September 26, 2012

How people get local news and information in different communities

Citizens in different communities at times have different interests and strategies as they get local news and information

Urban and suburban residents use a variety of media platforms, including mobile sources

Rural and small town residents especially rely on traditional sources like newspapers and TV

Washington (September 26, 2012)—From large urban areas to rural communities, Americans often report similarly high levels of interest in news. Still, a national survey shows that community differences emerge in the number and variety of local news sources people use in different types of communities, as well as their degree of “local news participation” through social media and their mobile news consumption. 

A new report from the Pew Research Center shows that many of the differences in local news consumption emerging from these data reflect the varying demographic compositions of different community types in the U.S. Some differences in the platforms people use might also be tied to the lower overall use of the internet and mobile platforms in small towns and rural areas.  

“Interest in community news on all kinds of topics is quite high in every type of community,” noted Kristen Purcell of the Pew Research Center’s Internet & American Life Project, a co-author of the report. “Still, people get local information in different ways depending on the type of community in which they live, and they differ in the degree to which digital and mobile platforms factor into their mix of sources.”

Some of the main differences include:

Urban residents: People who live in large cities rely on a wider combination of platforms for information than others and are more likely to get local news and information via a range of digital platforms, including internet searches, Twitter, blogs and the websites of local TV stations and newspapers. Urbanites are also the least tied to their communities in terms of how long they have lived in the community and how many people they know. They are the least interested of all groups in information about local taxes. At the same time, those who live in large cities, along with suburban residents, are the most likely to be digital “news participators” who email local stories to others, post material on social networking sites, comment on news stories online, or contribute to online discussions on message boards.  Also along with suburbanites, they are more likely to get news via mobile devices. Additionally, urban residents are the most likely to rely on local TV news for information about breaking news, weather, crime, politics, and traffic.

Suburban residents: Those who live in suburban communities are more likely than others to rely on local radio as a platform (perhaps because of relatively longer commuting times); they are more interested than others in news and information about arts and cultural events; and they are particularly interested in getting information about local restaurants, traffic, and taxes. Like urbanites, they are heavy digital participators who comment on and share the news more so than residents of other community types. These suburban residents rely mainly on the internet for information about local restaurants, businesses, and jobs. They look to television news for weather and breaking news. 

Small town residents:  Along with rural residents, people who live in smaller towns are more likely to rely on traditional news platforms such as television and newspapers to get local news; newspapers are especially important to them for civic information. Small town Americans say they rely on the local newspaper for a long list of information—including local weather, crime, community events, schools, arts and culture, taxes, housing, zoning, local government and social services. Residents of smaller towns are also the most likely to worry about what would happen if the local newspaper no longer existed.

Rural residents: Those who live in rural communities generally are less interested in almost all local topics than those in other communities. The one exception is taxes. They are also more reliant on traditional platforms such as newspapers and TV for most of the topics we queried. And they are less likely than others to say it is easier now than it was five years ago to keep up with local information.

“As with all forms of information, community news is becoming more digital. It is also becoming oriented towards mobile news consumers,” noted Tom Rosenstiel.  “But where you live makes a difference. The size of one’s community makes a difference, and so does whether people live in a rural or more urbanized setting.”

Some of the other key findings in the report:

  • How interest in news varies by community. The survey looked at people’s interest in 16 discrete local news and information topics. On 11 of the 16, there are no differences in interest in different types of communities.  The five local topics for which interest levels differ are arts and culture, restaurants, traffic, taxes, and housing.  Residents of suburban communities show the highest interest level in all five of these topics, while rural residents show the lowest interest level on all but taxes.  In the case of taxes and tax issues, residents of large cities are the least likely to say they follow the topic.
  • Mobile and social news consumers. In this survey, 47% of adults said they use mobile devices to get local news. Residents of large cities, who on the whole skew younger and are more mobile than populations living in other community types, are most likely to stay informed about local topics that interest them through a combination of online and traditional sources. They are particularly likely to get local news through internet searches, Twitter, blogs, and websites of TV and newspapers.  In contrast, small city (31%) and rural (34%) residents are more likely than those in larger cities (21%) and suburbs (16%) to rely solely on “traditional” forms of media for their local news such as local print newspapers and broadcast television.
  • News participators. Overall, 41% of adults are “news participators,” meaning that they email local stories to others, post news or information about the local community on social networking sites or Twitter, comment on local stories they read online, contribute to online discussions on message boards about the local community, and the like. Suburban residents are more likely than any other group (53% vs. 45% large city, 36% small city, 32% rural) to actively participate in the local news milieu.
  • Rural residents are the least likely to say the “new” news ecosystem makes it easier to keep up with local news. Residents of large cities (59%), suburbs (60%) and small towns (55%) are more likely than those in rural communities (46%) to say it is “easier” to keep up with local news and information today than it was five years ago.   Yet at the same time, residents of large cities are the least willing to pay for local news content through a paid subscription to a local newspaper (22% vs. 40% suburbs, 33% small towns, 37% rural). 

These findings come from a survey of 2,251 conducted between January 12, 2011, and January 29, 2011, and respondents were contacted on both landline and cell phone by the Pew Research Center’s Internet & American Life Project and Project for Excellence in Journalism, in partnership with the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation. The survey has a margin of error of plus or minus 2.3 percentage points.

About the Pew Research Center’s Internet & American Life Project

The Pew Research Center’s Internet & American Life Project is one of seven projects that make up the Pew Research Center, a nonpartisan, nonprofit “fact tank” that provides information on the issues, attitudes and trends shaping America and the world. The Project produces reports exploring the impact of the internet on families, communities, work and home, daily life, education, health care, and civic and political life.

About the Pew Research Center’s Project for Excellence in Journalism

The Pew Research Center’s Project for Excellence in Journalism is dedicated to trying to understand the information revolution. PEJ specializes in using empirical methods to evaluate and study the performance of the press; it is non-partisan, non-ideological and non-political.

PEJ’s goal is to help both the journalists who produce the news and the citizens who consume it develop a better understanding of what the press is delivering, how the media are changing, and what forces are shaping those changes. We have emphasized empirical research in the belief that quantifying what is occurring in the press, rather than merely offering criticism, is a better approach to understanding.

About the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation

The John S. and James L. Knight Foundation advances journalism in the digital age and invests in the vitality of communities where the Knight brothers owned newspapers. Knight Foundation focuses on projects that promote informed and engaged communities and lead to transformational change. Visit

Media Contacts: Kristen Purcell,, (202) 419-4512

Tom Rosenstiel,, (202) 419-3650