Commentary

Readers Show Greater Interest In Local News, Opening Path To Higher Revenue

Americans are more likely to say they follow local news than they did in past years, a survey about news consumption found. Unfortunately, that growing interest in local happenings hasn’t helped regional newspapers faced with declining readership and advertising revenue. 

The percentage of people who said they followed local news “very closely” grew to 31% early this year from 25% in 2017, according to a study by Gallup and the Knight Foundation. They asked 20,000 people about their news consumption habits in a survey taken before the coronavirus pandemic led to a jump in digital media usage.

The survey found that only 5% of respondents rely on newspapers as their primary source of news. Instead, 51% get most of their news online, while 35% are mostly dependent on TV and 9% on radio. Unfortunately, the study didn’t indicate whether online news included the websites of local newspapers. 

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Those results are somewhat similar to those of a recent Pew Research Center study that found only 3% of Americans get most of their political and election news from print sources. However, Pew’s study also found that 25% of U.S. adults use news websites or apps, without distinguishing between national and local sources. 

Knight and Gallup’s report indicates there is a strong appetite for local news, with 72% of people saying the news media plays a “critical” or “very important role” in making them feel connected to their local communities. News consumption is also tied to civic engagement, with 81% of people who follow local news “very closely” saying they “always” or “nearly always vote in local elections, compared with 35% of people who don’t follow local news.

While the intention of the report isn’t to provide revenue strategies for publishers, it does have insights that can be helpful in shaping the editorial direction of local newspapers and building an audience. Forming closer ties to readers underpins efforts to boost circulation, reader revenue and spending by advertisers. 

As Knight and Gallup's report suggest, consumers are looking for reliable sources of information, including outlets that can help to sort through the overabundance of news and opinion they find online. Local newspapers that cultivate their competitive strengths in providing news and information that’s more meaningful to readers who express a greater interest in their communities can find a dedicated audience.

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