Madison's progressive afternoon daily will never be the same. The Cap Times announced yesterday that it would cease six-day production of its afternoon print edition, following a trend of demises for afternoon dailies across the country. The paper will primarily have an online presence starting in April, with two weekly tabloid versions inside its competitor the State Journal. Though seemingly grim news, the change isn't necessarily a bad thing.
"Many people think that in order to be powerful, a journalist has to reach a huge audience," said Ellen Hume, Research Director of the Center for Future Civic Media, in a speech at West Bohemia University. "No, in order to be powerful, a journalist has to reach the audience that can make a difference to an issue. It can be one person."
Formerly as an intern and contributor, and always as a reader of the Cap Times, I see the the paper filling a needed watchdog role. With Madison's popular progressive readership, the paper has featured such stories as an expose on the doctor abuse within the prison system, the hidden costs behind charity fund raisers, unsavory lobbying of the state cable bill, and more. It's hard to think that silencing such a voice would be acceptable to readers.
Despite a low paper circulation hovering around 17,000, the State Journal's needed subsidies, and high number of staff, the Cap Times could be economically viable as an online product.
From my own experience, online readership of the Cap Times is hardly waning. As an intern, I read responses to my articles (hate mail and otherwise) from NY, UK, CA...A story jointly written by city editor Chris Murphy and I on one of Sen. Feingold's listen sessions caught tens of thousands of hits online within a couple of days.
The news organization has also shown some innovation last spring in revamping its style. Tighter columns on its Web site allowing for more easy online reading, page format seems much less cluttered, and a quick reader response feature gives a nod to bloggers. John Nichols gave live-blogging a go during municipal elections last spring and the staff is toying with video editorials.
Among other things that could be useful are a hyperlink sharing features for blogging and social networking sites (Facebook, Digg, Blogger, Newsvine tabs) and permalinks for stories. As if Shauna didn't have enough to do...
The main competitor for the Cap Times will be thedailypage.com, for which I've also written. Both present a more progressive viewpoint, not afraid to bring fire to a debate on local politics or fallacies in the justice system. But thedailypage.com is strictly local, featuring more arts and entertainment than news. Cap Times could show broader reach into state politics.
Breaking news could be where Cap Times will hold it's niche. Prior agreements with the State Journal have allowed it to seize on breaking news of the day. Whether this agreement changes?? Also, with no paper product, the local news shouldn't be subject to a noon deadline anymore.
The toughest part of the changeover at Cap Times will be staff cuts. Online publishing decreases the need for as many staff, but a short-staffed editorial department could hinder content.
Such is the nature of the old guard of newspapers unless there is consolidation across media, something that the progressive paper won't do. Here in Chicago, there's cuts at the Sun-Times (also due to stupid business decisions) and Sam Zell's purchase of Tribune Co. is allowing a media empire to stay competitive (possibly to the detriment of the %#@&ing news).
With all the economic bogymen in today's news world, Cap Times still has a leg to stand on. And it should keep on fighting.