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April 2019

Americans value local news, but few pay for it

April 5, 2019

Pew Research Center logoContrary to what those within the news industry believe, most Americans think local news is doing well financially. In fact, there is widespread unawareness about the revenue challenges facing many local news media operations, and only a small percentage of news consumers pay for or donate to local news organizations, according to a report from Pew Research Center.

Pew's recent poll found that 16 percent of Seattle area residents support local news operations, slightly more than the U.S. average of 14 percent. Survey respondents were asked if they subscribed, donated to, or became a member of any news source, whether print, digital, public broadcasting pledge drive, or any other form.

"There's really a disconnect there between the public's knowledge and understanding about the industry and how it's functioning, compared with what we see in headlines day in and day out about budget cuts and revenue declines," said Amy Mitchell, Pew's executive editor of journalism research. She noted that industry attempts to educate consumers "seems to largely have gone unheard."

The most popular reason for not paying for local news was the availability of free sources, cited by 49 percent who don't pay. More than one fourth (46 percent) said they're not interested enough to pay for it, while 12 percent said it is too expensive and 10 percent said the news provided is not good enough to pay for it.

Asked about the preferred sources for news, local TV stations led the list, followed by radio stations, daily newspapers, and online forums. Puget Sound area news consumers also preferred TV as their primary source of local news, followed by news apps or websites, print, radio and social media.

Weather proved to be the most important local news topic Americans follow in their daily lives, with 70 percent listing it first. Other topics ranked high, but respondents indicated if was difficult to stay as informed about them. These topics included crime, changing prices, traffic and transportation, and sports.

Pew researchers found about 15 percent of U.S. adults prefer social media as their "pathway to local news," edging out print newspapers. Those who prefer social media for news tend to come from areas with a high proportion of younger residents, a high proportion of black and Hispanic residents, and that have a lower voter turnout, according to survey findings. These consumers also prefer to get news online via mobile phones.

For the Seattle-Tacoma-Bellevue area adults who get news online, 52 percent use their mobile device, 26 percent use a desktop/laptop and 22 percent said, "both equally."

Researchers also asked about community connections, including how in touch and influential they feel local journalists are.

Among Seattle area adults who took part in the poll, two-thirds (67 percent) believe local journalists are in touch with the community, but only 35 percent believe local news media have a lot of influence.

  • Respondents were also asked to rate local news media performance on various core job functions. Across seven core job functions, Pew found the public clearly places top priority on accuracy. Fully 65% name this as the most or second-most important function. Next, though at much lower rates, come covering stories thoroughly (35%) and dealing fairly with all sides (30%).

    Seattle area participants' ratings included:

    Job Function
    % of say they do it well
    Report news accurately75
    Provide news that you use daily69
    Cover news stories thoroughly67
    Keep an eye on local political leaders64
    Are transparent about their reporting62
    Deal fairly with all sides60
    Include people like you in their stories56

Among some of the additional findings from this study:

  • A majority of Americans say local journalists should not share their views about local issues: 61%, compared with 36% who say they should.
  • About one-in-five U.S. adults (21%) say it is very important for local journalists to be active on sites like Twitter and Facebook, while 40% say it is somewhat important. Roughly four-in-ten (37%) say this is not very or not at all important.
  • Overall, nearly nine-in-ten Americans (89%) currently get at least some local news digitally (through news websites, apps or social media) and 41% do so often. Looking separately at websites and apps compared with social media, roughly equal portions often get news from each (26% and 25%, respectively).
  • News alerts are a prominent part of the local news environment. Roughly four-in-ten U.S. adults (42%) get local news alerts on their mobile phone.

More than 35,000 U.S. adults in 99 metro regions took part in the survey.

Pew Center is a nonpartisan fact tank that informs the public about the issues, attitudes and trends shaping the world. It conducts public opinion polling, demographic research, media content analysis and other empirical social science research. Pew Research Center does not take policy positions. It is a subsidiary of The Pew Charitable Trusts.