Local Newspapers Equals Local News to Most People. Work With Them


It’s tempting to fall in love with the internet and all the ways we can get our message out without relying on local news. Be wary of that temptation.

Local news outlets, especially newspapers, still hold a powerful attraction to the people in our communities. And reporters, although fewer in number and more overworked than ever, still show a streak of independence.

By and large, it seems that our constituents by and large still care a lot about local news. The death of local newspapers and civic engagement has been exaggerated. Working with reporters remains an important tool for government communicators.

In 2011, the Pew Research Center found — honest! — nearly three-quarters of U.S. adults are “quite attached to following local news and information,” and local newspapers are the most important source for news.

For a lot of those folks, losing their local newspaper would have a major impact on their ability to follow local news. And, more important to us, these dedicated readers are more connected to communities than others and more likely to think they can improve their communities.

In other words, they are the folks who will show up at meetings or vote to support (or oppose) your initiatives.

What about other news sources? For these local news fans, newspapers are a major source for 14 of 16 topics Pew asked about. What about local television news? Four. The Internet? Three.

Certainly a lot has changed since 2011. Digital media and new outlets are making inroads. And the word inroads is key.

Another Pew study released in March gives us some insight. In Denver, a wired, tech-savvy city, 47 percent of the residents say they access the daily paper content digitally. But 63 percent of them still use the print product.

In Sioux City, a more traditional market, just more than a third of residents look for news in the newspaper’s digital site, and almost three-quarters of them look for the print edition.

And woe to the social media maven or webmaster trying to reach a small community while ignoring the local newspaper. The latest National Newspaper Association’s study in small towns found that 67 percent of residents read their newspaper at least once each week. Cell phone and internet access is growing, but only a small portion of people rely on digital sources.

Overall, then, that means that even in big cities, the newspaper and its print edition remain the most important tool for us to get the word out about what we’re doing. And that’s especially true because those folks who rely most on the paper are the ones most likely to be involved in civic affairs.

Still, with fewer reporters and the daily news beast to feed, surely it’s easier to get a press release printed without a lot of questions, right.

Here’s the answer from a Poynter article: “Despite downturn, journalists still prefer to not use press releases.” (You can find a link to the study at the bottom of the Poynter article).

This study found that politicians and their press releases can influence the language and how stories are presented. But, and this is a big caveat, this researcher found that reporters more often took a press release and used it as a springboard to reporting their own story.

A well-crafted quote or good factual information from a press release will still make it into the news, but reporters by and large still use their news judgment and their independent reporting for their final product.

Craig Lincoln is part of the GovLoop Featured Blogger program, where we feature blog posts by government voices from all across the country (and world!). To see more Featured Blogger posts, click here.

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