Study: Newspapers still #1 source for news

An early morning subway commuter reads a newspaper with a front page announcing news of an al Qaeda terror threat, Sept. 9, 2011, in New York. AP Photo

Revenues are plummeting. Circulation numbers continue to spiral down. Their staffs shrink with alarming regularity.

Still, Americans turn to newspapers, both in print and online, more often for a wider range of information than any other news source, according to a new study from the Pew Research Center.

Newspapers and newspaper websites ranked first or tied for first in the study as the source people rely on most for 11 of the 16 key topics examined--most of them civically-oriented topics such as local government, taxes and zoning.

Still, TV remains the most popular news source. Fully 74 percent of Americans watch local TV newscasts or look at local TV news websites at least weekly, according to the study, far more than the other news media. While their frequency of use is highest, TV news is generally relied on most for only three subjects: Weather, breaking news and traffic.

The internet has staked its claim in the local news department. For the 79 percent of Americans who are online, as well as Americans ages 18-39, the internet ranks as a top source of information for most of the local subjects studied in the survey.

Some of the study's other key findings:

  • Different people rely on different sources. Overall, local news consumption habits vary widely by age, and the survey demonstrates that no one platform is outpacing another in delivering all community news and information. Fully 64 percent of Americans use at least three sources of media every week to get local news--15 percent rely on at least six weekly. And 45 percent say they do not even have a favorite local news source.
  • Weather is most popular, zoning ranks last. The most popular local news topics that people get are weather (89 percent of people get it), breaking news (80 percent); local politics (67 percent) and crime (66 percent). The least popular on our list of topics are zoning and development information (30 percent), local social services such as housing and health care (35 percent), local job openings (39 percent), and government activities (42 percent).
  • Mobile has become a local news medium. Nearly half of adults (47 percent) use mobile devices to get local news and information of some kind, but it is largely supplemental. Even now, though, 5 percent of Americans say they rely on a mobile app for weather information.
  • Local News is highly participatory. Fully 41 percent can be considered local news participators because they contribute their own information via social media and other sources. Both these groups are substantially more likely than others to use the internet to get local news and information on almost all topics.
  • Small percentage share local news. Social media is becoming a factor in how people learn about their local community, but it is not as popular as other digital forms. In all, 16 percent of adults say they share local information on social networking sites like Facebook.
  • Minorities are a source of stability for local TV news. Hispanics are more than four times more likely to name local television as their top source for local politics as they are to name newspapers (37 percent versus 9 percent). African-American adults also prefer local TV over local newspapers as a source for this topic, though not quite to the same degree (36 percent versus 19 percent).

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