The COVID-19 outbreak has been a major national news story, dominating news consumption and prompting frequent presidential press conferences. But it is also an important local news story, with many Americans depending on their local media outlets for information about the outbreak.
In an April survey by Pew Research Center, conducted as part of the American News Pathways project, about six-in-ten Americans (61%) said they were following news about the coronavirus outbreak at both the national and local level equally. Around a quarter (23%) said they were paying more attention to news at the local level, while 15% said they were focused more on COVID-19 news at the national level.
For this analysis of the role local news is playing in coverage of the COVID-19 pandemic, we surveyed 10,139 U.S. adults between April 20-26, 2020, and 9,654 U.S. adults between June 4-10, 2020. Everyone who completed the survey is a member of Pew Research Center’s American Trends Panel (ATP), an online survey panel that is recruited through national, random sampling of residential addresses. This way, nearly all U.S. adults have a chance of selection. The survey is weighted to be representative of the U.S. adult population by gender, race, ethnicity, partisan affiliation, education and other categories. Read more about the ATP’s methodology.
Here is the methodology for the surveys used in this report.
Visit our interactive data tool to access the questions included in this report, as well as content about the coronavirus outbreak and the 2020 presidential election.
In the same survey, nearly half of U.S. adults (46%) named local news outlets as a major source for COVID-19 news – more than the share who named several other groups, including President Donald Trump and the coronavirus task force (31%). Other local information sources were seen as important as well: For example, 36% of adults said state and local elected officials were a major source of news about the outbreak, while 16% said the same about friends, family and neighbors, and 8% named community newsletters or Listservs. In all, 64% of U.S. adults named at least one of these local information sources as a major source for coronavirus news.
Americans also see local news outlets as more credible sources of COVID-19 information than the news media in general. In a survey conducted June 4-10, half of U.S. adults said their local news media get the facts right about the coronavirus outbreak almost all or most of the time, compared with 44% who said the same about the news media overall. Similarly, about half of Americans (53%) said their state and local governments get the facts right about COVID-19 all or most of the time.
Black Americans are more likely than other adults to turn to local news organizations and to trust them to get the facts right about COVID-19. This aligns with two other, broader trends: Black Americans are more closely following COVID-19 news topics, and they are also more likely to be interested in local news and to trust information from local news organizations more generally.
Despite the financial difficulties facing local newsrooms during the coronavirus outbreak, Americans do not perceive a dearth of local news about the pandemic, according to the Center’s June survey. Nearly two-thirds of adults (65%) said there is plenty of news about how the outbreak is affecting their local area, versus a third who said there is not enough of this kind of news.