By Dan Kennedy • The press, politics, technology, culture and other passions

Another paper goes Web-mostly

It’s not yet a trend, but the managers of another daily newspaper have decided to go mostly online, and to scale back their print edition to just twice a week.

This time it’s the Daily Telegram of Superior, Wis., joining another Wisconsin paper, the Capital Times of Madison, which made the switch earlier this year.

Like the Capital Times, the Telegram is an afternoon paper owned by a chain co-owned with a larger, more successful morning paper in the same market. The real test will be when someone in a one-newspaper town tries this. Still, it definitely bears watching. (Via Romenesko.)

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  1. Judy, CT managing editor

    To clarify: The Capital Times is NOT owned by a chain. We are owned by the private Capital Times Co., which co-owns Madison Newspapers with Lee Enterprises, publisher of the local morning daily.

  2. Dan Kennedy

    Judy: So noted, and thank you.

  3. Anonymous

    Dan, you’re getting to be famous. You’re known in Wisconsin.

  4. Don, American

    Wisconsin is a lovely state, but where in the world is the hamlet of Superior?

  5. Anonymous

    Judy Ettenhoffer, TCT managing editor, is splitting hairs on the subject of the paper’s ownership and obscuring how her paper is able to publish online without significant business consequences. The Capital Times is officially owned by The Capital Times Publishing Company, which is entered into an operating agreement with Lee Enterprises, one of the largest newspaper chains in the nation, to form a venture called Capital Newspapers.Capital Newspapers publishes the morning Wisconsin State Journal, The Capital Times, and a whole swath of smaller dailies and weeklies throughout southern Wisconsin. This corporate structure owns the physical infrastructure of all of these publications, such as printing presses, trucks, boxes, etc., while the intellectual property of the publications is owned by the two parent companies.Ultimately, the profits from all Capital Newspapers publications are split evenly between Lee and The Capital Times Company, despite the fact that Lee is the direct owner of all publications except The Capital Times. What has this done?It’s given The Capital Times a steady flow of money despite years of declining circulation and unprofitable years, and has allowed it to stay in business with a large editorial staff while peers of similar sizes in similar markets have long fallen by the wayside. This essentially free money, in conjunction with a $90 million-plus endowment held by The Capital Times Company’s non-profit and investment arm named the Evjue Foundation, has kept the publication operating outside of any market pressures, and what is allowing them to maintain a 40 or so person staff for an operation that’s now devoted to daily online publishing and a pair of weekly print tabloid products.These weekly print products, one of which replaces the former Lee weekend guide inserted in the State Journal (and continues to be distributed in this fashion), are now the primary print ad vehicles for The Capital Times Company, and are directly intended to draw readers and dollars from one of the lone independent newsprint publications in the Madison market, one that’s been been the target of several failed tabloids launched by Capital Newspapers in the last few years. Even if both The Capital Times and Lee were to succeed in this mission, though, the weekly print ad market in town isn’t enough to sustain The Capital Times Publishing Company’s ongoing personnel costs. That’s no matter, though, as it continues to get free money from Lee.The lesson?Despite the fact that there is no viable business model for an exclusively online publication/newspaper devoted in part to traditional-style reporting, much less one with dozens of editorial employees, The Capital Times isn’t going to go anywhere, and will remain a force in the Madison media scene for the foreseeable future. And that’s because it is intimately associated with a chain.The Capital Times is also lucky in that Madison is a friendly market to online media, one that’s was already well developed before it decided to extend the Capital Newspapers monopoly into that medium. Superior… not so much, due to its smaller size, lower educational levels, and most importantly, its vastly older demographics.So you’re right that neither instance is a real test of the viability of an online newspaper, but the Capital Times is a particularly poor example due to its marriage with one of the biggest chains in the nation.

  6. Ari Herzog

    This brings up a tangential question if you don’t mind humoring me, Dan.The Capital Times story that you linked to lacks the ability for users to post comments (unlike the Gatehouse Media papers, for instance).I wonder if this paper, once 100% online, will offer commenting and how the newspaper industry in general feels about web comments on their pages versus external sites, e.g. Digg.

  7. Dan Kennedy

    Ari: I didn’t get into it in this brief post, but one of the problems with the CapTimes experiment is they’re charging into battle with an online presence that’s not particularly compelling. It’s something my students picked up on immediately when we talked about it in class last spring. So yes, you’re right.

  8. John Gatti Jr

    The situation is quite bleak here in Massachusettswhere once powerful newspapers are either downsizing,cutting staff, doing buyouts, or layoffs. Our Boston could be on the verge of being a one newspaper town with the Herald struggling to survive.As for the Boston Herald, the newspaper is on life support as most in the industry are today because of the internet, news cable, talk shows, and the now generation not buying or reading newspapers. The Herald must be supported despite who they are at times as the Boston region will become a tragic one newspaper town. Owner Purcell is trying to survive and all indications appear the paper conbtinues to sink as well as the rest of the media industry.

  9. Ari Herzog

    Dan: Glad to hear I wasn’t off there.John Gatti and others: Is there data or speculation somewhere on the future of all Boston media reacting to the Web, not just newspapers?

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