How do people get news and information about the community where they live? A new report offers a deep and comprehensive understanding of the ecosystem of community information.
The survey echoes longstanding research that more Americans report watching local TV news than any other source—which has led to widely held idea that people go there for most of their community news and information. But it also finds that Americans tend to rely on the medium for just a few topics—mainly weather, breaking news, and to a lesser degree, traffic. These are the most widely followed local subjects. Yet consumers rely on other sources for most other local topics. Younger adults, moreover, rely on local television less, a fact that suggests more vulnerability for the medium in the future.
The survey also yields some striking findings for newspapers. Most Americans (69%) say that if their local newspaper no longer existed, it would not have a major impact on their ability to keep up with information and news about their community.
Yet the data show that newspapers play a much bigger role in people’s lives than many may realize. Newspapers (both the print and online versions, though primarily print) rank first or tie for first as the source people rely on most for 11 of the 16 different kinds of local information asked about—more topics than any other media source. But most of these topics—many of which relate to civic affairs such as government—taxes, etc., are ones followed by fewer Americans on a regular basis.
In other words, local TV draws a mass audience largely around a few popular subjects; local newspapers attract a smaller cohort of citizens but for a wider range of civically oriented subjects.
The survey also sheds light on the emerging role of the internet as people seek local news and information. The internet is defined here as web-only online destinations. For adults generally, the internet is a main source for information about restaurants and other local businesses, and it is tied with newspapers as a top source for material about housing, jobs and schools—all areas that place a special value on consumer input. Yet when one looks at the 79% of Americans who are online, the internet is the first or second most relied-upon source for 15 of the 16 local topics examined. For adults under 40, the web is first for 11 of the top 16 topics—and a close second on four others.