Joel McNally is Leaving Town

After nearly 50 years as a journalist in Milwaukee, Joel McNally is leaving town. But his Shepherd Express column will continue.

Shepherd Express columnist Joel McNally is doing what he and his wife, Kit, have talked about doing for several years – leaving Milwaukee for Virginia.

The two are moving to Charlottesville, home of the University of Virginia, he said during his last appearance this past weekend on interCHANGE, the public affairs program on Milwaukee Public Television. Show host Dan Jones said McNally had been on the show for 20 years, and called him “one of Milwaukee’s most well-known, well read and well respected writers.”

McNally’s been a journalist in Milwaukee for nearly 50 years – for the Shepherd Express since the mid-90s, and before that for 27 years at The Milwaukee Journal, where he covered City Hall (and was famously carried out of a meeting on the orders of Mayor Henry Maier) and wrote a column for more than a decade. His column was called “Innocent Bystander,” and it needled the city’s high and mighty so often – and with McNally’s tongue sometimes so far in his cheek — that the paper’s editors began labeling it first “A column of personal opinion,” and then, “A satirical column of personal opinion.” It was funny, irreverent, liberal and admired by his readers and colleagues in the Journal newsroom.

Joel was one of the journalists who in 1984 revived the dormant Milwaukee branch of the Newspaper Guild, a union that still represents Journal Sentinel newsroom employees today.

The powers that be at the newspaper let him go in 1995, during a major downsizing at the merger of The Journal and the Milwaukee Sentinel. A year later he was an involved in an unsuccessful attempt to bring a purchase offer for the paper before its employee shareholders. On interCHANGE this weekend he said he was sad to see the paper sold to Gannett – a sale that closed last Friday.

McNally was editor of the Shepherd Express for two years, and drew criticism for hiring his son and his son’s fiancée as columnists.  “There was no nepotism when I got here,” McNally told Milwaukee Magazine. “I consider it one of my greatest innovations.” He’s written a weekly column for the Shepherd for about 19 years. Louis Fortis, editor and publisher of the Shepherd, says McNally will continue to write it from Virginia, following Milwaukee and Wisconsin news on the Internet.

Besides his work for The Journal and the Shepherd, he’s also written a number of times for Milwaukee Magazine, and taught at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee.

Kit Murphy McNally is a writer and justice advocate, and she served for 23 years as executive director of the Benedict Center, a nonprofit agency that advocates for criminal justice reform and sponsors programs for offenders, ex-offenders and crime victims, with a special focus on women.

The McNallys couldn’t be reached for comment, but his remarks on “interCHANGE” – on his career and on the state of journalism in Milwaukee – are worth listening to.



Tom Tolan is managing editor at Milwaukee Magazine, where he's worked since January 2016. He spent 24 years at The Milwaukee Journal and the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel as a copy editor, assistant metro editor and reporter. He lives in Shorewood.