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Community connection drives local news engagement, though support lags

April 10, 2019 | By Rande Price, Research Director—DCN @Randeloo

Financially, it’s not the best of times for many local news companies in the U.S. Revenue losses continue as local publishers’ transition to digital platforms. While financial sustainability remains in question, overall findings from the new Pew Research Center survey show that consumers are engaged with local news. The favorite go-to for local news is TV (41%) with online access following closely behind (37%). About one in ten prefer a printed newspaper (13%) or radio (8%) for their local news.

Unfortunately, despite their reliance on local news, Pew’s research also reveals that consumers are not aware their financial woes. Seventy-one percent of U.S. adults think that their local news media is doing very or somewhat well. Yet only 14% directly pay a local news source either through subscription, donation or membership.

Digital access

Going online for local news is a common practice for nearly all Americans. A full 89% get some of their local news digitally. This breaks down almost equally between those accessing websites and apps (26%) and social media (25%) I

Mobile is a big driver of reading local news online. Just over half (51%) of those surveyed consume local news on mobile devices, 27% on desktop/laptop, and 19% use both mobile and desktop. News alerts also factor highly into usage. Forty-two percent of consumers consume local news alerts on their mobile phones.

Community focus

Local news plays an important role in the community. Eighty-five percent report that it is important (very/somewhat) for local journalists to understand the history of the community. Eighty-one percent think it’s important (very/somewhat) for local journalists to be personally engaged in the community.

In all, almost two-thirds of consumers (63%) report that local journalists are in touch with their community. However, far fewer (37%) feel that local journalists are influential in the community. Not surprisingly, people who view their local journalists as connected to the area give their local news media higher ratings than those who do not.

The survey shows a key function of local journalism is to provide news to help local residents navigate their daily lives. Top news topics important to daily live include weather (70%), crime (44%), traffic (41%) and news about changing prices (37%).

Strong performance

The majority of consumers report that their local media is doing well on the job. Seventy-one percent say local media is reporting the news accurately, providing “news that you use daily” (67%), “keeping an eye on local political leaders” (66%), and “reporting news thoroughly” (65%).

Local news often tells the inside stories of communities. It plays a unique role ensuring news is relevant for a local audience. Importantly, innovation is in the works for local digital news. A number of industry initiatives are underway. Google recently announced their Local Experiments Project, a new partnership with McClatchy to fund the creation of three local digital-only, multi-platform publications. Facebook is also investing $300 million in journalism projects including a non-profit venture that focuses exclusively on local reporting. In each of these initiatives, publishers are part of the digital transformation of local news to ensure the presence of community engagement.

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