It is the mission of this publication to help the people of the Madison area understand the environment in which they live. And surely the daily newspapers of a city or region loom large in any landscape in question. In Madison that means the Wisconsin State Journal and The Capital Times are part of our beat.
It used to be that daily newspapers were the unrivaled kings of news dissemination. Back in the 1950s, the household readership index of dailies, where 100 would equal the totality of households in the country, ran at somewhere near 150. That's because many households would subscribe to more than one newspaper, often one morning paper and another in the afternoon - the better for Dad to read when he got home from work. The morning papers were valued for the late sports scores from the previous evening. There was no SportsCenter then; there was barely TV. The dominant papers were the gray ladies of the early evening, former papers of record like the Milwaukee Journal and the Detroit News.
That began to change with the rise of the TV evening news and the ascendance of the Murrows and Huntleys and Brinkleys and Cronkites. Afternoon readership began to decline, and the newspaper game became predominantly a morning exercise; papers like the Wisconsin State Journal forged ahead. Over time, newspapers faced other, greater challenges brought about by a multitude of technological innovations, and now, in the digital age, newspapers struggle to find their course to survival while they still have the resources to search.
In the midst of this scenario we find Ellen Foley, editor of the State Journal and the subject of Jason Shepard's piece, "Ellen Foley's State Journal." Foley is a newspaper veteran trying to save something of the world that produced her while fully cognizant that the world has changed and will change further still. But no one knows where the change will lead, not even a seer like Thomas Friedman, whose mega-selling book The World Is Flat is the clarion call for the new reality. It is a reality still in the making.
Jason Shepard, an Isthmus contributor who writes our "Talking Out of School" department and the occasional media piece, knows the terrain of which he writes this week. He is a former staffer at The Capital Times and is currently studying and teaching at the UW Graduate School of Journalism. He's as curious as the rest of us as to what his chosen field will resemble when the future finally gets around to getting here.