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  1. North America
May 8, 2024

US interest in local news tumbles as 15% say they have paid for it in last year

Nearly half of those not paying for local news say they can find it for free.

By Bron Maher

A new survey from the philanthropy-funded Pew-Knight Initiative has found that nearly half of US residents who don’t pay for local news cite its free availability elsewhere as the main reason.

Only 15% of the survey respondents said they had paid for local news in the past year — approximately the same proportion as in 2018.

A third of the non-payers said they were simply not interested enough in local news to pay for it in the first place.

The research, titled Americans’ Changing Relationship With Local News, polled a representative sample of 5,146 adults in the US in January 2024 and found that the proportion of Americans who say they follow local news “very closely” has fallen from 37% in 2016 to 22% today.

Among US adults aged 29 or younger this figure was 9%, compared with 35% of people aged 65 and above.

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Nonetheless, 85% of respondents said they considered local news outlets at least somewhat important to the wellbeing of their community, with 32% saying they were “very important” and 12% “very important”.

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Falling attention to local news across demographics

The Pew-Knight report’s findings echo those of the 2023 Reuters Institute Digital News Report, which found 49% of Americans would not pay for news of any kind under any circumstances.

Compounding that unwillingness to pay for news, the percentage of Pew-Knight respondents who said they pay very close attention to local news declined by double-digits between 2016 and 2024 in almost every demographic.

The only group that did not see a double-digit percentage decline was college-educated adults - primarily because in 2016 they were already among the least-likely demographics to follow local news closely.

Black Americans and those with less education remain more interested in local news than comparable demographics, but whereas in 2016 half or nearly half of both groups said they "very closely" followed local news, those proportions are now less than a third in each.

Republicans and Democrats, meanwhile, reported closely following local news at similar proportions to one another.

Fewer Americans reported getting their local news from professional sources in 2024 than in 2018, with 64% of survey respondents saying they "often" or "sometimes" get their news from local TV, compared with 70% six years ago.

The proportion who say they often or sometimes get their local news from a daily newspaper suffered a ten percentage-point drop to 33%, meanwhile, while those getting it from online forums or groups such as Nextdoor jumped from 38% in 2018 to 52% in 2024.

Most Americans who get their news from a local newspaper now do so online rather than in print

The percentage of Americans who say they prefer to get their local news from social media or from a news website grew over the same time period to 26% and 23% respectively.

In line with this, among those US adults who said they get their local news from newspapers, a majority now say they do so online, for example via the papers' websites, social media accounts or emails. Only 31% of respondents who get their news from newspaper publishers do so through print.

A similar trend has played out for television, although the majority of US adults who say they get their news from TV publishers still do so via the small screen rather than through those publishers' websites, social media or apps.

By far the local topic of most interest to survey respondents was the weather, with more than 9 in 10 saying they seek out information about it "sometimes" or "often". Crime was the next most popular subject (43% sometimes, 34% often), followed by traffic and transportation (40% and 28%), government and politics (46% and 22%) and arts and culture (43% and 16%).

Those audiences told the Pew-Knight researchers they were broadly satisfied with the quality of weather information that they get, but satisfaction rates for other subjects were mixed. Approximately a quarter of those surveyed said they were either "extremely" or "very" satisfied with the quality of news they get about government and politics, and another 52% said they were "somewhat" satisfied.

Despite this, a majority of respondents were generally content that their local media does its job well, with 71% saying they "report news accurately" versus 25% saying they do not. Those surveyed were less sure about how effectively local media holds politicians to account, with 61% saying they do this well versus 35% saying they do not do it well.

Audiences tell Pew-Knight Initiative researchers they want local news to be neutral

Some 22% of respondents said they had ever spoken with a local journalist, which is broadly stable with 2018 and 2016.

The Pew-Knight researchers also asked those surveyed about their views on whether newsrooms should aim to be neutral or whether they should take a more active role advocating for change in their communities.

Across all groups, 69% of Americans said local journalists should be neutral versus 29% who thought they should advocate for change. This differed by age however, with 39% of those aged 29 and below saying journalists should engage in advocacy versus 20% of those 65 and older. It also differed by race, with 22% of white respondents saying local journalists should push for change versus 44% of black, Hispanic or Asian respondents.

Perhaps surprisingly to most people in the news business, 63% of respondents said they believe their local news outlets are in very or somewhat good financial shape — although that figure is down from 71% in 2018. College graduates were less likely to believe this the case, with only 52% saying they thought publishers were doing well financially compared with 72% of those with a high school diploma or less education.

This may be accounted for by the kinds of local news that Americans consume, however. Those who watched local TV news — the most popular way respondents received professionally-produced news — were far more likely to believe outlets were doing well financially. Those who got their news from newspapers, in contrast, were the least likely to think they are doing well as a business.

Read the full report from the Pew Research Center: Americans’ Changing Relationship With Local News

Email pged@pressgazette.co.uk to point out mistakes, provide story tips or send in a letter for publication on our "Letters Page" blog

Select and enter your email address Weekly insight into the big strategic issues affecting the future of the news industry. Essential reading for media leaders every Thursday. Your morning brew of news about the world of news from Press Gazette and elsewhere in the media. Sent at around 10am UK time. Our weekly does of strategic insight about the future of news media aimed at US readers. A fortnightly update from the front-line of news and advertising. Aimed at marketers and those involved in the advertising industry.
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