News Leadership 3.0

April 17, 2012

Local news enthusiasts: Pew research hints at opportunities for ethnic, community media

By Amy Gahran

The vast majority of U.S. adults are really into local news, Pew research shows. How might ethnic and community media outlets capitalize on this as more media goes digital and mobile?...

Over a year ago, the Pew Internet and American Life Project found that 72% of U.S. adults say they follow local news closely most of the time, whether or not some important local news is happening. Today, a new Pew report takes a closer look at this group of “local news enthusiasts.”

According to Pew, local news enthusiasts are more likely to be female, age 65 or older, and retired. “Politically, they tend to be conservative in their outlook (although they do not differ from others in party identification) and they also attend religious services more frequently than others. They do not differ from other adults in terms of household income, but are less likely to be college graduates.”

In terms of ethnicity, the vast majority (69%) of local news enthusiasts are white, Pew found. Black and Hispanic adults each comprise 13% of local news enthusiasts—roughly equivalent to the representation of these ethnic groups among the U.S. population at large.

Interestingly, adults with the lowest annual household income ($30,000 or less) were by far most likely to be keen on local news: 32% describe themselves as local news enthusiasts, compared to 22% in the highest income bracket (over $75,000). People with $$50,000-$74,999 annual household income had the lowest representation among local news enthusiasts (12%).

This finding indicates that ethnic and community news and media might be especially likely to gain traction in poorer communities and low-income demographics within communities—a point that might interest local advertisers and sponsors wishing to reach those communities.

Local news enthusiasts don’t all have gray hair. Fully one fourth are age 18-24. However, according to Pew this is the only age group where “other adults” outnumber local news enthusiasts—by almost two to one. This hints that right now is probably a crucial time to engage younger people in local news and information.

Digital media, including mobile and social media, might be particularly valuable in engaging younger people in local news and information. Pew noted: “91% of younger local news followers are internet users, compared with 71% of local news followers age 40 and older, and 82% of adults who do not follow local news closely.”

For contrast, another recent Pew study found that 20% of U.S. adults—mostly those over age 50—still don’t use the internet at all.

Also according to Pew, 73% of younger local news enthusiasts use some kind of social networking service (such as Facebook), compared with 35% of older local news followers and 53% of adults who do not follow local news closely. Twitter is not quite as popular—only 16% of younger local news followers use Twitter, but that’s far more than older local news enthusiasts or other adults. This indicates that using social media to complement your local news and information offerings on the web and in other media might be an especially effective tool for engaging younger community members.

Mobile devices represent a huge opportunity for ethnic and community media. Overall, 84% of local news enthusiasts have a cell phone, and 7% have a tablet computer—slightly less than penetration among all other adults. Also, Pew found the highest penetration of both types of mobile devices is among the youngest local news enthusiasts (under age 40).

This Pew report did not explore how many local news enthusiasts currently use smartphones. However, this year marks the tipping point when smartphones take over as the majority of U.S. handsets in use. Also, most simpler, cheaper “feature phones” are capable of browsing the web and accessing e-mail—and virtually all cell phones can send and receive text messages.

This means that a robust, inclusive mobile strategy (ideally one that includes text messaging alerts or interactivity) can help any local or niche news outlet connect with its community via the devices that most people already carry with them everywhere they go. Also, since social media is one of the most popular things that younger people do on their cell phones, social media can help jumpstart your mobile strategy.

Online media is definitely not the leading source of local news for local news enthusiasts—which may put online-only ethnic or community news and info outlets at a bit of a comparative disadvantage. According to Pew, enthusiasts’ most popular sources of local news are broadcast TV (80%), word of mouth (57%), radio (52%) and print (48%). In contrast, 41% of local news enthusiasts use search engines to find local news, 23% turn to the websites of local newspapers (TV stations sites, 20%), and 12% get their local news from social networking sites.

This points out an opportunity to leverage partnerships for cross-media promotion. For instance, online-only ethnic or community news outlets might provide some articles or other content to run in local newspapers, in exchange for the print outlet providing information about how to find the ethnic/community news site or do other cross-promotion. Similarly, providing simple, short, broadcast-quality audio or video news segments or community updates to local radio or TV stations could help broaden your audience. Many local stations are eager to run such content.

Finally, ethnic and community news sites with a strong mission to improve local communities may be encouraged by this Pew finding: “Slightly more local news enthusiasts than others think they can have a big impact on making their community a better place to live (33% vs. 27%).”

The News Leadership 3.0 blog is made possible by a grant to USC Annenberg from the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation.

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Exploring innovation, transformation and leadership in a new ecosystem of news, by journalist and change advocate Michele McLellan.

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