It came as a complete surprise -- at least to some of those who will be affected. On Sept. 17, Wisconsin State Journal editor John Smalley announced via email (PDF) that some previous areas of cooperation between his newsroom and that of the jointly owned Capital Times would be suspended.
"For the past year or so, we've been operating with a hybrid system that employs a number of merged newsroom departments," the email noted. "There are many pros and cons to such a system, [but]...we've concluded the merged departments are not taking us where we need to go."
And so plans are afoot to roll back the consolidated functions of the two papers on sports, copyediting, photos, graphics and design. Each paper will have its own people handle these functions for its own pages, with only the online desk continuing as a merged department.
"This shouldn't be viewed as a return to the Iron Curtain era, and we won't be resurrecting any walls between the newsrooms," wrote Smalley. "In fact, we're hoping there still will be ample opportunity for collaboration between staff members and departments," including the continued sharing of stories.
The Cap Times must now scramble to find staff to fulfill functions for which it had been relying on these merged departments. Says one staffer, "The higher-ups at the State Journal consider the Cap Times a drain on their resources." There are also rumblings that a dispute over staffing precipitated the move.
This week, in a possibly related development, the Cap Times lost veteran (as in 39-year!) sports writer Mike Lucas to UWBadgers.com. Lucas was gracious in his public comments, thanking the paper for nurturing his career. But his departure comes on the heels of a mandate from Capital Newspapers Inc., the papers' joint owner, to shed four more positions, including from sports (see "More Blood to Spill at Cap Newspapers," 8/5/10).
Cap Times editor Paul Fanlund explains the change neutrally, saying "mixing people together who have different employers in the same work unit created confusion." And so, in the end, "We decided after this amount of time that the advantages of having things merged did not outweigh the clarity of having things separate."