Seventy-four percent of residents in small U.S. cities, towns read local paper from 1-7 days/week, University of Missouri study finds, 81% say they rely on local papers for local news, information

COLUMBIA, Missouri , December 13, 2011 (press release) – Three-fourth of residents (74%) in small cities and towns in the United States read a local newspaper ranging from 1 day to 7 days a week; majority of the readers (81%) relied on the newspapers for local news and information, according to the 2011 Community Newspaper Readership Study conducted by The Reynolds Journalism Institute (RJI) on behalf of National Newspaper Association (NNA) in August and October 2011.

The purpose of the study was to continue to examine public attitudes, perceptions, and readership of editorial and advertising content in local newspapers in small communities across the United States, as NNA initiated the research in 2005. Center for Advanced Social Research (CASR) of RJI and Missouri's School of Journalism conducted 500 telephone interviews (using both landline and cell phone numbers) with adults aged 18 or older that lived in areas where the circulation size of the local newspaper was 15,000.

The steady readership suggests that local newspapers, non-dailies in particular, still have a strong readership in small towns or cities in the United States in today’s new media landscape.

Further analysis shows that older adults, residents who have stayed in their communities longer, and those with higher education read local newspapers significantly more than younger adults, residents with a shorter time of residency, and those with less education. Seven out of ten readers (70%) in the 2011 survey read non-daily newspapers, and 30% daily newspapers.

Local newspapers continue to be a very important source of information about local communities, as 52% of residents selected “newspaper” as their primary source in small cities and towns. When asked about their preference for the source of information about local communities, 54% of residents preferred “newspaper” over other local media outlets such as television, radio, etc.

The importance of local newspapers to local residents was evident as 86% said that local newspapers informed them; 81% agreed that they relied on local newspapers for local news and information; 75% looked forward to reading local newspapers; 69% thought the newspapers provided valuable local shopping and advertising information; and 65% said the newspapers entertained them.

Among the other major findings:

  • On average, readers have read their local newspapers for approximately 25.34 years (standard deviation = 17.1 years), ranging from less than one year to 65 years in small towns or cities in the United States. The pass along rate, measured by the average score of the responses to the question: About how many of your friends, colleagues, co-workers or those in your household do you share the newspaper with? was 2.33 persons.
  • Most of readers (83%) said that “local news or local information” was what primarily drove them to read local newspapers; 73% read either “all” or “most” of the content of local newspapers.
  • Readers also gave high marks when asked to evaluate the quality of local newspapers, such as “accuracy” (71% thought it was either ‘excellent’ or ‘good’), “coverage of local news” (75% either ‘excellent’ or ‘good’), “quality of writing” (67% either ‘excellent’ or ‘good’), and “fairness of reporting” (61% either ‘excellent’ or ‘good”).
  • Nearly three out of ten residents (28%) that had access to the Internet visited the websites of local newspapers during the past month. Seventy percent (70%) of local residents had access to the Internet at their homes.
  • Two-thirds of readers (66%) either “strongly” or “somewhat” agreed that newspaper advertising helped them make purchasing decisions; nearly 8 out of 10 readers (79%) would rather look through ads in the newspaper than watch advertisements on television, if they had a choice; similarly, 80% either “strongly” or “somewhat” agreed that they would rather look through newspaper ads than view them on the Internet.

The response rate of the study was 42.8%. For results based on the entire sample (n = 500), the margin of sampling error is plus or minus five (5.0) percentage points. In addition to sampling error, question wording and practical difficulties in conducting telephone surveys may introduce some error or bias into the findings.

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.

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