Welcome to The Recombobulation Area!

The Recombobulation Area is a new weekly opinion column from veteran Milwaukee journalist Dan Shafer. It's part of a brand new media project covering Milwaukee and the Midwest.

Welcome to The Recombobulation Area!

My name is Dan Shafer and this is the home for my new weekly column.

For those who don't know me, I have been a staff writer, reporter and editor at several publications over the past decade. I've worked as the digital managing editor at Seattle magazine and Seattle Business magazine; a reporter at the Milwaukee Business Journal; an assistant editor and digital editor at Milwaukee Magazine, a reporter at BizTimes Milwaukee; and managing editor at ThirdCoast Digest. I have also contributed at the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, Shepherd Express, WisBusiness and Milwaukee Record. I have won seven Milwaukee Press Club Excellence in Journalism Awards for reporting, running websites and for opinion writing. I am on Twitter at @DanRShafer.

"The Recombobulation Area" weekly opinion column will be published for free in this space and at patreon.com/therecombobulationarea. The column will not require payment for you to enjoy. A monetary contribution to this effort, however, will be a crucial component of a larger mission.

Efforts are underway to build a brand new media project covering Milwaukee and the Midwest. It will have a news and politics focus, also touching on topics like business, economic development, immigration, climate and other big topics of the day (and perhaps the occasional humorous story from, say, a local police blotter or another source of tales of Midwestern oddity). In the months to come, you’ll be learning more about how this is all taking shape. But it's starting small, and growing piece by piece. 

So, I'll be honest with you here. I am currently a stay-at-home dad. My biggest obstacle to jumping in and making this a 100 percent full-time effort is child care. Don't get me wrong -- I love staying home with my two-year-old daughter; she's the greatest person who has ever existed. But I'm a journalist, and I've been wanting to do something like this for a long time. And now, in 2019, the time is right to build something new. 

For this long-term goal of creating a new media outlet to become a reality, what I need first and foremost is time. I want to create newsletters, podcasts, social media content, and find more ways to share and tell and write more stories about what's happening in the Middle Western States. Your contribution will help grow this business. 

So here's what I'm thinking. As media has increasingly clustered on the coasts, national outlets are really only hiring journalists in four cities -- New York, Washington, D.C., Los Angeles and San Francisco -- leaving coverage of many regions across the country lacking. In story after story, national outlets visit Trump-supporter bars or diners to discover that they do, in fact, still support Trump. The Rust Belt, white working class stereotype of the Midwest is pervasive, and while it may accurately describe parts of the region, it ignores the big, weird, diverse, amazing, problematic cities that can be overlooked when people talk about "flyover country," as well as the ever-changing set of problems facing people in rural or suburban areas. 

There's a regional component that's missing in the larger digital media landscape. And here in Milwaukee, we can learn from places like Minneapolis or Columbus or Detroit or Chicago, and vice versa. The problems that we face aren't all that different. We can all be doing a better job of learning from each other. 

Because -- maybe you see it, too -- the Midwest is having a moment right now. People are identifying more as "Midwestern," recognizing a shared culture, even just in how we all say the word "ope!". And with the 2020 election approaching, and with the campaign set to drive through states like Iowa, Wisconsin, Michigan and Ohio, the national spotlight will be on the region -- and on the important issues we are facing. There can be a smarter and more connected way for all of us here in the Midwest to share in this moment. 

But that's all in the future. This effort is going to start small, and start independently, and build one piece at a time. Yes, we'll need some of your individual support to be able to do that (and to do it the right way). In addition to supporting this larger mission, becoming a contributor or supporter will give you access to exclusive bonus content -- things like audio interviews, news stories (when I come across the occasional scoop), documents from records requests, and more content that might not fit into the weekly column. 

The column gets its name from the post-security area at the Milwaukee's Mitchell Airport where one “recombobulates” (which is not a real word nor something that exists anywhere else in the world, making it basically perfect). After years of disruption — most of it harmful to journalism — today’s media could use some recombobulation. And that’s what I hope to deliver in this column and with this project as it grows.

I invite you to gather your things, put your shoes back on, and join me. It could be quite the ride.

Subscribe to The Recombobulation Area newsletter here and follow us on Facebook and Instagram at @therecombobulationarea. Follow Dan on Twitter at @DanRShafer.