Wednesday, August 20, 2008

The Flight from Local News?

No one is hurting more than newspapers, in both advertising and circulation loss. You'd think that people have suddenly lost interest in local news, the one niche newspapers own.


A new Pew poll includes a question asking how much people follow local news. The percent who said "most of the time" hasn't really changed from 1998 - 2008. In 1996, 61% said they follow local news "most of the time." By 2008 that number is down only to 58%. Not much change, probably within the margin of error. So if interest in local news remains relatively strong, wassup? Newspaper readership and local TV news viewership in the same period have both dropped dramatically.

First, it's the large metro papers that are bleeding readers and advertisers. Weeklies are holding fairly steady. Large papers have a harder time today feeling "local." And few people report going online for local news, so we can't blame the Net. It's a complicated problem, this continued appetite for local news at the same time the major provider of local news -- the hometown paper -- is seeing drastic drops in readers.

How does this connect with what people know? Fewer reporters mean local politicians will get away with murder, or the political version of that. People will be less informed about what local government is up to, and it seems local blogs are not really filling that void. Not yet, at least. So how do people explain an appetite for local news but not buying the paper?

That's a damn good research question.

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