When it comes to local news, TV newscasts have long been king.
That’s currently still true, according to a new report out Monday, but those friendly-faced anchors are getting some competition from an even more traditional place: the backyard fence, the water cooler and anywhere else where people interact directly with each other.
The survey from the Pew Research Center and the Knight Foundation found that word of mouth "through friends, family, neighbors and colleagues" outranked the newspaper, the radio, the Internet and every other new and traditional form of news media except for television when it comes to the most widely followed sources of local news.
Fifty-five percent said they get their local news via word of mouth at least once a week. Compare that to 74 percent for television, 51 percent for radio, 50 percent for the local newspaper, 47 percent for the Internet, and 9 percent for a printed community newsletter. (It is not clear from the report if word of mouth includes text messages and Twitter posts among acquaintances, but the New York Times notes that it most likely does.)
The Washington Post explains why the strong showing for word of mouth is so noteworthy:
The role of human-to-human communication in news is both obvious — people have always told stories to one another — and revelatory, primarily because data and studies have long focused on the news media, not on all of the ways news actually gets around.
Still, Americans say they rely on an increasingly diverse range of news sources. Forty-five percent said they don’t have a favorite local news sources, and 64 percent of adults said they use at least three different types of media every week to get information about their local community.
“Overall, the picture revealed by the data is that of a richer and more nuanced ecosystem of community news and information than researchers have previously identified,” the report's authors write.
TV news was still the most widely followed medium, although the data shows that Americans tend to rely on it for only the major local news topics: weather, breaking news and, to a lesser extent, traffic. For everything else, they tend to turn elsewhere, be it a community listserv or the local paper.
As comes as no surprise, younger adults rely on local television less than their older counterparts, and increasingly are turning to online news sites and social media.
The survey also has yet another disturbing bit of news for local newspapers, many of which are struggling to make ends meet in an increasingly digital world: nearly seven in ten said that if their local paper were to fold it wouldn’t have a major impact on their ability to keep up with news and info about their community.
But the data also shows that despite such claims, American would miss their local newspapers more than they know:
Newspapers (both the print and online versions, though primarily print) rank first or tie for first as the source people rely on most for 11 of the 16 different kinds of local information asked about—more topics than any other media source. But most of these topics—many of which relate to civic affairs such as government—taxes, etc., are ones followed by fewer Americans on a regular basis.