Local News Most Trusted in Keeping Americans Informed About Their Communities
This article is the first article in a three-part series. Read the second article here and the third article here.
Americans continue to hold local news in higher regard than national news across a variety of metrics, a new poll from Gallup and the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation shows, regardless of political party affiliations. At the same time, however, the size of the gap in trust between local and national news has started to shift slightly by partisanship. Overall trust in local news increased among Democrats from 2019 to 2021, while trust in national news has decreased, widening the trust gap. Trust in local news decreased among Republicans and independents over the same period, with trust in national news decreasing as well. The gap in trust between local and national news widened slightly for independents and remained relatively stable for Republicans.
Compared with other sources of local information, Americans also say local news does the best job of keeping them informed, holding leaders accountable and amplifying stories in their communities versus social media, community-based apps and word of mouth. These findings are from a survey of 4,221 U.S. adults who are members of Gallup’s probability-based national panel, fielded Nov. 23-Dec. 3, 2021.
Americans turn to established news outlets and social media most for local news.
When seeking local news, most Americans turn to mainstream local news outlets — i.e., broadcast news affiliates (33%), local radio (15%), and local newspapers or magazines (14%). Combined with local talk radio, 67% of Americans report most often getting their local news from established news outlets.
However, a notable minority of Americans rely most on their social or personal networks for local news information — 13% turn to platforms such as Facebook, Snapchat or Reddit. This subpopulation of Americans is roughly the same size as the groups turning to local newspapers and local news radio.
There are only minor differences in these findings by political party affiliation. Democrats (37%) and Republicans (34%) are slightly more likely than independents (29%) to say they get most of their local news from broadcast news affiliates. Democrats (18%) also are slightly more likely than independents (14%) and Republicans (10%) to say they most often turn to local news radio. Conversely, Republicans (9%) and independents (6%) are more likely to report getting most of their local news from local talk radio than are Democrats (1%).
Trust in local news has fluctuated but is still higher than national news, regardless of political party affiliation.
The gap between trust in local and national news has grown by three percentage points since Gallup/Knight’s findings on this measure in 2019. In 2021, Americans were 17 points more likely to say they trust reporting by local news organizations “a great deal” or “quite a lot” than to trust reporting by national news organizations. In 2019, Americans were 14 points more likely to say they trusted local news compared with national news. Consistent with the finding that Americans are paying less attention to national news of late, the gap appears to be driven by further declines in trust in national news, as it has decreased from 31% in 2019 to 27% in 2021.
When it comes to trust in local news, Democrats reported trusting local news more in 2021 than in 2019, while Republicans and independents reported trusting local news less over the two-year period. Yet across all political party affiliations, trust in national news declined from 2019 to 2021, with the decline among Democrats and independents larger than the decline among Republicans. Although Republicans trust all news reporting less than others, the difference in trust between local and national news for Republicans is significant, in that it is almost twice as large as the gap between trust of local and national news among Democrats.
Six in 10 Americans say they have more trust in local than national news to give them information they can use in their daily life, and nearly eight in 10 (78%) say they have more trust in local news to give them information they need to get involved in their community. Americans are about twice as likely to express trust in local news (42%) rather than national news (23%) to give them information they need to vote. On several other attributes, however, including reporting without bias, reporting on different ways problems can be solved and giving adequate attention to all sides of an issue, more than half of Americans report trusting “neither.”
Generally, Americans report that local news fulfills civic functions better than social media or community networks.
When asked to rate who is doing the best job at fulfilling various civic functions in their local community, Americans select local news outlets over social media, local community apps and personal networks across the board.
About one-third of Americans say local news outlets do the best job of amplifying positive stories or helping solve problems in their local community and holding local leaders in politics, business and other institutions accountable for their actions. And four in 10 Americans say local news does the best job of educating people about what is going on in their local area and making sure people in their area have the knowledge they need to be informed about public affairs.
These results hold across political partisanship and most demographic groups, with some notable exceptions. Republicans are split between their neighbors/friends/family (29%) and local news (28%) on doing the best job of amplifying positive stories or solving problems, while Democrats and independents rank local news highest. Similarly, the youngest Americans (those aged 18-34) are evenly split in saying community organizations (30%) and local news (28%) do the best job of amplifying positive stories and solving problems. Younger Americans also say community organizations do the best job of holding leaders accountable (34%), followed closely by local news outlets (29%). Local news beats out the other sources of information across all categories among Americans aged 35 or older.
It is worth noting that American perceptions of local news’ job performance often align with the sources they use the most. For example, people who turn to local broadcast news outlets, newspapers and news radio say local news does the best job across these various local civic duty categories. However, Americans who turn to social media or friends, family, or neighbors most often for local news rank those sources as doing the best job at fulfilling local civic duties. It’s possible that Americans have more positive attitudes about the sources they turn to most often, or conversely, that pockets of Americans are turning to these sources most often because of their positive perceptions.
Furthermore, Gallup/Knight found there are a few civic functions where community networks and social media play a bigger role than local news.
First, when it comes to hearing about opportunities to participate in political events or activities, and efforts to raise awareness about political or social issues they care about, Americans cite social media and personal networks (such as family or friends) most often as sources over local journalism (see Part 2). Second, depending on the political or social activism topic, citizens report higher contact with politicians, social media and community organizations than local journalism (see Part 3).
The data indicate that when it comes to an overall assessment of local news, the American public has a generally positive evaluation of its ability to keep them informed, serve as a “watchdog,” and amplify positive stories. In contrast, when it comes to the flow of information directly related to civic participation and specific political issues, Americans turn to local journalism much less frequently than they do social media, personal networks and community organizations.
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