuss our recent October Best Of edition that was completely mobile-device-interactive: Abby CallardClaire Hanan and Howie Magner. They will be  joined by Amy Guth of WGN / Chicago TribuneMary Spicuzza of the Wisconsin State Journal, and Charles Schelle of Patch.com, who’s also a former social media editor of the Baltimore Sun Media Group. 

The event is Tuesday, Nov. 13, from 5:30 to 8:30 p.m. in the Wisconsin Club’s Deutscher Room, 900 W. Wisconsin Ave., Milwaukee. Admission is $10 for MPC/SPJ members, and $20 for non-members (appetizers and parking included), payable at the door. To register, email spj@stevenschuster.com before Nov. 8. Steve Schuster is president of the chapter.

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How It’s Done: A phony story perpetrated by a Republican activist in Madison who claimed he was beaten up  and called anti-gay slurs is expertly unraveled by Judy Davidoff at Isthmus (full disclosure – I’m an Isthmus contributor). Davidoff maps out how the story spread, pointing out the role that both the unabashedly right-wing Media Trackers website as well as the conservative-funded though avowedly non-partisan Wisconsin Reporter operation played in promoting the fake story – including false accusations directed at the husband of Congressional candidate Mark Pocan. And she also takes note of how more established outlets further advanced the story: freelance JS columnist and blogger Christian Schneider and radio talker Charlie Sykes at WTMJ-AM. (At UrbanMilwaukee.comBruce Murphy raises the question of why the JS has now scrubbed Schneider’s erroneous blog post from its site.)

Speaking of Sykes, we note that his new RightWisconsin conservative multi-media project indicates a new “premium” service is coming next year, possibly hinting at an answer to the question I asked about its business model a few weeks ago. Meanwhile, longtime GOP activist and commentator Brian Fraley has signed on as RW’s “managing editor,” leaving another conservative news and commentary outlet, the MacIver Institute.

Comment below, or write Pressroom at pressroom@milwaukeemagazine.com.

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