March 14, 2011

How mobile devices are changing community information environments

Local news is going mobile.

Local news is going mobile. Nearly half of all American adults (47%) report that they get at least some local news and information on their cellphone or tablet computer.

What they seek out most on mobile platforms is information that is practical and in real time: 42% of mobile device owners report getting weather updates on their phones or tablets; 37% say they get material about restaurants or other local businesses. These consumers are less likely to use their mobile devices for news about local traffic, public transportation, general news alerts or to access retail coupons or discounts.

One of the newest forms of on-the-go local news consumption, mobile applications, are just beginning to take hold among mobile device owners.

Compared with other adults, these mobile local news consumers are younger, live in higher income households, are newer residents of their communities, live in nonrural areas, and tend to be parents of minor children. Adults who get local news and information on mobile devices are more likely than others to feel they can have on impact on their communities, more likely to use a variety of media platforms, feel more plugged into the media environment than they did a few years ago, and are more likely to use social media:

  • 35% of mobile local news consumers feel they can have a big impact on their community (vs. 27% of other adults)
  • 65% feel it is easier today than five years ago to keep up with information about their community (vs. 47% of nonmobile connectors)
  • 51% use six or more different sources or platforms monthly to get local news and information (vs. 21%)
  • 75% use social network sites (vs. 42%)
  • 15% use Twitter (vs. 4%)

Tablets and smartphones have also brought with them news applications or “apps.” One-quarter (24%) of mobile local news consumers report having an app that helps them get information or news about their local community. That equates to 13% of all device owners and 11% of the total American adult population. Thus while nearly 5 in 10 get local news on mobile devices, just 1 in 10 use apps to do so. Call it the app gap.

These mobile app users skew young and Hispanic. They are also much more active news consumers than other adults, using more sources regularly and “participating” in local news by doing such things as sharing or posting links to local stories, commenting on or tagging local news content, or contributing their own local content online.

Many news organizations are looking to mobile platforms to provide new ways to generate revenue in local markets. The survey suggests there is a long way to go before that happens. Currently, only 10% of adults who use mobile apps to connect to local news and information pay for those apps. This amounts to just 1% of all adults.

When it comes to payments for news more broadly, 36% of adults say they pay for local news content in some form – be it for their local print newspaper, for an app on their mobile device or for access to special content online. The vast majority of those who pay for local news, 31% in all, are paying for local print newspaper subscriptions and only a fraction are paying for apps or for access online to local material.

One question in the news industry is whether the willingness to pay for online content would grow if people faced the prospect of their local media not surviving otherwise. Pressed on the value of online access to their local newspaper, 23% of survey respondents say they would pay $5 a month to get full access to local newspaper content online. When asked if they would pay $10 per month, 18% of adults say yes. Both figures are substantially higher than the percentage of adults (5%) who currently pay for online local news content. Nonetheless, roughly three-quarters say they would not pay anything.

Asked the value of their local newspaper, respondents are divided. Just under a third (28%) say the loss of the local newspaper would have a major impact on their ability to keep up with local information. Another 30% say it would have a minor impact. But the plurality — 39% — say the loss of the newspaper would have no impact.

This survey is being released as a part of the Project for Excellence in Journalism’s 2011 State of the News Media Report. These results come from a national phone survey of 2,251 American adults (age 18 or more) in English and Spanish. Some 750 of the interviews were conducted on cellphone. The margin of error for the full sample is +/- 2 percentage points.