Why Americans don’t pay for local news

March 28, 2019 01:30

A new survey from the Pew Research Center shows that very few people pay for local news, and most believe local newsrooms are doing fine financially.
  Let’s dive into this data from the local broadcast news perspective.

The research says: "71 percent of those surveyed believe that 'their local news outlets are doing very or somewhat well financially.' Only 14 percent have paid for or given money to local news … in the past year."

It fairly notes that local TV news is "often" a source more than any other, and 86% of people watch local TV news at least sometimes, along with 79% for radio news.

Online news is catching up as a source, but those who get news online still use news websites/apps over social media.

As it notes, “many Americans think of 'local news' as 'TV,' and TV is doing a lot better than newspapers,” with 77% saying TV is doing very or somewhat well. Does that bear out?

Our own research finds it does: Total local TV news employment surpassed total newspaper employment for the first time in more than 20 years of research last year and average TV newsroom staffing is near an all-time high.

TV News vs Newspapers   Staff per TV Newsroom
Our research further finds TV news budgets are the same or increasing, if at slower rates, and new data coming this summer will show are budgets steady again.

Most News Directors don’t know about their newsroom’s profitability, but those that do say they’re in the green.

TV Profitability    TV budgets

Additional research shows local TV news revenue is up 35% in the last 10 years. See what’s driving that here.

Radio revenue isn’t as strong, but fewer local radio stations are showing losses, largely driven by the shift to non-profit news radio.

The new Pew research shows almost half of people don't pay for local news because they find what they need –  as we've seen, mostly from local broadcasters –  for free.

Again, remember people turn to local news websites and apps even when looking for news online. When we asked last year, just 2 local TV stations said they use paywalls, and just 2% of radio stations do.

And, of the 93% of TV stations with apps, just 6.8% charge for those apps.

 So currently:
✅ More people get local news from broadcast than other sources.

✅ Local TV & radio are doing relatively well financially.

✅ Few broadcast outlets charge consumers for their content, so few end up paying for local news (retransmission fees aside).
We'll add that more local TV news stations are producing more hours of news than ever (new research this summer will show this trend continuing).

Stations airing local news   Hours of local TV news

Those hours include more in-depth and investigative reporting and more focus on engaging communities, like through social listening.

The new Pew research shows this is working in building loyalty: “Americans who prefer to get their local news on TV are more likely to follow it very closely than those who prefer to get it online.”

Can it last? Audiences are still aging and shrinking. We’ll leave you with some thoughts on what it will take to maintain local broadcast news' strength.      
More from Pew: What are the local news dynamics in cities around the country? Check yours.
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