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New study suggests most Americans still turn to local TV news

September 26, 2011 |  3:56 am

Americans still turn most often to television and, especially, newspapers to learn about a variety of topics, but they are grazers who also venture to the websites and radio—with not much loyalty to any particular kind of platform, according to a study to be released today.

A Pew Research Center survey of 2,251 adults found a complex ecosystem, in which the most of the public goes to multiple outlets—including word of mouth form people they know—to find out what’s happening in their communities.

The results deliver both good and bad news to traditional media.

Television, for instance, remains the medium that people visit most often for news in their area. Nearly three-quarters of the population watches local TV news at least once a week. But their interest tends to be fairly narrow—typically tuning in for weather and breaking news but not much else.

Newspapers attract a smaller share of the population; half of adults read at least once a week, either in print or online. While not as large an audience as television, though, newspaper readers rely on newspapers most in 11 of the 16 subject areas that Pew asked about.

When it comes to meat and potatoes local news like government actions, taxes and zoning, most people tend to count on newspapers. But newspaper readers apparently don’t mind hurting the one they love: Despite acknowledging they turn to newspapers on a variety of topics, 69% of Americans said their ability to impact news would not suffer a major blow if their local paper went out of business.

The Pew research, reported by the organization’s Project for Excellence in Journalism, makes it clear that no single media outlet, or platform, will be the be-all, end-all for consumers. Some 64% of Americans rely on at least three sources per week for local news, while 15% rely on six sources, or more. Fully 45% could not designate a favorite local news source.

Almost half of adults said in the survey that they use mobile devices to get local news and information, though most still rely on other platforms, too.

One reason for the resilience of local television news is the loyalty of minority viewers. Hispanics are four times more likely to name TV as a top source on local politics, over newspapers (37% to 9%). African American adults had a similar, though not as pronounced, preference.

“It turns out that each piece of the local information system has a special role to play,” said Tom Rosenstiel, director of the Project for Excellence in Journalism and co-author of the report.

 

--James Rainey

Twitter: latimesrainey

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