What is the Wisconsin State Journal trying to hide?
Officials at the Madison's morning newspaper are refusing to say how the demise of The Capital Times as an afternoon daily will affect their own operation. Publisher Bill Johnston and others rebuffed interview requests, with managing editor Tim Kelley offering a relatively courteous "No comment."
In fact, others confirm, the April 26 change is being eyed as an opportunity for the State Journal to boost its own readership.
"The circulation department will try to convert the Cap Times' subscribers to the State Journal," says Dave Zweifel, Cap Times editor emeritus. He sees this as being in his own paper's interest, since the Cap Times will be reincarnated as two weekly tabloids distributed free with the State Journal.
Currently, the State Journal has 87,500 paid customers during the week and 141,000 on Sunday. The Capital Times' paid circulation is around 16,500. Subtracting out newsstand sales and people who already get both papers, Zweifel figures there are about 12,000 Cap Times subscribers whom the State Journal will seek to win over.
Phil Stoddard, circulation director for Capital Newspapers Inc., which owns both papers, says details of the letters that will go to Cap Times' subscribers during the week of March 10 are still being worked out. But one goal will be to ease their transition to the State Journal.
"We want those subscribers to continue to get the paper at the same rate as they're currently paying, up to an additional year," says Stoddard, noting that the State Journal's $4.75 per week rate is 40 cents higher than for the daily Cap Times and Sunday State Journal.
Still unclear is whether the company will make the switch automatic - unless subscribers take action to keep it from occurring. "Our lawyers are looking at that," says Stoddard. He suggests the switch could occur for a limited period, say 45 days, after which those who decide not to renew "owe nothing."
The state statute governing "negative options," as these are known, is complex. But in general, says David Ghilardi, assistant legal counsel for the state Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection, "If you receive a bill for something you didn't affirmatively order, that's a violation of the law."
For years, the State Journal side has been saying its own staff levels were depressed because the Cap Times had a much larger staff than its circulation would dictate.
Now that the Cap Times is losing 15-20 of its 65 staffers, will the State Journal be hiring?
Zweifel doubts it, "given the economic climate newspapers are in." Johnston was quoted in his own paper as saying no such changes would occur.
On the Cap Times' side, last Friday was the deadline for staffers to accept a voluntary buyout, in exchange for 10-52 weeks of pay at their current salaries. Sources say at least 16 people accepted; managing editor Judy Ettenhofer declines to name names, but Isthmus has come up with a list:
Senior news editor Ron McCrea, contributing editor Phil Haslanger, associate editor Joe Hart, nation/world editor Steve Ray, columnists Rob Zaleski and Doug Moe, features writer Mary Bergin, features editor Linda Brazill, arts reporter Jacob Stockinger, sports copy editor Brent Engh, photographers Hank Koshollek, Dave Sandell and Rich Rygh, copy editors Mark Meadows and Raymond Johnson, and office coordinator Molly McLean.
In other news, Rob Thomas and Katie Dean were named editors of the new arts weekly. And on March 17, Doug Moe will start his new job - at the Wisconsin State Journal.