A Thin Line

Interim editor Howie Magner’s January letter to our readers.

We had quite the debate about it. An all-out, all-opinions-on-the-table discussion.

As our first issue of 2016 came together, the question was posed: Should “In the Woods,” Senior Editor Matt Hrodey’s detailed look at the Slender Man-inspired attack, be our cover story?

It is a deeply immersive piece about a deeply troubling saga, one encompassing unthinkable childhood violence, mental illness, the influence of the Internet, the intersection of the juvenile and adult justice systems, and the ramifications for everyone involved. Hrodey sat through court sessions, pored over legal documents and interrogation tapes, and spoke with child psychology experts, all in an effort to better understand the fallout from two 12-year-old girls nearly stabbing a third to death.

It’s a story that can’t be told without taking readers into dark places. It’s a story that can’t be absorbed without evoking dark questions. And those questions led back to the one about the cover.

We had other cover options. There was “The Winter of Our Great Content”, wherein those who dread our seasonal nadir may find a reason to embrace it. There was “Finding Peace” (Page 50), Georgia Pabst’s profile of Chris Her-Xiong, who made a harrowing escape from war-torn Laos as a child. Today, she’s educating children and transforming Milwaukee’s Hmong community as principal of the Hmong American Peace Academy.

But over the past 18 months, few stories captured Milwaukee’s attention as the Slender Man trial had. We could not ignore that. Not quite two years ago on our cover, we memorialized our late publisher, Betty Quadracci. Her mandate for Milwaukee Magazine had always been to “challenge Milwaukeeans with in-depth reporting and analysis of issues of the day.” Hrodey’s piece is just what our magazine’s matriarch had in mind. You’ll not find a better treatment of the subject.

It is an engrossing read, but not an easy one, nor should it be. This story should give us pause, as readers, as parents and as human beings. But we hope that on the other side of such pauses comes a better understanding, not only of those involved, but also of the contributing factors and consequences.

We know our magazine is in the midst of changes. Former editor Kurt Chandler was a fixture here, in one role or another, for nearly two decades. He’s left us to again pursue his first love of writing (but you can still reach him at kurt.t.chandler@gmail.com). And yes, our next editor will put his or her own stamp on this publication.

But this will always be the magazine that grew from Betty Quadracci’s vision. She wanted us to discover what’s unique about Wisconsin and its people, to challenge conventional wisdom when necessary, to bring attention to issues when warranted and heap praise when deserved. And she wanted us to season it all with affection while holding a mirror up to the city we call home.

‘A Thin Line’ appears in the January 2016 issue of Milwaukee Magazine.

Find the January issue on newsstands beginning on Jan. 4.

Be the first to get every new issue. Subscribe.



Howie Magner is a former managing editor of Milwaukee Magazine who often writes about sports for the magazine.