It's been more than three years since The Capital Times stopped printing an afternoon daily newspaper to focus on the Internet and on our tabloid format weeklies.
Our transition predated most of the newspaper industry's recent turmoil, which made us a big story far afield. National Public Radio interviewed us and the Chicago Tribune and Der Spiegel, the German news magazine, sent reporters here.
Locally, many Cap Times readers lamented the "loss" of their progressive voice despite assurances we would continue to offer news and information online and in print.
Those who dislike us -- and there are many -- claimed it proved them right, that the marketplace rejected our liberalism, as if a Rush Limbaugh-style editorial page would have fared better given the business realities of an afternoon newspaper in a progressive city like Madison.
I'm happy to say that recently we've heard a different response. Our web traffic is increasing sharply and the positive feedback we get for continuing to provide a progressive voice is loud and frequent. Much of it is some variation of the "thank heavens for the Cap Times" in the era of Scott Walker's one-party governance.
Today, I am asking your advice as we continue to evolve that mission.
Right now, we publish The Cap Times as a Wednesday tabloid distributed in Madison and beyond with the State Journal and in racks. Our 77 Square arts and entertainment tabloid is published in the State Journal on Thursdays and also has rack distribution.
On the web, we offer captimes.com, where we write about local public affairs while our respected opinion staff frames local and national issues. Our 77 staff drives its own website with fresh stories and reviews of what's happening in Madison.
Recently, however, we completed a Cap Times application for Apple's iPad. This app, which is free for one month and $3.99 per month thereafter, represents our move into the tablet marketplace.
We're very excited about its potential, but we know that some may think: Why would I pay for something that I get for free now? Fair point.
So that's why I'm asking: What would added value look like to you? What might you be willing to pay for to support what we do? We want to hear from those of you who like and appreciate The Capital Times as an important local voice.
A guiding notion for us is that the website in general and the app in particular should serve as an online gathering place for thoughtful, serious readers, especially those who love Madison and its culture.
Think of Huffington Post or Slate or even Politico, except our niche is Madison and its progressive tradition. Our goal is to reward you, the loyal reader, on every visit, whether the takeaway is to inform, entertain or help you understand. Here are some specifics about what we're considering for our app.
First, adding voices. What if we were to focus on providing a bigger and richer forum for thoughtful analyses by local experts? The intellectual firepower in and around this city is incredible and underutilized. As I write columns on local issues, I often think how great it would be to better tap this community resource for depth and breadth.
What do you think? Some of this work would also appear in print, but given the infinite nature of "space" on the web, we would be able to accommodate writers online in greater length and perhaps explore topics more closely than could be seen elsewhere. Think of it as a traditional newspaper op-ed function, but on steroids.
Second, moderating comments more aggressively. This topic is raging in journalism circles. I wish I had the proverbial dollar for every time someone has complained to me about the "cesspool" of online story comments that are, at best, lightly moderated.
Last week, we asked former Cap Times subscribers for feedback on these ideas and many said they avoid the comments section due to nasty, off-point content. "I find most comment sections extremely disheartening," one wrote.
Can you imagine the power of the conversation if comment strings were moderated to stay on point, advance the discussion and eliminate pointless vitriol and name-calling? No one is talking about stifling dissent, but reducing the personal invective that has made online comments so off-putting.
Third, greater use of photo galleries and video. The tablet application displays photographs beautifully, and as we go forward, we would like to serve our readers with a higher volume of multiple-picture packages, or galleries. On our website, our use of video has been intermittent. Video displays terrifically on tablet apps, but we wonder how important it is to you as readers.
So that's what we're thinking. If you have thoughts on a single element, or know of an app that has some approach you think we might emulate, please let us know. I am not enabling an online comment string on this. Instead, please email me directly at email@example.com.
I will read and acknowledge every message, and will look for patterns and ideas. And then I will report back. With all the brains, talent and passion we have here in Madison, I know we will learn much of value. Thanks.