The news was startling enough that my friend Rick Berg called my cell phone early Thursday afternoon while I was walking Santa Fe's Canyon Road coveting artwork I could not afford.
The word on the street was that The Capital Times had ceased daily publication, he reported.
In a way, the news was like that of Ronald Reagan's death, merciful, not unexpected, yet still sorrowing.
So, my old nemesis is going electronic while not giving up on print entirely. It will publish a tabloid on Wednesday and take over the arts and entertainment beat on Thursdays as both an insert to the morning paper and as a freebie available on newsstands and paper boxes.
It makes good business sense and it makes even better political sense. First, the business side. Say what publisher Clayton Frink may, the cost savings will be enormous and they are important.
It was pure insanity to rev up those printing presses in the afternoon and send out a wad of newsprint carried by underpaid employees burning expensive fuel through congested streets in a separate distribution stream to 17,000 customers spread from Sauk City to Edgerton. Unless the offset printing process has changed since I took my last paycheck from Wild Bill Evjue's company, the first 5,000 or so issues to come off the presses have to be discarded because it takes that long for the inks to register true.
Understand this about the operating arrangement: The Capital Times could cease to exist as even a pixel on a computer screen and The Capital Times Company would make money -- much more money now that it does not have to bear the expense of publishing what amounts to the Portage Daily Register, by circulation standards, while paying the staff of the Green Bay Press Gazette.
Frink says that 20 of the 60 newsroom jobs will go -- layout jobs related to the physical product. Maybe for now. But I would be surprised if they fill vacancies from those remaining 40. The fire, police, courts and weather beats -- all the spot news beats -- are toast.
What The Capital Times will become is something that I always thought could sell in Madison -- an opinion journal. The Washington Post used to put out a weekly compendium of its thumb-suckers and I ate it up.
This is an incredibly literate town; politics is the major participant sport, not golf or soccer. And the Progressive Dane newspaper -- there, I said it -- long ago gave up the distinction between news, analysis and editorial. So this new product will require very little retooling. And John Nichols by his lonesome can fill every edition. As others have said, the man has never left a thought unrecorded.
That's what scares me. John Nichols reaching 17,000 readers is one thing; now they expect to hit 80,000 with the new free distribution. Yes, the Wisconsin State Journal will run an occasional David Brooks and now, I see, Bill Kristol, newly syndicated by the New York Times. But where is the local conservative "critique" (to use another liberal word)? The State Journal? Are you kidding?!!
In the early 1990s I sounded out some of the city's money bags about launching a conservative weekly, under the editorship of yours truly. My mockup of the first edition -- modeled very closely after the National Enquirer, had a woman in a wheelchair crying "Chuckie, don't take your love to town." Chuckie being a certain state senator. I still remember the appalled looks on their faces.
- Once again, the Borg that is Capital Newspapers takes aim at its competitors: this time, my congenial hosts at Isthmus. An earlier challenge, the "Core" weekly, folded, but it never had an identity. This one could be tough.
- The on-line emphasis doesn't register with me. The Wisconsin State Journal also posts its stories on-line, sometimes before the print edition emerges. Why have another news staff across the hall duplicating< stories on what is still the same web site?
- If The Capital Times
- The Capital Times, more than ever, will be a nameplate like once independent Oldsmobile (founded in 1903) was to General Motors.
- And like Oldsmobile, even the nameplate will someday be retired.
- Where was the liberal "buy local" ethos? Conservative David Blaska bought the paper from the rack every day -- Madison's liberal establishment, obviously, did not.
- The marketplace makes its judgment.
Can you believe it?
Except that an entry on the TCT website from "enutpenfry" writes:
Perhaps it is time to ask that all newspapers nationwide be publicly financed and disallow any privately financed newspapers. It is unfair that the market dictates what is popular and what is not, thereby making certain publications financially unfeasible. The current system punishes those publications who can't get adequate advertising revenue due to low circulation numbers.
Now there is a devoted Capital Times reader who took its Progressive Dane lessons to heart! I think "enutpenfry" is sitting on the Dane County Board.
- My first newspaper job as a high school student on summer vacation was at the old Stoughton Courier Hub. Yes, it was a merged paper. Until the early 1950s one of its antecedents was a daily!
- This world changes. Polaroid this week announced it was quitting the self-developing photo film business. Kodak is re-inventing itself. IBM did re-invent. But others have not. Think Wang Computers, Gisholt, etc.
- Jason Shepard's article in Isthmus a couple of months ago was prescient when it reported that Capital Newspapers Inc. factotum Paul Fanlund would not comment on the future of The Capital Times.
- If I had the acuity of Steve Jobs' vision, I would have realized that the national news editor, getting all that good stuff online in the newsroom first thing in the morning so we could transform it into print, had his hands on the keyboard of the future.
- I still like newsprint and will pay for it.
Yes, I have a love/hate relationship with the newspaper. I loved working there. I literally grew up with the newspaper. I read Priscilla's Pop on the comics page (it was called the "Green Sheet"). First Bill Evjue and then Miles McMillan had an opinion column that began on Page One. Even into the early 1980s, it ran such conservative fare as Patrick Buchanan. Father read it and after Sunday Mass, we listened on the radio first to Drew Pearson's Washington Merry Go Round and then Bill Evjue's show on WIBA. The old man began every broadcast by clearing his throat.
What I dislike is the extreme and shrill partisanship of this newspaper, the double standard, the situational ethics which at times approaches agit-prop: Saturday's editorial was plenty worried about the departure of a division administrator and a bureau director from the state Justice Department, which it called "shocking." But what did it have to say about his Democratic predecessor's four-year backlog at the State Crime Lab, a lab that processes evidence that could convict or clear a criminal defendant? The sounds of silence.
By the way, I have been around state government long enough to learn that when a new secretary comes around, at least one division administrator or bureau chief goes. Not to mention a new, elected constitutional officer. The holdover just doesn't buy into the new guy's program, has been doing it his way for a long time and does not want to change. If the new guy is a good manager, the holdover is history.
And try picking up a newspaper and reading that you are a racist when Dave Zweifel ("I didn't write the editorial") damn well knows better.
Calling people a racist when they try to hold a fellow elected official to the same standards expected of others? Now there is the new McCarthyism!
I will miss Crankshaft, For Better or Worse, Doonesbury, Dilbert, and Arlo and Janis.