"Who consumes local news? Analysis from a large national survey" table of contents
Andrea Lorenz, CISLM Graduate Student Researcher
Jessica Mahone, CISLM Research Director
Elizabeth Thompson, Local News Researcher
Center for Innovation and Sustainability in Local Media,
UNC Hussman School of Journalism and Media
This page was originally published 9/11/23
Nearly one-third of Americans cited a local news organization as one of their preferred news sources, even as the local news industry continues to shrink, according to an analysis of survey data from the Gallup and Knight Foundation’s Trust, Media and Democracy project. A new report from the Center for Innovation and Sustainability in Local Media shows that local news continues to be an important source of information for many Americans and takes a closer look at the people who regularly consume local news in terms of demographics, geography, political ideology, and medium preference.
Understanding who regularly consumes local news is an important step in diagnosing causes and solutions to the well-documented declines in local news. The industry faces long-standing challenges caused by changes in media consumption, ownership structures, and a homogenous media workforce in need of diversifying.
In recent years, news media leaders, journalists, nonprofits and government officials have initiated interventions and created new outlets to address overall declines in the availability of local news, argued to be an issue of importance to democracy itself. In addition to meeting critical information needs, the presence of a strong local news source is related to increased voting in local elections, stronger connection to community and increased competition in mayoral elections, among other benefits to democracy.
Despite declines in both the supply and demand of local news, recent surveys have found that a significant portion of the American public still consider their local news outlets as an important source of information.
During the COVID-19 pandemic, for example, nearly half (46%) of U.S. adults named local news as a major source for news on public health, according to research from Pew.
An earlier 2018 Pew survey found that 73% of Americans said they follow local news “at least somewhat closely,” and nearly a third (31%) said they followed local news “very closely.” About a quarter (26%) of U.S. adults said they did not follow local news closely or at all.
Previous research indicates that local news is viewed as a more trustworthy source than national news. For example, more Americans said they trusted local news (44%) than national news (27%) in a 2021 poll by Gallup and the John S. and James L. Knight foundations.
The extent of media trust found in that survey varied across political affiliation, but the trend was constant: 62% of Democrats surveyed and 29% of Republicans said they trusted local news compared to the comparatively smaller 49% and 5% of Democrats and Republicans who said they trusted national news.
This report builds on these findings to take a closer look at the Americans who consume local news regularly and the mediums they prefer, with the purpose of providing additional context for the design and implementation of programs and initiatives that aim to improve and build local news systems.
To do this, we analyzed data from the Gallup/Knight Foundation 2021 Media and Democracy Panel, which asked 10,000 Americans to write in their top three news sources by name. Building off of a data-cleaning effort of the same dataset by researchers with the Center for Information, Technology, and Public Life (CITAP), we continued to categorize the nearly 30,000 individual text responses and further categorized answers that referred to local news by medium.
This analysis finds that 29% of Americans consider local news media one of their three preferred news sources, with statistically significant differences in the proportions of local news users among social demographic groups, regions of the country and political ideology. We also found that those who listed local news users as a preferred news source were more politically active in the past year.
These findings reinforce the need to focus efforts not only on attracting new local news consumers, but to also consider how to better serve existing audiences.
Highlights from this report:
- Nearly 30% of Americans consider local news media one of their three preferred news sources
- Women, Black Americans, those living in cities, aged 35 and over, and college-educated are most likely to be local news users
- New Jersey, New York, and Pennsylvania have the highest proportion of local news users while Alabama, Mississippi, Tennessee, Arkansas, Louisiana, Oklahoma, and Texas have the lowest
- Local news users tend to consume news more frequently in general than those who do not consume local news
- Newspapers and local TV stations are the most commonly named news source for local news consumers
- Local news users’ other preferred news sources are national media, conservative media, aggregators like Apple News or Google News, left-wing media, and social media.
- Local news users are less likely than other news users to prefer getting news from partisan media.
- Local news users are less likely to hold anti-establishment attitudes and more likely to follow the news, attend a protest and donate to a cause in response to political debates on social media.