March 14, 2011

How mobile devices are changing community information environments

47% of Americans use their cellphones and tablet computers to get local news and information

Among all cellphone and tablet owners, 42% get local weather updates and 37% get material about restaurants or other local businesses on their mobile devices   

Yet there is an “app gap” in mobile local news: While half get local news on mobile devices, just 11% use apps to do so and only 1% have paid for an app that gives them access to local information

WASHINGTON – 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.

The information they seek out on mobile platforms is practical and real time: 42% of mobile device owners report getting weather updates and 37% get material about restaurants or other local businesses on their phones or tablets.  Fewer get news about local traffic and transportation, general news alerts or other local topics.

One of the newest forms of on-the-go local news consumption, mobile applications, are just beginning to take hold among mobile device owners. Just 13% of all mobile device owners report having an app that helps them get local information or news, which represents 11% of the total American adult population.  Thus, while almost half of adults get local news on mobile devices, just 1 in 10 use apps to do so. Call it the “app gap.”

According to the survey, just 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. Overall, 36% of adults report paying for some form of local news, the vast majority paying for local print newspaper subscriptions.

These findings come from a survey of 2,251 conducted in January 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.

“Many news organizations are looking to mobile platforms, in particular mobile apps, to provide new ways to generate subscriber and advertising revenues in local markets,” noted Lee Rainie, Director of The Pew Research Center’s Internet & American Life Project. “The survey suggests there is a long way to go before that happens.”

“Tablet penetration is growing so rapidly—as quickly as any device we have seen to date—it will be fascinating to see whether that changes whether people will pay for content online, but for now it hasn’t happened,” said Tom Rosenstiel, Director of the Pew Research Center’s Project for Excellence in Journalism.

At the moment, few people pay for news online. 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.

When asked about the value of their local newspaper, the survey finds:

  • 28% of Americans say the loss of the local newspaper would have a major impact on their ability to keep up with local information.
  • 30% say it would have a minor impact
  • 39% say the loss of the newspaper would have no impact.

“While on the surface these findings may look bad for news organizations, there is some potentially good news in the data. We found that adults who consume local news on mobile devices are almost twice as likely as other adults to say they would be willing to pay to access their local newspaper online,” pointed out Kristen Purcell, Associate Director for Research at the Pew Internet Project. “The percentage willing to pay is even higher among local app users, so there’s evidence that this new mobile local news consumer sees value in their local newspaper.”

When it comes to local news and information, here is the material people get:

  • 42% of those who own cellphones or tablet computers use those devices to check local weather reports
  • 37% use the devices to find local restaurants or other businesses
  • 30% use the devices to get information or news about their local community
  • 24% use the devices to check local sports scores and get updates
  • 22% use the devices to get information about local traffic or public transportation
  • 19% use the devices to get or use coupons or discounts from local stores
  • 15% use the devices to get news alerts about community sent via text or email
  • 13% have an app on their device that helps them get information about their local community

The survey was conducted between January 12, 2011, and January 29, 2011, and respondents were contacted on both landline and cell phones.  For results based on the total sample, one can say with 95% confidence that the error attributable to sampling and other random effects is plus or minus 2.3 percentage points.

These local news findings are part of a larger release by the Project for Excellence in Journalism, the State of the News Media 2011. This annual series examines the broader news landscape, analyzing in depth the major sectors of the news media and looking across those different elements to bring to light broader trends.

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. The Project aims to be an authoritative source on the evolution of the internet through surveys that examine how Americans use the internet and how their activities affect their lives.

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, particularly content analysis; 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.