Capital Newspapers, Inc. announced today that its Capital Times, Madison's afternoon and very progressive newspaper will cease its daily publication on April 26th. Like so many other metro afternoon papers, it could no longer publish as circulation declined steadily to the current 17,000. I'm personally pretty sad about this, but I've had time to get used to the news. I had reason to know this was coming. It was a hard secret to keep among my progressive friends. I made sure to give my Cap Times carrier a really nice holiday tip because I knew well before he did that he'd be out of work.
This is not all bad news. The paper intends to live on as a twice-weekly supplement to the Wisconsin State Journal, Madison's much larger morning paper. Wednesday's tab-sized supplement will be chock full of the op-ed content that has made the Cap Times beloved by a lot of people and loathed by just as many. Thursday's supplement will provide coverage of arts and entertainment, replacing the Rythms section that the Cap Times produced for both Madison papers for many years.
Perhaps the most encouraging thing is that the Cap Times intends on remaining a vital and timely news source by stepping up its digital edition in a huge way. (Thus the headline pun. Clever, huh?)
At least that's the plan.
"Moving our resources to the web is the wave of the future," [editor Dave] Zweifel added. "Thousands of readers are already using captimes.com and, frankly, we're often blown away by the volume of responses we get to columns and stories at a time when we're devoting limited resources to the site. Putting the full force our newsroom on the site will extend the reach and relevance of The Capital Times for years and years to come."
It didn't take long for the paper's online message board to begin reflecting the reaction of both readers and detractors. (link; scroll down a ways.) Indeed, those who viewed the venerable daily as the "Crapital Times" are dancing on its grave. Even though it's not going away completely, that's the way many are taking the news.
As both a newspaper fan and a media strategist, I have to wonder how successful the Wednesday supplement will be. Generally, there's not a whole lot of duplication between the two Madison papers' readership. To be sure, there are those like me who subscribe to both. But a great many readers of the State Jouranl (or State Urinal for non-fans) may well be unhappy that some of their subscription money is now going to fund the writings of people like John Nichols and Doug Moe. Tough shit, I say. The Cap Times is a lone voice of progressive thought among old media. One of the things that impressed me about Madison when I moved here was that it was a rare two-newspaper town where although the two papers were jointly operated, they were totally at odds editorially.
So, as the newspaper industry continues to lose readership as its audience base grows older and dies off, we mourn the passing of another fine newspaper. Sure, it will be around in a different form, and I am happy about that. The viability of a metro paper focusing on daily... hourly... digital editions is exciting. And it should be a glimpse of the future. I hope it makes it, and not just for selfish reasons. I also want to see it succeed because of the important progressive voice it provides.