Monday, February 11, 2008

The Cap Times, they are a changin'

Regular readers of Badgercentric know that we value The Capital Times, Madison's afternoon newspaper, for its UW sports coverage. Sure, it doesn't hurt that some of our good friends and former colleagues work there, but even if we didn't know them, we'd still read the stories for comprehensive coverage of our favorite teams.

If you haven't heard about it by now, there are big changes afoot at TCT, announced late last week. Cap Times editor Paul Fanlund, in a video announcement, says TCT will change from a afternoon newspaper published six days a week to an Internet newspaper published seven days a week. Read the story for full details.

As a longtime newspaper junkie, it wasn't hard to see this coming. Afternoon papers are a difficult sell in today's 24/7 news cycle with an endless; newspapers, period, are a difficult sell. Look at me - I used to work in daily newspapers, but don't subscribe to any, and read 4-5 per day online.

The decision to continue with any print product is puzzling, even if it is primarily opinion and arts content. I'll give TCT execs the benefit of the doubt, but my gut says the TCT portion of the State Journal will be easily overlooked, although the TCT's left-leaning opinion pages will probably retain a following going forward.

It appears that while TCT will retain a decent-sized sports staff (and we're confident management will make the proper decisions about which staffers to retain), there is no way they can produce the volume of print coverage they did before. This is not a bad thing. It gives TCT the opportunity to revolutionize professional coverage of sports. Here's what I would recommend:

-Focus on what you can be the best in the world at (a tenet of Good to Great, an interesting book I read on my recent flight, that I will recap later). Forget about spending any staff resources on covering the Packers or Brewers, AP feeds will suffice. Either:

-Devote all your resources to covering local sports: high school, home talent baseball, youth, Badger State Games, etc. Going hyperlocal is a strategy many larger newspapers are pursuing nowadays. But this would be hard to sell advertising around by itself, so:

-Throw your entire staff into covering University of Wisconsin athletics, with a heavy emphasis on the three top revenue-producing sports: football, men's basketball, men's hockey. Maybe not even hockey. That's what locals want, but it's also what UW alumni and fans worldwide want, too. We're an attractive demographic to web advertisers. With five or six guys covering the Badgers full-time, you could blow the State Journal and Journal Sentinel out of the water. Then, on top of the traditional stories you write, get into:

-Video - not hard, do lots of it. Create a mini-Badger TV network.

-Audio - ditto.

-Blog like you mean it, not the afterthought it is now. Be more timely, more provocative. Use it for quick hitters, like Dave Heller's "catching up with" UW alumni features for the Journal Sentinel.

-Be quicker. Right now, the Journal Sentinel and message boards seem to be better places to find breaking Badger news, however limited it might be.

-Build a community, including a message board that could rival any currently out there.

-Consistently cover recruiting like no other major media outlet. Not just this Phil Fritz stuff, well-written, reported recruiting news.

-As regular readers of this blog would know, I also think increased alumni coverage is desirable. Either we went to school with these guys, or they played on teams that made us happy - what are they doing now?

Aside from the unfortunate fact that some true professional journalists will lose their jobs in this transition, I am excited to see what The Cap Times comes up with here. All of us in publishing are trying to figure out the Internet, still, and the trick is to make it its own distinct product, not just a different form of your the product. Now, TCT won't even have a print product to compare itself to, which will be terrifying, but also liberating.


Jim Polzin said...

Not going to comment too much on stuff, other than the kind words are appreciated and I think your ideas are fabulous.

Just to clarify, sports will be part of the printed part. Not a huge part, and the specifics are still being ironed out, but my guess is four of the remaining five sports reporters would have one piece in the weekly edition, with sports sometimes being the centerpiece story.

Will said...

Great points Tappa. I just hope the editors and other powers-that-be at the Cap Times will use this opportunity to not only reinvent the format of the paper, but also take a good, long look at the writers at the paper. There are a bunch of really hard-working, interesting writers at the Cap Times (and I'm not saying this because I know them)...while others...hmm...yeah, you get the point. I would be shocked if some of them are capable of even producing the type of content you outlined.

One thing that troubles me about the move to online journalism is story length. Until the day we all have Kindle-like computer screens (the Kindle is pretty cool and I've been able to play around with one), it's going to be hard to sit through a lengthy profile or expose. And while I enjoy reading the blogs and quick-hitters as much as anyone, there needs to be stories of substance as well.

Maybe a lot of you guys have already been able to make that adjustment, but I tried reading a story in the New Yorker about Clinton and Obama the other day online, and it was a struggle.

scott.tappa said...

Thanks for the clarification, Jim, I amended that sentence to more accurately reflect the situation.

I know what Will means about story length - trying to read longer pieces on my BlackBerry gives me a headache.

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