September 28, 2011

The Role of Newspapers in How People Learn About Their Community

69%

Nearly seven-in-ten (69%) Americans say the death of their local newspaper would have no impact or only a minor one on their ability to get local news, but they still count on newspapers for specific local topics.

When asked, “If your local newspaper no longer existed, would that have a major impact, a minor impact, or no impact on your ability to keep up with information and news about your local community?” a large majority of Americans (69%) believe the death of their local newspaper would have no impact (39%) or only a minor impact (30%) on their ability to get local information. Younger adults, those aged 18-29, were especially unconcerned. Fully 75% of that group say their ability to get local information would not be affected in a major way by the absence of their local paper. The same finding was true of heavier technology users: 74% of home broadband users say losing their paper would have no impact or only a minor impact on their ability to get local information.

Yet when asked about specific local topics and which sources they rely on for that information, it turns out that many adults are quite reliant on newspapers and their websites. Of the 16 specific local topics surveyed, newspapers ranked as either the most (or tied for the most) relied-upon source for 11 of the 16 topics asked about. Among all adults, newspapers were cited as the most relied-upon source (or tied for most relied upon) for crime, taxes, local government activities, schools, local politics, local jobs, community/neighborhood events, arts events, zoning information, local social services and real estate/housing.

The problem for newspapers is that many of these topics are followed by a relatively small percentage of the public: just 30% of adults get information about zoning, 35% about social services, 42% about local government and 43% about real estate. Thus, overall, the total number of Americans who rely on newspapers for the local information that matters to them is smaller than it is for other media platforms, such as television.

These results are from a comprehensive survey conducted by the Pew Research Center’s Project for Excellence in Journalism and the Pew Internet & American Life Project in partnership with the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation. Read More