The 159-page report released today, “Local News in a Digital Age“, offers an in-depth look at local news practices in three divergent US cities, including Denver, Macon and Sioux. The report gathers information from 3,000 surveyed residents, 6,000 compiled stories, and 81 contacted news providers spanning the three cities. It underlines how the habits of news consumers and news outlets vary depending on race, ethnicity, social class, and level of education.
The resulting data reveals shows how much more local news outlets in all three cities could do digitally and by involving residents in the news gathering process.
Amy Mitchell, Pew Research Center’s director of journalism research says the research hones in on how “digital infrastructure, economics, race and ethnicity, civic engagement and education contribute to the mix of providers and shape the way residents interact with those providers.”
Out of the three selected cities, Denver has a higher employment and satisfaction rate among residents with their community. The city’s average level of education and annual wage also caps the national average. As such, Denver has roughly three times the number of local news providers (14) as Souix City (31) and Macon (24).
Denver is also less racially and ethnically diverse than Sioux and Macon. And yet the city can boast of having a more diverse news ecosystem. In fact, the study found that- depending on the local news outlet- the same story might be reported from a more variegated stylistic and interpretational range. Denver also has a higher number of news outlets targeted at hispanic and black audiences, despite hosting a lower proportion of these residents than Macon and Sioux. Researchers found nine outlets in Denver aimed at Hispanics and/or Spanish speakers but just one in Macon that appeared to cater directly to the black community.
Interestingly, a greater proportion of residents in Macon and Souix than in Denver were found to follow local news topics closely. In Macon, the most civically-engaged residents follow 11 of the 12 topics asked about at higher rates (compared with eight in Sioux City and seven in Denver).
This statistic may be explained by the greater degree of civic engagement among residents in Macon and Sioux, where the crime rate and level of dissatisfaction with living standards are higher than in Denver. In all three cities, black residents expressed more confidence in their potential to make a social impact. They also proved to follow the local news more closely than white residents, who place more emphasis on national news.
Despite their varying degrees of civic engagement and news readership, the residents of all three cities are excluded from the news gathering process, aside from providing journalists with quotes.
Black residents also have less access to internet, own fewer desktop computers and tablets than the white population in all three cities. Yet they are not only found to be more civically-engaged, but also rely on social media platforms for news more frequently than white residents. This factor may be explained by the equal distribution of smartphones among white and black residents in all three cities.
The study identifies TV as the main source of local news for residents in Denver, Sioux City and Macon. Yet findings also suggest that this source of news may be outdated.
The majority of televised news stories are too short to be reported on air. At the same time, the main dailies in all three cities were found to focus more on civically-oriented, press-initiated coverage than the local TV.
One of Macon’s only digital-native news sites was closed in 2014 and only 6 of 24 news providers publish online daily, while 4 local news providers don’t publish content online at all. This disparity in Macon between residents’ level of engagement with social media for news findings, and the scarce online presence of local newspapers reflects a growing urge for news outlets to expand into the digital landscape.
Despite their socio-economic differences, the study proves that a consistent interest prevails among Denver, Macon and Sioux’s residents for local news. By shedding their old-fashioned habits, engaging more actively with digital platforms, and encouraging audience participation in the news gathering process, local news providers have access to a vast arena where they can expand their outreach and raise their revenue.