How We Get News About Our Local Communities

Man using laptopDo you watch local TV news? I do and a just-released survey* by the Pew Research Center and the Knight Foundation shows that my behavior closely tracks that of most Americans. Interestingly, I turn off the news just after the weather report. So, it didn’t surprise me to learn that those surveyed said television is their top source for breaking news and weather.

Pew said the survey results showed “a richer and more nuanced ecosystem of community news and information than researchers have previously identified.” And communicators will find lots of helpful information to plan projects within the report. 

For example, if I were creating awareness for a local arts event, I’d want to know that 32 percent of older adults would consult a newspaper for this type of information while just 15 percent of those under 40 would select a newspaper as their primary source. You’ll find many more of these useful details if you drill down into the research in this interactive chart that accompanies the results.

Takeaway: Most Americans use traditional and nontraditional sources for information. The researchers found that the majority (64 percent) of American adults use at least three different types of media every week to get news and information about their local community—and 15 percent rely on at least six different kinds of media weekly.

Communicators need to target various sources as they are building a plan for a local initiative or event.

Pew Chart

Other interesting themes:

  • Local newspapers are looked to for news on community events, crime, taxes and local government, among others. TV gets the mass audience. Local newspapers get fewer consumers but those that read a newspaper are seeking a wider range of civically oriented subjects.
  • The Internet ranks high as a source of local information for all those surveyed but is especially relied upon by those under age 40.
  • Older communication methods still work. Print newsletters, online listservs and word of mouth have relevance, especially for community event planners and local schools.

Finally, few jaws will drop to learn that the researchers found distinct local news and information consumption patterns based on age. Those over 40 consume information using more traditional platforms. Those under 40 rely more on the Internet. They favor specialty websites and search engines as a way to find the local information they want. Pew says that even though traditional news organizations have moved aggressively online with websites and social media, this behavior puts considerable pressure on news organizations.

What’s your favorite source of local community information? How closely do your preferences match those of the study participants?

*The researchers conducted the survey from Jan. 12 to 25, 2011, among a nationally representative sample of 2,251 adults age 18 and older on landline and cell phones. It has an overall margin of error of plus or minus two percentage points. 

The Pew Research Center’s Project for Excellence in Journalism and Internet & American Life Project in partnership with the Knight Foundation sponsored the research.

With special thanks to Nosha for the great photo via Flickr.

You might also enjoy Does Your Audience Use Social Networking Sites?


About creativeconsiderations

Christine Sullivan is a communications strategist with expertise in communications planning, writing and content development, and executive communications. She can be reached at
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