A new survey from Northwestern University that examined news consumption habits in two Chicago neighborhoods indicates an unmet need for certain kinds of news, especially crime coverage -- but a broad reluctance among consumers to pay for it.
The study, released last week by Northwestern’s Medill School of Journalism, Media, Integrated Marketing Communications, is based on the findings of an online survey of people living in Chicago’s South and West Sides. There were 820 respondents, according to a report by Greg Burns of the Medill Schools Local News Initiative,
For media businesses, the resistance to paying for news might be the most challenging finding. 647 of respondents said they don’t pay anything to access local new, and more than 70% of respondents said no one should pay. Fifteen percent said those who can, should pay. Just 6% of respondents said everyone should pay, which indicates a serious disconnect on the cost of producing news.
But survey respondents nevertheless were mostly heavy consumers of local news. They indicated that they stay informed by keeping track of an average of eight local news sources, including TV broadcasts and niche media -- including at least one newer-media brand.
Respondents also said crime coverage is by far the most important single issue facing Chicago, citing a 60% increase in gun violence over the past two years. But nearly 38% of respondents said local-news operations are doing “not well at all,” or only “slightly well” at keeping them informed on crime and law enforcement.
The survey was conducted late last year and polled residents in 16 Chicago Zip codes. Only those who said they consume news at least once a month were asked to participate. But most respondents indicated a much higher level of engagement with the news. The respondents were more likely to be young, Black, female, lower income and less educated than Chicago’s adult population overall.
Among respondents, there was a persistent and decided negative view of how well local media covered issues in a variety of subjects.
Crime and law-enforcement coverage were perhaps most balanced, with 26% or respondents viewing the quality of such coverage positively, 23% seeing it as neutral, and 30% percent having a negative perception. By contrast, the quality of coverage of housing, zoning and land use issues was overwhelmingly viewed negatively, as were environment, healthcare, transportation and cultural opportunities.