Local news media are a cornerstone of democracy in the United States. They help keep residents informed of the significant issues facing their cities, towns and nearby areas; hold political and civic leaders accountable for their actions; and foster a sense of community among their readers and viewers. Public opinion research has shown that local news sources have typically earned more trust than their national counterparts.
This study — part of Knight Foundation’s Trust, Media and Democracy initiative with Gallup — probes Americans’ perceptions and assessments of local media in depth.
It finds that Americans mostly believe local news media are doing a good job performing many of their democratic roles and responsibilities. Americans assess local coverage of most important local issues positively, and they generally see local media as in step with, rather than at odds with, the political leanings of their local community.
- More Americans trust local news than national news: 45% of Americans trust reporting by local news organizations “a great deal” or “quite a lot,” compared to 31% for national news organizations.
- Local news media are better than national news at covering issues Americans can use in their daily life (79%) – and in reporting without bias (66%).
- But local news also ranks behind most other local institutions in public confidence, with only local government ranking lower: 37% express a great deal or quite a lot of trust for local news organizations, compared to 73% for local libraries and 56% for law enforcement.
- Partisanship is now coloring how people evaluate local news outlets: 50 percent of Democrats express confidence in local media, while only 27 percent of Republicans do – a 23 point gap. This is despite the fact that more Americans think the local news media strike a balanced perspective: 53% describe their local news media as “about right,” while 26% say it is “too liberal” and 15% “too conservative.”
- One area where local news outlets needs to improve is in accountability reporting: Americans are not fully persuaded that local news is holding powerful people and institutions accountable: 60% feel local news only does a “fair” or “poor” job of accountability reporting.
- Americans also feel that several topics warrant more attention from local news sources: Areas needing additional coverage include drug addiction (65%); K-12 education (64%), the environment (64%), and plans for public works projects (64 %).