A new report sheds light on a topic that’s vitally important to newspapers, their websites and anyone who appreciates the value of local news.
The new Gallup/Knight study showed that most Americans – 86% – think people should have access to local news – even if they don’t pay for it. However, as local news outlets continue to adapt to the digital landscape, Americans are divided along partisan lines on how – or whether – to sustain local news organizations.
The good news, in our view, is this: Most Americans, 76%, say they need local and state news organizations to be informed, and 59% see their local newspaper as 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, according to the report, “Putting a Price Tag on Local News.”
“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 for 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 local news, and what we’re prepared to do to ensure its future.”
With just 1 in 5 Americans subscribing or donating to local 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 news, and 60% from the local government.
The Echo Press Editorial Board doesn’t support the idea of giving public tax dollars to news organizations. The board is, however, a firm believer in requiring local governments to publish legally required public notices, such as tax delinquent lists, requests for bids and public meeting notices in newspapers instead of on government websites.
The study found that 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 local news organizations, while most Independents (30% and 37%) and Republicans (8% and 14%) do not.
While the researchers noted that the study’s results are sobering, the study 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.
There were two more illuminating highlights in the Gallup/Knight report:
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%).
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%).