March 26, 2019

For Local News, Americans Embrace Digital but Still Want Strong Community Connection

4. Most Americans think their local news media are doing well financially; few help to support it

Charts showing that many Americans think their local news outlets are doing well financially, and few U.S. adults say they have paid or given money to a local news source in the past year.One ongoing challenge for the news industry has been finding ways to finance their work in a digital era where traditional forms of revenue have crumbled. As shown by Pew Research Center’s annual assessment of the state of the news media, newspaper industry advertising (made up primarily of local papers) has declined 67% since its peak in 2005, with staff layoffs still occurring. Local TV revenue, while more resilient, also saw some decline – 17% between 2005 and 2017, with greater fluctuation between on- and off-year election cycles.

According to this study, however, most Americans think their local news media are doing just fine financially. About seven-in-ten say their local news media are doing either somewhat or very well financially (71%), while about a quarter say their local news organizations are not doing well (24%).

That sense seems to be reflected in their own contributions, or lack thereof. When asked if they had paid or given money in the past year to any local news source – by either subscribing, donating or becoming a member – 84% of Americans said no; 14% said yes.

Chart showing that many U.S. adults say the availability of free sources is the main reason they don’t pay for local news; few cite quality.And, despite some attempts by news organizations to attach various types of paywalls to their content, the main reason Americans don’t pay is the availability of free local news alternatives (49%). The reason ranking second, though cited by far fewer, is lack of interest in local news (26%), followed by concerns about the expense (12%) and the quality of news (10%).

Print-oriented local news consumers more aware of financial challenges and more likely to pay for local news

Charts showing that those U.S. adults who prefer print news products are among the most likely to think local news media aren’t doing well financially. They are also the most likely to pay for local news.Consumers who are more tied to a print news product are more likely than most others to sense financial strain on the local news industry, and they also are the most likely to offset it some by paying for local news themselves.

A third of those who prefer print think their local news media are not doing well financially. That is almost double the 18% of those who prefer news via the television set that feel this way. Those who prefer radio are about on par with print, and the digital platforms fall in between.

Those who prefer print news products stand out even more when it comes to paying for local news. About four-in-ten of those who prefer print (39%) pay for news through a subscription, donation or membership. That is more than double that of any other group – and nearly four times the 10% of those who prefer to get local news from TV, and the 8% of those who prefer to get local news via social media.