Whatever Happened to Milwaukee's Alternative Newspaper, The Bugle?
An impressive collection of old Bugle American newspapers are spread out on a table at the Milwaukee County Historical Society. I'm here looking at these because a listener reached out to Bubbler Talk, wanting to know: “Why did the Bugle newspaper end and where are its employees now?”
Before I get into the paper's demise, let's look at what it was. The Bugle American was a free paper that started in 1970. It was picked up just as another underground Milwaukee paper, Kaleidoscope, was ending its run.
The historical society's assistant archivist Steve Schaffer says while Kaleidoscope focused heavily on political commentary and was considered extremely radical, the Bugle - although left leaning - appealed more to the mainstream.
Other alternative papers at the time included Art Muscle, Orbit and the Crazy Shepard, which eventually morphed into Shepherd Express and is still on newsstands today.
Steve says the Bugle catered to young people who were influenced by the Vietnam War. “There were a lot of articles about Vietnam veterans against the war, VA support for returning veterans, there was also a lot of content regarding drug dependency, there was a renter and eviction advocacy for the east side."
It also included political cartoons and promotion of music festivals, he adds. “The reason I think it was probably a little bit more successful is, it had balanced cultural and political content."
The Bugle put out more than 300 issues between 1970 and 1978; it also called three different locations home.
I met Mark Goff at the Bugle’s first office. If you’re familiar with Milwaukee’s east side, it’s that tiny log cabin that sits in the parking lot of The Tracks tavern on Humboldt and Locust. Mark was a writer and photographer for the Bugle, part of a staff of about 20 people coming and going.
“We all thought up stuff to write and we all turned it in. Thursday was deadline day, so during the week people would come in and start turning in copy,” he shares. “We covered anti-war activities, marches, protests, things like that."
The Bugle distributed copies to newsstands, supermarkets and bars throughout Milwaukee County. As the paper grew, the staff moved into a bigger office in the Riverwest neighborhood. Mark says then one day, he got a call at 6 in the morning – the offices had been firebombed. He grabbed his camera and ran over there.
“So we spent the whole day cleaning up and salvaging it, and we didn’t miss a publication. We managed to slap the thing together and get the next week’s paper out on time,” Mark remembers.
UWM came to the Bugle’s rescue, he says, allowing the paper to use university offices to crank out the next edition.
And, Marks says the fire starters were never caught, but theories continue to swirl. He says the Bugle did have a few enemies because some articles dealt with controversial subject matter. The building was declared a total loss, and the paper moved to a storefront on Burleigh and that’s where it ended.
“Probably the ad sales dropped off to the point where it couldn’t be financially sustainable any longer. Usually, that’s what kills papers,” he says.
Though, Mark says some Bugle staff went on to write for the Milwaukee Journal and the Milwaukee Sentinel as well as other alternative weeklies. One even found fame and fortune as a Hollywood screenwriter - Michael Angeli.
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