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The Badger Herald

Independent Student Newspaper Since 1969

The Badger Herald

Independent Student Newspaper Since 1969

The Badger Herald


The Capital Times Online: Future trend or big mistake?

Last week, Madison?s afternoon newspaper The Capital Times announced it would no longer print daily and will instead switch to online-only publication.

Chicago Tribune media columnist and former Capital Times reporter Phil Rosenthal noted Sunday the careful eye the vulnerable industry has turned to the trend.

?[The Capital Times] becomes the latest experiment that the newspaper industry, wrestling with the loss of readers and ad revenue to the Internet, watches to see if someone can figure out how to take advantage of consumers? changing news habits rather than be victimized by them,? he wrote.


The Capital Times? move follows a route taken by the Cincinnati Post ? now ? at the start of the year, but the Madison paper had already spent much time talking about its future.

?Probably about a year ago we started having discussions about our relevance, whether The Capital Times continued to be relevant as we needed and wanted it to be if we stayed primarily as an afternoon newspaper,? said Paul Fanlund, editor of The Capital Times.

Nearly four years ago, the newspaper?s circulation department, then headed by Fanlund, sampled The Capital Times to several Madison-area neighborhoods known as strong Democratic or liberal areas, hoping to increase its revenue.

?That effort didn?t produce many new subscribers, and that exemplified our struggle,? Fanlund added. ?To extend our relevance, it?s pretty clear that the Internet is becoming the central communications medium for people under a certain age.?

Though Fanlund is optimistic about the new format, there remains the question of whether the newspaper is going to survive in its new venture. Despite constantly increasing, Internet-based publications still fail to produce significant profit for news companies in the online business.

Even well-developed and long-established news websites have problems raising Internet revenue to match or surpass revenue from print advertising and circulation.

The New York Times? website, ranked top newspaper site by the Sept. 2007 Nielsen NetRatings NetView, accounted for only 11 percent of the company?s fourth quarter revenue last year, at $95.2 million.

This revenue includes money generated from reader access to the company?s digital archives,,, and the websites of other newspapers owned by the company.

With a website less developed and an online readership much lower than The New York Times?, The Capital Times might be at risk of falling into non-sustainability.

Looking at the big picture, Ron Brochu, executive editor of The Telegram, a daily newspaper based in Superior, Wis., said he is concerned a shift to online news could also represent a decrease in the number of trained working journalists.

With increased reader participation in websites that have comment sections and the arrival and development of the blogosphere, some media researchers worry about a possible decline in quality of online content.

?We?ll have lots of self-taught mo-jos (mobile journalists) that aren?t as informed as they need to be about fairness issues and in-depth reporting,? Brochu said. ?Really, anyone could get on the Internet and come across a reporter, and the reader doesn?t know if that reporter is trained.?

The general trend in newspapers is for revenue to decline, he added, and that?s no incentive for companies to hire trained and experienced journalists.

?It?ll be a difficult existence financially,? Brochu said. ?There?s few newspaper companies that are getting any significant portion of their financial needs from the Internet.?

The Capital Times has downsized its staff and re-drawn most job descriptions, and Fanlund said higher numbers were let go from production, a department no longer needed in an online publication.

For James Baughman, director of the UW School of Journalism and Mass Communication, there is no telling where The Capital Times will be a few years from now.

?We really don?t know whether it?s going to work, but I suspect The Capital Times thinks it?s going to work, and the rest of us simply don?t know,? Baughman said. ?Not everyone in the Madison market likes the State Journal, and the online edition may be a nice alternative ? just as for some of us it may be a stretch [to read online].?

UW journalism professor Jack Mitchell said he, too, is unsure about the newspaper?s future, though he?d rather have The Capital Times under its new format than see it ?just fading away and becoming less and less important.?

?It?s not viable economically on its own,? Mitchell said. ?[The Capital Times] is only being subsidized by its cross-ownership with the State Journal.?

According to Fanlund, The Capital Times Co. owns half of Capital Newspapers, which prints The Capital Times, the Wisconsin State Journal, The Badger Herald and The Daily Cardinal. He added The Capital Times has not and will not share editorial or news decisions with the Wisconsin State Journal.

?People ask me how hard [we] compete with the State Journal,? Fanlund said. ?I view everything as competition for the time and attention of readers, and that?s the ground we?re competing on.?

He added, ?We have a room full of journalists who love to get the best story first, and that?s just the way journalists as we know are wired. That?s why they get business.?

Madison?s progressive voice

For some, not having the 90-year-old paper in newsstands across Madison could weaken the city?s progressive voice, since the only other professional daily newspaper would be the Wisconsin State Journal, known for its more conservative editorial page.

?I think it?s a blow to the community; Madison has been lucky to have two daily newspapers at a time when that was becoming more and more rare,? Mayor Dave Cieslewicz said. ?And having the competition between the two papers and having the different editorial opinions was very important to the civic life of the community.?

As a progressive, the mayor added, he is sad to see The Capital Times go, though he is not concerned about the possibility of losing diversity in the public discourse the paper brings to the city?s political scheme.

?We still have the Isthmus, we still have a number of websites and blogs that are out there, and of course the Cap Times will remain in an electronic form,? Cieslewicz said. ?I think we have lost a very important outlet for [progressives], and we?ll just have to see how we might compensate for that.?

But Fanlund said this new format would instead provide The Capital Times with more leverage to keep its ?watchdog function? in Madison.

?I think it could be a successful model, I think that my point is that I don?t think that we?re abandoning serious journalism,? he added. ?I think we?re enhancing serious journalism by our Wednesday and Thursday publications, in which we anticipate doing a lot of in-depth, investigative and features reporting.?

Should more newspapers decide to invest in an online format, Baughman said UW students should rest assured. Eight years ago, the UW School of Journalism and Mass Communication faculty revamped its program to prepare its students to reflect the possibility that media platforms would change.

?We?re preparing students for jobs that [eight years ago] didn?t yet exist,? Baughman said.

The Capital Times will have a circulation of more than 80,000 on Wednesdays and Thursdays, as it will be distributed with the Wisconsin State Journal and be free on newsstands. Its final daily publication is Saturday, April 26.

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