By Brendan Sasso - 09/26/11 04:01 AM EDT
Local television remains the most popular source for local information, according to a Pew Center study released Monday, but people mainly rely on it for just three subjects—weather, breaking news and traffic.
According to the report, 74 percent of Americans watch local television newscasts or visit local television websites at least once a week. Although people rely on local television for just a few subjects, those subjects are ones that nearly everyone tends to follow.
“It turns out that each piece of the local information system has special roles to play,” said Tom Rosenstiel, Director of Pew’s Project for Excellence in Journalism. “Our research sorted that out and we found that for some things TV matters most, for others, newspapers and their websites are primary sources, and the Internet is used for still other topics.”
People turn to newspapers for the widest array of information, and half of Americans read newspapers or visit newspaper websites at least once a week, researchers found. But in an ominous sign, 69 percent of Americans say if their local newspaper folded, it would not have a major impact on their ability to keep up with local news.
Relying on the Internet for information presents an age divide. Adults under 40 use the Internet to learn about politics, crime, cultural events, local government and jobs. People over 40 tend to use the Internet primarily to learn about local businesses and restaurants; they rely on newspapers to learn about politics, crime and other news.
The researchers found that people are beginning to use social media to learn about their communities, but it is still not as popular as television or newspapers. According to the study, 17 percent of adults get local information from social networking sites like Facebook or Twitter.
Few people rely on mobile phone applications to get information. Only 5 percent of Americans say they use mobile apps to learn about the weather. For every other subject, 1 percent or less cited mobile apps as a key source of information.
“Our survey raised some important questions about the future of local information systems,” said Kristen Purcell, head of research at Pew’s Internet and American Life Project. “Mobile apps draw very little attention at this point on the local scene, but it isn’t hard to sketch a scenario where they will matter more in coming years. Plus, the utility of news organization websites is still unsettled. They are important to some people, but the sites don’t score nearly as high as the traditional platforms – the TV broadcast and the printed newspaper.”