WASHINGTON, DC—Most Americans – 86 percent – think people should have access to local news – even if they don’t pay for it. However, as local outlets continue to adapt to the digital landscape. Americans are divided along partisan lines on how – or whether – to sustain local news organizations.
Most Americans (76%) say they need local and state news organizations to be informed, and 59% see their local newspaper asn an important symbol of civic pride. But when it comes to financial support, Americans’ behaviors do not match the value they place on local news, the report, “Putting a Price Tag on Local News” found.
“Americans see local news as the consummate public good – but they are deeply divided on how to address the financial challenges local news organizations face,” said Sam Gill, vice president of communities and impact and special adviser to the president at the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation. “It’s time to ask searching questions of ourselves as a society about how much we value locals news, and what we’re prepared to do to ensure its future.”
With just 1 in 5 Americans subscribing or donating to locals news organizations, the financial base for the industry is limited, the report found. Americans believe that individuals, philanthropic organizations and tech platforms should help close the financial gap for local news.
Americans are deeply divided on whether subsidies are appropriate, even as some experts have argued that they are a key part of the funding puzzle: 66% oppose support from the federal government for local newsstand 60% from the local government.
Views on subsidies vary greatly by political affiliation, with most Democrats (53% and 61%) saying they favor federal tax funds and local tax funds, respectively, to support locals news organizations; while most Independents (30% and 37%) and Republicans (8% and 14%) do not.
One of the challenges facing local news is that Americans still believe local news is doing well financially. Yet as news publishers compete with search engines and digital platforms for advertising revenue, the financial strain on local news organizations – especially newspapers– has hollowed out newsrooms, leaving some communities without a fundamental democratic institution.
While the study’s results are sobering, the research did uncover potential solutions. Educating the public on the benefits of local news for American democracy, and its current financial straits, increased Americans’ likelihood of financially supporting local news, the study found.
In addition, the Gallup/Knight report found:
Americans take pride in their local newspapers. Six in 10 Americans consider the local newspaper in their community an important symbol of civic pride (44%) or the most important symbol of civic pride (15%).
The subscriber base for local news has shrunk dramatically: 34% say they have at one point paid for locals news, and only 20% have paid in last year.
No one type of content will help news organizations regain subscribers: When asked what would make news consumers re-up their subscriptions, no common themes emerged, though special content and discounts were the most often chosen responses, each by 31%.
There’s little consensus on how – or whether – to sustain local newspapers. Nearly half (47%) of Americans say local newspapers are vital and should be preserved, but there is a deep partisan division about whether those newspapers should be allowed to fail if they can’t sustain themselves.
Age and political affiliation are important lenses to view how Americans support local news organizations. U.S. adults over 55 years old are more likely to subscribe,. while those 18 to 34 years old are twice as likely as people 55 and older to donate to a news organization. Democrats are also more likely to have donated to news organizations (30%) over the past 12 months than Republicans (8%) and Independents (17%).
Information on the industry can change minds. When provided information about the financial situation facing local news organizations and the ways in which local journalism supports a healthy democracy, respondents were significantly more likely to donate to a non-profit organization that supports local journalism (54%) than those in the control group (40%).
Part of Knight Foundation’s and Gallup’s research series on Trust, Media and Democracy which seeks to better understand Americans’ evolving opinions of the media to inform solutions, the report is available online at kf.org/localnewsfinances.