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Consumers value local news, though they fail to support it

Audiences may have trust issues with the news, but the majority of them value it. Unfortunately, they lack awareness that local news struggles financially and few pay for news.

May 21, 2024 | By Rande Price, Research VP – DCN

Consumers value local news media, with a large majority saying that local news outlets are at least somewhat important to the well-being of their local community according to new research from Pew. Most people also say local journalists are in touch with their communities and that their local news media perform well at several aspects of their jobs, such as reporting the news accurately.

Interestingly, Republicans and Democrats both display significant confidence in local reporting, with 66% and 78%, respectively, which showcases bipartisan support. This widespread trust highlights the local media’s role in ensuring accountability and integrity in governance.

Nevertheless, the landscape continues to shift as more consumers engage with local news through online forums and social media groups. Unfortunately, these days intermediaries have moved to the forefront and diminished the direct influence – and perceived value – of news publishers. In fact, a mere 15% of Americans say they have paid or given money to any local news source in the past year – a number that has not changed much since 2018. Oddly, this coincides with the finding that a majority of Americans (63%) say they think their local news outlets are doing very or somewhat well.

Consequently, local news outlets are re-evaluating their strategies to engage audiences effectively. Addressing how local news businesses can adapt, serve their communities, reignite an interest in, and support for, news media to flourish in the current media environment remains a critical challenge for the industry.

Local news is appealing, but to smaller audiences

Around 85% of those surveyed indicate that local news outlets are at least “somewhat important” to the well-being of their local community. Similarly, a majority believe that local journalists are in touch with their communities and perform well in various aspects of their jobs, such as accurately reporting the news.

However, despite reporting significant value and trust, Pew’s trending data shows that the share of U.S. consumers who actively follow local news very closely dropped from 37% to 22% in the last eight years. Additionally, many consumers are unaware of local news’s significant financial challenges. Of these, 63% (slightly fewer than in 2018) believe their local news outlets are doing very well.

Demographics impact the perception of local news

If attention correlates to valuing local news, the industry needs to pay attention to audience behavior. A decline in attention to local news has occurred across demographic groups, though there are significant differences by age. Young adults are much less likely than their older adults to say they follow local news: In 2024, only 9% of U.S. consumers 18 -29 say they follow local news very closely, compared with 35% of those 65 and older. 

Americans with higher levels of formal education are less likely than those with a high school diploma or less education to follow local news very closely. While 17% of college graduates follow local news very closely, 28% of those with a high school education or less say the same.

Among U.S. adults ages 30 and older who have not paid for local news in the past year, the most common reason they cite is that they can find plenty of free local news. This is likely influenced by the sharing of local news – or at least information about things happening locally – via social platforms. However, as platforms “distance themselves” from the news, the likelihood of people encountering news from a publisher are increasingly diminished.

While 37% cite the availability of free alternatives, the most common reason given by Americans ages 18 to 29 is a lack of interest: 46% in this group say the main reason they don’t pay for local news is that they are not interested enough in it.

Local news consumption shifts to streaming

Streaming offers a viable outlet for local news. With nearly 40% of U.S. households reachable only through streaming TV, local news can deliver a converged linear and streaming advertising strategy to access the total TV audience in a local market. This shift to streaming enables personalization in local news content while catering to individual viewer preferences. It also allows local broadcasters to monetize local inventory across a broader spectrum of premium publishers, reinventing the advertising paradigm.

The evolving landscape of local news presents challenges and opportunities for the future of journalism. While digitization transforms how news is accessed and consumed, local news’ fundamental role in informing communities remains unchanged. Local news outlets can find new and direct paths to the consumer by adapting to changing consumer preferences and embracing digital innovation. By leveraging technology and engaging more interactively with their audiences, these outlets can enhance their relevance and sustain their crucial societal role.

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