Two-thirds of residents in small towns and cities read community newspapers

February 3, 2014

COLUMBIA, MO—About Two-thirds (67%) of residents in small U.S. communities in the United States read local newspapers ranging from 1 to 7 days a week, according to the 2013 Community Newspaper Readership Study conducted by The Reynolds Journalism Institute (RJI) on behalf of National Newspaper Association (NNA) in September and November 2013.

Center for Advanced Social Research of RJI completed 508 telephone interviews (using both landline and cell phone numbers) with adults aged 18 or older randomly selected in areas where the circulation size of the local newspaper was 15,000 or less. Since 2005, NNA has been commissioning the survey to examine public attitudes, perceptions, and readership of local newspapers in small communities.

The response rate of the survey was 41.2%. For results based on the entire sample (n = 508), the margin of error is plus or minus five percentage points (5%). In addition to sampling error, question wording and practical difficulties in conducting the surveys may introduce some error or bias into the findings.

The survey shows that 67% of the people interviewed read a community newspaper at least once a week. The readership was 71% in the 2012 survey, 74% in 2011 and 73% in 2010. Further analysis shows that older adults read the newspapers significantly more than younger adults. 

Although the readers are apparently aging, local newspapers continue to be the primary source of information about communities in small towns and cities. Four out of ten residents (42%) selected “newspaper” and “newspaper’s website” as their primary source of information; 47% preferred to use “newspaper” and “newspaper’s website” for the information.  

Community newspapers continued to be highly valuable to communities, as 94% of readers agreed that the newspapers were informative; 80% said that they and their families looked forward to reading the newspapers; 78% relied on the newspapers for local news and information; and 72% said the newspapers entertained them. These findings imply that the perceived values are true assets of community newspapers, and hence should always be reckoned in order for the newspapers to continue to play an important role in people’s lives in the future, whether in print or online or both.

The 2013 survey shows that 92% of residents had a cell phone, significantly more than 84% in 2012. More important was that 45% had a smartphone, compared to 24% in 2012, suggesting that more people in small towns and cities could be reached via smartphone technologies than ever before!  

39% of smartphone owners used the devices to access local news, significantly more than 31% in 2012 and 26% in 2011. Similarly, 53% accessed shopping information with their mobile devices within the past thirty days, higher than 49% in 2012 and 38% in 2011. These results suggest that there is good potential to be utilized by community newspapers to explore and develop digital products and APPs in the future.

Among the other major findings:

●          The pass along rate of the 2013 survey, measured by the average score of the responses to the question item: About how many of your friends, colleagues, co-workers or those in your household do you share the newspaper with? was 2.48, compared to 2.18 in 2012 and 2.33 in 2011;   

●          54% of readers had either clipped a story from the print newspaper or provided a link from the newspaper’s website to save or send to a friend or family member in the past 12 months, similar to 56% in 2012;

●          49% of online users would choose the newspaper’s website as their favored source of information for local news, 25% would select the local television’s website, and 21% would choose independent sites such as Yahoo, MSN, and etc. Overall, the results were similar to previous NNA findings;   

●          More than 7 out of 10 residents (73%) in small towns and cities had access to the Internet at home, the same as in 2012, slightly higher than 70% in 2011 and 71% in 2010; 39% of those that had access to the Internet visited the websites of local newspapers during the past month, significantly higher than 30% in 2012 and 28% in 2011;  

●          14% of those who visited the newspapers’ websites during the past month paid to view the online content, significantly higher than six percent (6%) in 2012, suggesting that more community newspapers have implemented paid content models with the past year;

●          Overall, readers in the 2013 survey gave high ratings to the accuracy, coverage, quality of writing and fairness of news reporting of the print local newspapers. In “coverage of local news,” “quality of writing” and “fairness of reporting,” their combined ratings were higher than in 2012. These findings suggest that the print local newspapers consistently did a good job in providing quality news coverage;

●          Seven out of ten (71%) readers agreed that newspaper advertising inserts helped them make better purchasing decisions, compared to 76% in 2012;

●          Compared to advertisements on the Internet, readers preferred ads in the newspapers, as 82% either “strongly” or “somewhat” agreed that they would rather look through newspaper ads than view them on the Internet; and  

●          The Internet has become more influential than ever before in people’s seeking for information about “automobile purchasing,” “television/electronics shopping” and “employment opportunities.”

For more information about the study, please contact Dr. Kenneth Fleming, Associate Director of Research at RJI and Director of CASR at (573) 884-6563 or flemingk@missouri.edu. Thank you.

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