When the Superior Daily Telegram told its readers July 10 that it will refocus its resources toward publishing primarily on the Web, it joined The Capital Times of Madison, WI as the second in-state newspaper to go to a twice-weekly printing schedule this year.
The trend is not the result of any Wisconsin-specific element. It is more indicative of the challenges faced by media organizations in mid-sized markets, which do not have the flexibility of large-market publications or the loyal readership of small-town titles, says Brian L. Steffens, executive director of the National Newspaper Association.
High-circulation newspapers in large markets, which publish weekend magazines and devote considerable resources to the Web, are unlikely to cut back their print frequency. In the future, they will consider their print edition - at one time the main focus of their businesses - another part of a larger portfolio of products, Steffens says. Meanwhile, small-market dailies, which will maintain Web sites, will likely be reluctant to cut back the frequency of editions because less-populated communities are more reliant on newspaper print editions, he adds.
"What I see happening is that [in large markets], the newspaper will be a smaller part of their product portfolio - and this may be years down the road, but it will no longer be the dominant medium," he says. "In the smaller markets, I don't know about [newspapers cutting print editions], because it's a different animal. People still have articles clipped out and sent to their aunt, or cut out and put up on the refrigerator."
One variable, according to Steffens, is how quickly newspapers embrace mobile technologies as
a viable medium for spreading news, a method that has gained popularity throughout parts of Europe and Asia.
Members of management at the Daily Telegram did not return calls seeking comment. However, the newspaper cited Superior's declining economy and the industry trend of news consumers moving online to find information when it explained its decision to readers.
The Capital Times has received some negative reaction from readers older than 55, while younger readers generally embraced the move online, says Paul Fanlund, executive editor, adding that "it's still early, and we're still adjusting to the site's reinvention."
The decision to emphasize online growth, at least in the case of the Daily Telegram, was probably influenced by the declining economic sway of its home city, says Joel Anderson, mass communications and journalism senior lecturer at the University of Wisconsin-Superior, noting that the city has suffered tough economic times for about 25 years.
"I think we all know that there is an economic imperative, and it's getting harder... to sell display advertisements in print," he says.
The Capital Times and the Daily Telegram are alike in the respect that both are daily newspapers printed in the afternoon. Once popular, afternoon newspapers are now finding it even more difficult than their morning-based counterparts to maintain circulation due to societal changes and consumers having less free time and fewer family meals and discussions, says Peter Fox, executive director of the Wisconsin Newspaper Association.
"You have two pm newspapers, and one is in a capital city and it has a circulation that is dwarfed by the morning newspaper (The Wisconsin Journal)... in the state capital, the afternoon cycle is probably the wrong news cycle to be on," he says. "A lot of [the decline of pm newspapers] has to do with the social, athletic, and recreational pursuits of the public - the public's habits are changing. The family does not sit down at the dinner table at 5:30 together, and that's a change in American society."