|The Capital Times was a feisty afternoon newspaper that championed a unique brand of Midwestern progressivism. (Ryan Foley/Associated Press)|
MADISON, Wis. - The Capital Times, the feisty afternoon newspaper that helped define this city and championed a unique brand of Midwestern progressivism, publishes its final daily today after a colorful 90-year history.
The paper that battled Joseph McCarthy, former senator of Wisconsin, and crusaded for decades to build a Frank Lloyd Wright convention center could no longer survive after decades of circulation losses.
But the self-described champion of the little guy isn't ready to quit. Next week, the paper starts publishing two weekly tabloids and transitions its daily coverage to the Internet with a smaller staff in a first-of-its-kind move being watched closely in the industry.
The changes have been difficult, with more than 20 newsroom staff members taking buyouts or getting laid off. Longtime readers, some of whose families subscribed since the paper's founding in 1917, are mourning the loss.
"It's quite a calamity," said Harold Tarkow, 95, a retired chemist who read the paper since starting college in 1930 and usually voted for whomever it endorsed. "They had good writers. They had good editors. And I seldom disagreed with them."
Dave Zweifel, who has been editor since 1983 and becomes editor emeritus under the transition, said the staff losses "are like breaking up a family." He spoke as he was writing his final column about how he landed his first job at the paper in 1962.
"I thought before the Internet and all these other external forces wreaked their havoc on us I'd be long gone," he said. "But it's happened a lot quicker than any of us expected."
William T. Evjue, then at the Wisconsin State Journal, started The Capital Times out of frustration after his paper called Bob La Follette, then senator of Wisconsin, unpatriotic for opposing World War I. Evjue decided the paper would be a voice for the progressive causes championed by "Fighting Bob."
Critics tried to organize advertising boycotts, had the Justice Department investigate whether it was funded by German money, and even beat up its newsboys, said Madison historian Stuart Levitan. But Evjue succeeded by selling $1 subscriptions and putting out a vibrant newspaper with an attitude, he said.
The paper has continued a tradition of taking on big business, railing against government secrecy, and opposing war.
It was an early champion of women's rights, gay rights, and environmental protection, winning praise from Martin Luther King Jr., Robert F. Kennedy, and Jesse Jackson.
Senator Fred Risser, a Madison Democrat who has been in the Legislature since 1956 and has read the paper even longer, said the Times "has kept Madison as liberal and progressive as it is."
That tradition won't end with the final daily paper, said John Nichols, a prominent Capital Times columnist who also covers politics for The Nation magazine.
"As tough as this transition is, it's about the future," he said. "The Capital Times is very well positioned to go on the Web."