Small-town America depends more on traditional media than big-city residents

Pew Internet & American Life Project
Americans living in small towns are “the most likely to worry about what would happen if the local newspaper no longer existed,” according to a new Pew Internet & American Life survey.

But even in those small towns, only 61 percent say there would be an impact if their local newspaper no longer existed. (Among big-city residents, only 54 percent would miss their local paper.)

That’s one of many findings from a survey that compares the different media consumption habits and preferences among people living in big cities, suburbs, small cities or rural areas. (The survey was conducted in January 2011, but these findings were just released.)

Residents of big cities are “are particularly likely to get local news through Internet searches, Twitter, blogs, and websites of TV and newspapers,” the survey says, while residents of small cities and rural areas are more likely to still rely solely on traditional print and broadcast media.


Meanwhile, residents of big cities and their suburbs are significantly more likely to “participate” in the news by commenting or sharing, and are more likely to get news on mobile devices. Nearly half of all big-city residents use a cell phone or iPad to “go online for information or news about their community.”

Earlier: Americans rely on newspapers for local coverage of crime, community events, government (Poynter)

We have made it easy to comment on posts, however we require civility and encourage full names to that end (first initial, last name is OK). Please read our guidelines here before commenting.

  • Anonymous
  • Anonymous

    I agree. You want to build community, not outsource it entirely.

  • Anonymous
  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100000477459168 Wayne R. Malaney

    With the recent attempts to take public/legal notice from print to electronic media, has there been a recent study that focuses on how or what resource(s) the public actually uses or turns to get this specific type of information?

  • http://twitter.com/westseattleblog West Seattle Blog

    The Houston Herald spotlight is interesting; FB is not all sunshine and rainbows for small news orgs, though. The problem with letting FB be your main outlet for community conversation is finding a balance with your website – where, if you are a digital-only news org, you make the $ you need to stay in business. We have vibrant participation in both places (8,100 FB likes) but are always careful to make sure we don’t tilt too far to FB – which has other problems (unsearchable, among other things). Speaking of search: Of our 15,000+ average daily visits, we still get 5x as much traffic from Google (organic/referral) as from FB. – Tracy @ WSB

  • http://www.facebook.com/david.sullivan.79827803 David Sullivan

    As noted: why is a number less than 50 percent “only”? 35, 40 percent, that’s only. If a majority say there would be an impact — no matter how fuzzy the question is — “only” is a leading phrase. (Just speaking as a copy editor.)

  • Anonymous

    The object in this day an age is to NOT get your picture published within the pages of the local newspaper!

    With coverage focused on rapes, robberies and wrecks, there’s little local publicity will do to benefit most!

  • Anonymous

    What a startling discovery!

    I’d bet surveyors of small-town America would also determine that more people in these rural areas also drink buttermilk, as compared to those living within more urban environments.

    Many of these small outlets have also lost a significant percentage of their 1990s circulation, as reading scores have declined and as rural youth find few available jobs awaiting, even after graduating from high school. So they simply abandon “home” seeking economic environments where they believe they have a future.

    So all that remains in many rural circulation areas is an aging readership which will not be replaced. The local newspaper is “The Last Picture” for much of rural America, but then some don’t believe what they see on TV, so 4 or 5-day old news doesn’t really concern them at all…

  • http://twitter.com/mterenzio Matt Terenzio

    Yeah. that doesn’t sound good, and closer to what my gut would tell me from observation of how people get their information. Thanks Jeff.

  • Anonymous

    That’s a great example. Thanks Joy. It also reminds me of this recent study that showed small news sites get more than half their referrals from social media.. mostly Facebook and Twitter: http://www.poynter.org/latest-news/top-stories/188217/smaller-news-websites-depend-more-on-social-media-for-traffic-than-larger-sites/

  • Anonymous

    That’s a great example. Thanks Joy. It also reminds me of this recent study that showed small news sites get more than half their referrals from social media.. mostly Facebook and Twitter: http://www.poynter.org/latest-news/top-stories/188217/smaller-news-websites-depend-more-on-social-media-for-traffic-than-larger-sites/

  • Anonymous

    I suppose it is subjective. The question sets a pretty low bar by only asking “would you miss it?” It’s not like they’re asking “would you pay for it” or even “would you read it.” If four out of 10 people don’t even care about its existence, that seems problematic. But I agree it depends on how you want to look at it.

    Also, I should note here another Pew study that said “68 percent of local news enthusiasts don’t believe the disappearance of their local paper would affect their lives in a major way. And 34 percent of such enthusiasts say the disappearance wouldn’t affect their lives at all.” http://www.poynter.org/latest-news/mediawire/169902/study-7-in-10-local-news-readers-wouldnt-greatly-miss-their-hometown-paper/

  • http://twitter.com/mterenzio Matt Terenzio

    Only 61%? Sounds like a lot to me. If 61% of a small town liked any of its other businesses, they’d be gold. The business model is the issue, not the community interest in the news.

  • http://twitter.com/mterenzio Matt Terenzio

    Only 61%? Sounds like a lot to me. If 61% of a small town liked any of its other businesses, they’d be gold. The business model is the issue, not the community interest in the news.

  • Anonymous

    I’ve been so interested lately to talk to small town media about how they’re finding new ways to connect to their communities. Those of us at large newsrooms have a lot to learn from the relationship community journalists foster with their readers. (One editor told me he’d spent years filling the scrapbooks of his town with his photos, and he’s now trying to figure out what that means for the next generation of readers.)

    One weekly newspaper in Missouri is particularly inspiring to me. Check out how the town of Houston, Mo., has embraced the Houston Herald’s Facebook page: http://joymayer.com/2012/07/27/newspaper-facebook-post-serves-as-town-megaphone/

  • Anonymous

    I’ve been so interested lately to talk to small town media about how they’re finding new ways to connect to their communities. Those of us at large newsrooms have a lot to learn from the relationship community journalists foster with their readers. (One editor told me he’d spent years filling the scrapbooks of his town with his photos, and he’s now trying to figure out what that means for the next generation of readers.)

    One weekly newspaper in Missouri is particularly inspiring to me. Check out how the town of Houston, Mo., has embraced the Houston Herald’s Facebook page: http://joymayer.com/2012/07/27/newspaper-facebook-post-serves-as-town-megaphone/