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The Capital Times: When Is A Newspaper No Longer A Newspaper?

February 7, 2008

The news was not unexpected, and yet it was sad.  We all knew this day would come since afternoon papers are a rarity in the nation, and the newspaper world faces economic hardships.  Fewer readers and less ad buys have forced newspapers all over to adjust or fold.  Madison has witnessed the long slow readership decline of the afternoon progressive paper, and yet when we read the headline Thursday that The Capital Times would not be published six days a week, it was hard to take.  I think there was a collective pang inside our city after reading the top of the fold story with the fateful announcement.  We have all had conversations with friends and politicos about the future of the newspaper, but I think many felt our great city was supposed to be somehow immune to the same difficulties felt in newsrooms in other places.   Somehow I think we felt the paper would always be there to hold in our hands each afternoon.

A friend asked rhetorically upon learning the news that ‘daily’ publications would cease, “when is a newspaper no longer a newspaper?”  I think we have the answer upon reading the story.  There is something about the smell of the printed page, the ink that rubs off on your fingers, the sound of the pages as you fold them to better position it for reading while on the porch swing, or sitting on the sofa.  You can start the paper and then take it with you to read on the bus or at work.  You can leave it near the TV so to know when a show is about to be broadcast.  Some might even do the crosswords while soaking in the tub.  Not to mention that there is a tremendous value to having two points of view from two separate newspapers over the issues that shape our nation and community.  So it is easy to see that a real slice of America disappears when a newspaper morphs into something else.  At some point it stops being a real newspaper.

While the Capital Times will try to be relevant in the computer age, and stresses that their content and vocal opinion on national issues and local concerns will still be a mainstay of the efforts William Evjue started in 1917, we all know that this is not so much the start of something new, as it is the end of something grand.  Come April a great mainstay of the city is about to end, as we know it.  That is worth a moment of reflection, along with a sincere thanks on the part of a grateful city for all that the printed papers have meant to so many.

No matter your political point of view we can all agree that the downsizing of a newspaper in the fashion that the Capital Times will take is sad.  A vibrant and competitive afternoon newspaper made Madison special, and even with a more robust internet web site there is still a great hole that will never be replaced. 

Many an afternoon this past summer and fall I would be outside either cutting the grass, tending the flowers, or washing the car when the man delivering The Capital Times rounded the corner and landed my copy with precision on the porch.  (How he drives and throws with accuracy always amazed me.)  I would then take some time and read the paper out front.  The grass and flowers could wait.  This summer will be different and I know that many in the city will find a part of their day incomplete with the absence of the ‘daily’ progressive afternoon newspaper.

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