In a recent change within the Dane County media landscape, the Capital Times shifted their website publication from a shared site with The Wisconsin State Journal to their own domain and personal site.
The Capital Times and The Wisconsin State Journal previously shared the site Madison.com because of their joint business partnership in Madison Newspapers Inc. The two papers have historically employed separate staff and were separate entities that shared the same website.
The staff cited wanting a cleaner website less cluttered by ads, no paywall to access articles on the site and a greater focus on the city of Madison itself instead of broader Wisconsin as a whole as reasons for the shift.
With these changes and the new site, The Capital Times is now fully relying on voluntary donations and ads from local businesses. Though it makes sense in regards to Facebook and Google ads decimating newspaper revenue, the move also offers a surprising confidence in reader donations.
It also reflects a broader trend in journalism as newspapers shift almost entirely to digital formats.
For example, the New York Times offers subscription offers for both online and print, but finding an at-home delivery print option is much more difficult on their website. It is also more expensive, with a basic subscription being about $25 for three months whereas the only option that includes print copies being delivered is $65 for three months.
This struggle for newspapers to stay alive with lack of funding is more prevalent with local papers, only about one in six readers of a newspaper tend to pay for that news or donate.
This makes The Capital Times’ decision to rely on voluntary donations seem incredibly risky. Though, members can receive benefits to the paper by donating, ranging from gift cards to local businesses to free admission to the Cap Times Idea Fest.
Still, very few people want to pay for news, particularly local news, because it seems as if it should be the most easily accessible to a community. So The Capital Times’ choice to remove paywalls and ads might not be the best business model for bringing in revenue, but it certainly makes the paper much more desirable for those in the Madison area.
The updated website is incredibly easy to navigate and wonderfully laid out, giving a person all they need to see on the front page. Users no long need to sift through multiple categories to find the news they are looking for.
It is also intriguing that the few ads included on the site are for local businesses. Drawing attention to these businesses truly makes The Capital Times feel like it is a cornerstone in the community. It is evident that The Capital Times is all about the city of Madison.
Having free and easily accessible local news such as the new Capital Times website is crucial for communities. In the United States, there are less than 7,000 newspapers left, leaving many communities without any local news, also known as a news desert. This is very scary as local news, TV and papers both can encourage regional economic development, political activism and have been shown to decrease political polarization.
Local news is also a source that Americans trust and depend on more, something that was clearly shown during the COVID-19 pandemic. About 46% of American adults used local news sources as their main source for news about the pandemic and about 50% of adults then went on to say that the local news source got information about the pandemic correct all of or most of the time.
Local news is incredibly important to a community for many social reasons. As students on campus, it is equally important that we find ways to help keep local news going and support
The Capital Times. The most basic membership is only about $1-8 a month and offers exclusive access to news that affects the campus area. It also allows access to some online events, one of which is the Cooking with the Cap Times.
Another way to attend events such as the Cap Times Idea Fest, which supports the newspaper itself but can also help those interested in journalism or communication networks with professionals.
Journalism has been hurt by the move from print to a largely online platform. By donating to The Capital Times in their new revenue model, we can prove that the path forward to protect our vital local news outlets is through direct community support.
Emily Otten ([email protected]) is a sophomore majoring in international relations and journalism.