Breaking News: Badger Herald at UW-Madison Ending Friday Print Edition; Interview with Editor-in-Chief

The Badger Herald, one of two independent student newspapers at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, will be ending its Friday print edition.  In a phone chat this afternoon, editor-in-chief Ryan Rainey cited “a noticeable change in the way advertisers are behaving” and an interest in focusing on digital innovation as two core reasons behind the change.  It will be announced to readers on Monday in an editor’s column by Rainey.

Rainey said he is excited to shift the newsroom culture on Thursday nights to what he’s dubbed a “voluntary sandbox,” in which creative, digital-first coverage ideas will be sketched out, batted around, and potentially implemented by the staff.  He also stressed the paper will remain in print, as always, Mondays through Thursdays.  In his words, “This is purely a Friday switch at this point.  We still consider ourselves a daily newspaper.”

He said salary levels for the paper’s roughly 55 paid staffers are being adjusted, simply due to the fact that “there’s going to be one less print edition, which means one less day of revenue.”

Here are Rainey’s words to me, in full:

We’ve been experiencing a noticeable change in the way advertisers are behaving.  We’ve decided that it’s in our best interests to rethink our publication model.  This means on Thursday nights, which used to be for Friday papers, we’re going to have sort of a voluntary sandbox.  Employees will be able to come in and work a normal night, but we’re not going to be bound by the deadlines we have for our print edition and things like that. . . . So people can experiment with some of the changes of what a new online model would look like or how we can do better coverage online.

“One thing I’m very happy about is when we announced these changes to the staff, everyone was on board.  There really was a great reaction from the staff.  Everyone seemed interested in volunteering and being part of what I’m calling a sandbox because I think that’s the most accurate way to describe it.  What we’re doing is brainstorming how we can change our workflow– because one of the biggest problems we have is that when we set the pages of the newspaper at 1 or 2 in the morning all the articles go online.  In the Madison market, we think of ourselves as competitors to not just The Daily Cardinal [the other independent student paper at UW-Madison] but The Capital Times and Wisconsin State Journal. We want to make sure when we find breaking news we don’t have to wait to publish it when the [next day’s print] pages are sent.  We want to be able to have a constant, 24/7 workflow.

“So we’re going to try for the rest of the semester to figure out what practices work best with that and what don’t, considering we’re also students, and see how it goes. On Monday, everyone who’s interested is going to be sitting down with me and we’re going to be having a brainstorming session. . . .

“We decided to cut Friday because it’s the day when students are on campus the least. It’s almost like a weekend.  The weekend pretty much starts on Thursday.  But there’s still news happening, which is why we’re doing the online edition.  At the same time, we also noticed that’s when our advertising was at its lowest.  We had considered other editions that we might cut, but we thought in the interest of continuity and for the reasons I listed earlier, it would be best to do away with Friday.

“This is purely a Friday switch at this point.  We still consider ourselves a daily newspaper.  I know that there are other daily student newspapers like this [printing four days a week]. . . . It’s definitely not indicative of any major problems that we have.  We’re just responding to changes in [advertiser] behavior and seeing what we can do to adjust to that so that in the next several years as things continue to change we’re not surprised by what advertisers decide to do or how the publication model works.

[How does he feel about the paper’s financial health overall going forward?] “I’m actually extremely optimistic.  Since we’re a completely independent business– we don’t get any money from the university and all of our revenue comes from advertising– we are in a unique position for student newspapers.  With that, you have to deal with some of the ebbs and flows of the economy and how the non-profit business works.  The reason I’m so optimistic is I think the entire process we’re going to be going through– with the sandbox on Thursdays and some of the experimentation we’re going to be doing over the next several months– is a way to make sure we’re diversifying and changing our business and publication model so that the paper can keep going and make it through some of these really momentous changes that are happening in the publishing industry.”

3 Responses to “Breaking News: Badger Herald at UW-Madison Ending Friday Print Edition; Interview with Editor-in-Chief”
  1. Gary Warner says:

    As you withdraw print days, “don’t be surprised” that advertisers will withdraw further and you will be left with only a digital edition that can’t cover the costs of newsgathering. You will compete with a much wider range of publications and blogs. You’ve taken a step toward making yourself superflous.

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