My suspicions tell me that, if polled, most undergraduates would list the cold period between New Year’s Day and Martin Luther King, Jr. Day as the year’s most boring. Those lucky enough to remain in Madison stay in an unusually sleepy town – downtown merchants curtail their hours and few students are actually around. Even those who get to enjoy a pitcher at a bar with a few friends are mostly stuck doing the same thing idle undergraduates in their hometowns do during winter break:  waking up at noon and watching full seasons of acclaimed television series on Netflix.

Or maybe that’s just me. 

Regardless, Madison’s emptiness at this time of the year proves just how vital students are to this community. Legislators and their aides returned to town earlier this month to begin a new session of lawmaking at the Capitol, but their influence on our community is mostly financial, not cultural. Madison is a big enough city to sustain itself without the University of Wisconsin. But we’d be as exciting as Des Moines or Harrisburg if that were the case.

The newspaper or website hosting this column has the unique mission of covering and contextualizing the news that affects this unique, life-giving community. The Badger Herald’s staff has been in town during this sleepy period to cover the news most important to students and compile them into our largest issue of the semester – one that both helps train our employees and acts a guide for what our readers can expect for the next several months.

On the news front, the most important stories from the outset are obvious and interconnected. Gov. Scott Walker will enter the second half of his first term as a self-declared bipartisan interested in constructive reform with Democrats. UW and the Associated Students of Madison will inevitably continue to handle the budget crunch that has plagued the state and the university for the last several years. A local election will test if the political movement that began almost two years ago with the reaction to Walker’s budget repair bill can maintain its relevance in Madison.

But in the office, we’re sure to see a semester of change as well.

We’ll continue to adjust our website regularly to give readers the best experience possible. We also will soon introduce an exciting new platform for our most popular feature, making shout-outs a more interactive form of social media mostly exclusive to students. Don’t worry, the anonymity will stay.

Personnel-wise, we’re also looking at some changes to our Editorial Board. Herald tradition has held that the three top editorial positions are required to sit on the board. Last semester’s chair, Addie Blanchard, has moved to Milwaukee to begin a communications career. Former News Content Editor Leah Linscheid will join the board and replace Blanchard as chair, and I’ll stay on as well.

Managing Editor Katherine Krueger and Editor-at-Large Pam Selman will stay off the board to focus on other pursuits related to their positions. Krueger will continue writing investigative pieces for our news section, while Selman will guide new and experienced writers in a large effort to improve the Herald’s long-form journalism.

After making some changes to our publication model last semester, a third-party commission of current and former Herald employees will present us with recommendations for how we should proceed into a publishing and advertising climate that grows more friendly to digital content every day. It’ll be up to our current leadership to decide what to do, but I’m positive our employees and alumni will give us smart and insightful advice that will prove helpful to future generations of Heralders.

It feels wonderful to be back in Madison for one last semester, no matter how sleepy the town seems before UW students return. Stick with us this semester; I promise it will be an exciting one.

Ryan Rainey (rrainey@badgerherald.com) is a senior majoring in journalism and Latin American studies.