Pew: Most Americans value local news, but few are paying | The Free Press Initiative

Does it matter that people trust local news more than national news if they don’t read it?

Challenges and opportunity for local news are spelled out starkly in a new survey by Pew Research Center.

Most U.S. adults appreciate local news, Pew found, but fewer are paying close attention, only 15% pay for it and most don’t know it’s in a financial crisis.

If Pew’s snapshot also captures perceptions in Congress, that helps explain why political leaders say supportive things about the local press but seem in no rush to help save what’s left.

I’m hopeful that more data like this helps people better understand the news industry’s situation, how the country is affected and what solutions are necessary.

This is the first in a series of reports that Pew is producing under a $20 million partnership, announced in February, with the Knight Foundation to better understand how Americans access and consume local news, said Katerina Eva Matsa, Pew’s director of news and information.

The survey, conducted in January and released Tuesday, found “the importance that people put in local news, that they see in local news, and how much they’re highly assessing it and consuming specific topics,” she said.

Nearly all Americans believe local media are important to their communities. Pew found 85% of U.S. adults believe local media are extremely, very or somewhat important.

Pew also found a majority (71%) believe local media perform well and report news accurately, though only 61% believe they do a good job keeping an eye on local political leaders.

That’s striking, given other polls in recent years that found declining trust in “the media.”

Matsa said trust is low in a range of institutions, such as Congress and banks. But when questions probe deeper into specific sources or specific functions, “people are not that negative,” she said.

There are also partisan divides over local news in general “but they’re not that deep and consistent in local news, the way we have it in national news, and that is consistent.”

“It is much less of a polarized state than the national news conversation,” Matsa said.

A less positive finding is that just 22% of people closely follow local and national news nowadays, down from 31% in 2018.

Just 9% now favor a print newspaper, down from 13% in 2018, when papers were about on par with social media.

Now 23% prefer getting local news from social media, even though social media invests zero dollars in its own journalism and increasingly deprecates professional news on its platforms.

Perhaps it’s about cost.

Although they think it’s important, just 15% of Americans subscribed or donated to a local news outlet last year, Pew found.

No wonder newspapers are struggling to find solid ground. They now depend mostly on subscriptions to fund their journalism and business operations, and people told Pew they are finding free information elsewhere.

Newspaper newsrooms, which traditionally produce most essential local reporting, lost more than two-thirds of their journalists over the last two decades.

Yet 63% of Americans think their local news outlets are doing well financially, Pew found. Its full sample of 5,146 respondents has a 1.7% margin of sampling error.

Pew also found most local news consumers aren’t satisfied with coverage of some topics. Less than half are satisfied with coverage of schools, the economy and government and politics, the survey found.

That’s good feedback for news organizations. It’s also a reminder that you get what you pay for.

New Oregon outlet: A local news outlet launching in Eugene raised $2.5 million from local foundations and families.

Lookout Eugene-Springfield will begin publishing online in late 2024 or early 2025 with a staff of 20, including 15 in the newsroom, The Oregonian reported. It’s also partnering with Oregon Public Broadcasting.

This will be the second Lookout site started by former news industry consultant Ken Doctor, a University of Oregon graduate. The first, Lookout Santa Cruz, on Monday received a Pulitzer Prize for breaking news reporting, for its coverage of storms and flooding in January 2023.

In announcing the Eugene outlet, Doctor noted that like Santa Cruz, “the area has seen the result of chain ownership eviscerating a once-well-established daily,” The Register-Guard.

This is excerpted from the free, weekly Voices for a Free Press newsletter. Sign up to receive it at the Save the Free Press website, Seattle Times’ Brier Dudley is the editor of the Free Press Initiative, which aims to inform the public about issues facing newspapers, local news coverage, and a free press. You can learn more about the Free Press Initiative, or sign up for a newsletter, at