Local news — a "complex ecosystem" | Bleader

Monday, September 26, 2011

Local news — a "complex ecosystem"

Posted By on 09.26.11 at 08:00 AM

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If you have a soft spot in your heart for newspapers, here's some troubling news:

"Most Americans (69%) say that if their local newspaper no longer existed, it would not have a major impact on their ability to keep up with information and news about their community."

But most Americans might be wrong. The new report I'm quoting from continues:

"Yet the data show that newspapers play a much bigger role in people's lives than many may realize. Newspapers (both the print and online versions, though primarily print) rank first or tie for first as the source people rely on most for 11 of the 16 different kinds of local information asked about — more topics than any other media source."

However:

"But most of these topics — many of which relate to civic affairs such as government — taxes, etc., are ones followed by fewer Americans on a regular basis. In other words, local TV draws a mass audience largely around a few popular subjects; local newspapers attract a small cohort of citizens but for a wider range of civically oriented subjects."

The press is apparently in a position to say to the American public, "You may not think you'll miss your morning paper, but just wait until the next time you need information on a local zoning issue and we're not there to give it to you!" Will this riposte cause the public to open its eyes, beg for forgiveness, and promise never to stray again?

Above, I'm quoting from How people learn about their local community, an 81-page report released Monday by the Pew Internet Project, the Pew Research Center’s Project for Excellence in Journalism, and the Knight Foundation. Here are a few specifics:

In addition to zoning and development issues, the public favors newspapers to stay abreast of community events, crime, taxes, local government, arts and culture, and social services. Newspapers run even with the Internet as the top source for news on housing, schools, and jobs, and with TV as the top source for local political news.

Television is the top source for weather and breaking news and it ties with radio as the top source for traffic news.

The internet is the top source for information on restaurants and other local businesses.

Yet despite what you just read, 74 percent of the 2,251 American adults surveyed said they get local news at least once a week from TV, and only 50 percent made the same claim about newspapers. Newspapers also trailed "word of mouth" (55%) and radio (51%). The internet followed with 47%, but newspaper websites weren't included in the internet total; they were lumped in with the print editions of the papers.

Tom Rosenstiel, director of the Project for Excellence in Journalism, is quoted as describing local news as a "complex ecosystem in which people rely on different platforms for different topics. It turns out that each piece of the local information system has special roles to play."

But because some topics are of far wider concern than others, some special roles are more special than other special roles. We read that:

"The most popular local topics are weather (89% of people get it), breaking news (80%), local politics (67%) and crime (66%). The least popular on our list of topics are zoning and development information (30%), local social services (35%), job openings (39%) and local government activities (42%)."

For whatever reason, the report almost entirely disregards sports news.

Click here for the full report.

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