April 12, 2012

72% of Americans follow local news closely

Most adults follow local news closely, relying on local newspapers and other sources

Nearly three quarters (72%) of adults are quite attached to following local news and information, and local newspapers are by far the source they rely on for much of the local information they need.  In fact, local news enthusiasts are substantially more wedded to their local newspapers than others.  They are much more likely than others to say that if their local newspaper vanished, it would have a major impact on their ability to get the local information they want.  This is especially true of local news followers age 40 and older, who differ from younger local news enthusiasts in some key ways. 

One-third of local news enthusiasts (32%) say it would have a major impact on them if their local newspaper no longer existed, compared with just 19% of those less interested in local news.  Most likely to report a major impact if their newspaper disappeared are local news followers age 40 and older (35%), though even among younger local news followers 26% say losing the local paper would have a major impact on them.  In contrast, just 19% of adults who do not follow local news closely say they would feel a major impact and fully half (51%) say they would feel no impact at all from the loss of their local paper. Only 34% of local news enthusiasts feel this way. 

These local news and information consumers stand out from other adults in several respects related to community attachment, general interest in all types of news, use of sources for local news and information, and the particular topics of interest to them on the local scene. 

As a whole, local news enthusiasts do not stand out from other adults in their use of technology or in the way they use technology to participate in local affairs, such as sending around links or posting comments on websites.  However, among local news enthusiasts there are considerable differences in technology use across generations.   

These are among the main findings in a nationally representative phone survey of 2,251 adults by the Pew Research Center’s Project for Excellence in Journalism and Internet & American Life Project, produced in association with the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation. It focused on the ways people get information and news about 16 different topics, ranging from breaking news to weather to crime to schools information. The survey was administered from January 12-25, 2011 on landline and cell phones. It has an overall margin of error of plus or minus 2 percentage points. And here are some of the main findings, as they apply to the group who identified themselves as local news enthusiasts:

Local news enthusiasts are more connected to their community

Adults who follow local news closely are fairly diverse in their age, though they skew older, more female, and more African-American as a group when compared with adults who do not follow local news as closely.  They are also more likely to describe themselves as politically conservative and to attend religious services on a weekly basis when compared with those who are not consistent local news consumers. 

Local news consumers are more connected to their communities than others, both in length of time in the community and in their connection with neighbors, and more likely to think they can improve their communities.  Roughly three in 10 have lived in their community 20 years or longer (32% vs. 20% of others), and thus not surprisingly are more likely to know all of their neighbors.  This is driven largely by local news enthusiasts age 40 and older.  As a whole, local news enthusiasts are also slightly more likely than other adults to believe they can have a big impact on making their community a better place to live. 

Local news enthusiasts’ news consumption habits differ from other adults

In addition to local news, this group is more actively engaged than others in following news in general, and international and national news specifically.  Sixty-three percent enjoy keeping up with news “a lot” compared with 35% of other adults.  This is especially true of older local news enthusiasts (age 40 and older), 72% of whom say they enjoy keeping up with new “a lot.” 

Six in 10 local news followers (63%) also follow international news closely most of the time regardless of whether something is happening or not and 78% follow national news this closely.  In comparison, 39% of other adults follow international news this closely and 46% follow national news this closely. 

When it comes to sources of local news and information, 35% of local news enthusiasts say that local news sources give them all of the information that matters to them, 10 percentage points higher than those less interested in local news. They also use more sources of local news and information per week than others (mean of 3.77 vs. 2.84).  The youngest local news enthusiasts, those age 18-39, use the greatest number of local news sources weekly, with a mean of 4.38. 

Local news enthusiasts are interested in many local topics.  This group is more likely than other adults to follow 12 out of 16 local news topics asked about – including weather, breaking news, politics, crime and schools/education.  In many cases, interest in particular topics is driven by older local news enthusiasts (weather, politics, crime, traffic, taxes, and local government activity, social services and zoning), while interest in other topics lies mainly with younger local news followers (job openings, restaurants).

For 14 of these 16 topics, the local newspaper is local news enthusiasts’ preferred source of information (or tied at the top with another source).  Overall, local television news is the preferred source for just four topics, while the internet is preferred for just three of the 16 asked about. 

While this seems to be positive news for newspapers, in many cases the reliance on newspapers is heaviest among older local news enthusiasts, while younger local news followers rely more heavily on other sources.