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Local news consumers are hungry for more

September 19, 2023 | By Michelle Manafy, Editorial Director – DCN @michellemanafy

The Center for Innovation and Sustainability in Local Media released study this month that demonstrates the ongoing significance of local news as a crucial information source for many Americans. The report specifically investigates the characteristics of regular local news consumers, including their demographics, geographic location, political beliefs, and preferred media platforms. As the authors point out, despite declines in both the supply and demand of local news, a significant portion of the American public still consider their local news outlets as an important source of information.

According to The Center’s study, approximately 29% of Americans regard local news media as a favorite source of news. Survey respondents were asked to provide up to three preferred news sources. Of those who specified local news as at least one of their three preferred news sources, 82% named one local source, 15% named two local sources, and 3% named three.

The research highlights notable variations in the proportion of local news consumers across different social demographic groups, regions of the country, and political ideologies. The survey used data from a Gallup Panel that was designed with The Knight Foundation and distributed to 10,226 adults in the U.S. via mail and phone from July 30 through August 26, 2021. Researchers used weights provided by Gallup for gender, age, race, ethnicity, education, and geographic region based on the 2019 Current Population Survey.

Local news consumers like national news too

In general, individuals who consume local news tend to consume more news overall compared to other news users according to The Center’s research. Local news users primarily rely on national news media as a top source of news with approximately 57% of local news users citing a national news outlet as at least one of their preferred sources. Other sources that local news users turn to include conservative news (19%), aggregators like Yahoo News and Apple News (12%), left-leaning news (10%), and social media (6%).

National news media are also a top source for other news users, but only 47% of those news users named a national news outlet as one of their preferred news sources. Other news users are more likely than local news users to consume partisan news. Sixteen percent of other news users named an aggregator as a preferred news source, and 11% named social media as a preferred news source.

Local news consumers digital news preferences

In order to determine the preferences for different media platforms, the sources mentioned by survey respondents were sorted into categories based on their originating medium: newspaper, local TV, radio, and digital outlets. The most commonly mentioned sources were local newspapers and local TV stations. Among those who listed a local outlet as one of their preferred news sources, slightly less than half mentioned a local newspaper (45%) or a local TV station (43%).  This survey found a higher proportion of local newspaper users compared to other studies that compare different mediums; local TV is generally found to be higher than that of newspapers. Only one percent mentioned a local digital native outlet as a preferred news source.

It is interesting to consider these results in light of research from TVREV, also released in September, which found that two-thirds (68%) of Gen Zs and Millennials stream local news across various platforms. Even those 55 to 64 and those 65+ (45% and 35% respectively) say they stream local news. When asked about their preferred non-broadcast TV sources for local news, sports, and weather, about half of the respondents to the TVREV research aged 25 to 44 reported that they mostly rely on websites and apps.

It is unclear why the use of digital natives is so low in The Center’s research. The authors point to the fact that previous research has found that fewer articles by digital native outlets are found in news aggregators than those from print news outlets. The reports authors express concern that the fact that few respondents cite a digital news source as a preference for their local news conflicts with the “relatively large amount of resources and focus on these as remedies to news deserts and declines.”

The authors also state that the similarly high proportion of local TV news users to newspaper users should warrant an equal or higher proportion of focus on quality local TV news as part of a thriving local news ecosystem for more people. That is consistent with TREV’s conclusions.

The findings of these studies suggest that, while audiences consume local news digitally, they don’t appear to be seeking it out from digitally-native news brands. Rather, they look to their trusted local sources, regardless of consumption medium. Thus, it is important for local news providers of any medium to ensure that they are satisfying consumers’ digital demands.

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