Many players in the content business are building new websites to provide "hyperlocal" local coverage -- comprehensive community news that sometimes goes down to the block level -- in bids for highly engaged readers and countless small advertisers. But new research shows that the heaviest consumers of local news, including hyperlocal reports, still rely most often on TV, newspapers and radio, according to the president-CEO of the Newspaper National Network.
Despite all the furious activity in hyperlocal media, heavy consumers of local news still turn to local TV news most often, according to a new Nielsen study commissioned by the Newspaper National Network.
Local community news sites like Patch, EveryBlock.com and Outside.in are gaining ground. They're already used weekly by 38% of "localists," which the study defined as people regularly consuming content in at least four areas of local news: community events, community news, local government, local business, shopping, finance, sports and real estate.
But 91% of localists watch local TV news at least once a week, the study found, followed by print newspapers, which get at least weekly perusal by 80% of 1,000 localists surveyed; local radio stations, which get 79%; local newspaper websites at 61%; and local TV station websites at 59%.
AOL, Groupon, Google, Yahoo, Gannett and others are all investing heavily to carve a digital share out of the local advertising market, which is expected to total $145 billion by 2014 as local spending declines in traditional media but grows in digital. As the recent end of TBD.com's local experiment suggested again, however, success is far from guaranteed. "The local space is hard, there are a lot of dead soldiers," AOL CEO Tim Armstrong said in January -- as he nonetheless described plans to expand his company's Patch.com from 800 towns to 1,000.
That's why the Newspaper National Network, which sells ad packages across newspapers and newspaper websites around the country, asked Nielsen to find out how localists choose to get their information, why they like the sources they use and how they expect to change their habits in the future. The respondents have a median age of 44; are 52% women and 48% male; and are highly educated, with 71% having attended college.
Only 2% of localists cite community news sites as their primary source of local news and information, compared to 49% for local TV, 30% for newspapers in print and online, and 11% for local radio.
The study found that localists are true media omnivores. They move fluidly from one media to another as it suits their lifestyles and information needs. Sixty-nine percent of localists get local content from multiple media sources daily and only 1% of localists use digital media exclusively.
While localists do skew older, the study suggests that those Gen Y'ers that are localists share the same diverse local content consumption habits as their baby boom counterparts. It's often thought that younger consumers are less likely to turn to newspapers. But 90% of younger localists, ones aged 18 to 34, consume newspapers in print or online on at least a weekly basis, which is actually a slightly higher proportion than among 35- to 54-year-olds, according to the study. Equally striking, this group is more likely than their older cohorts to see print newspapers as a trustworthy source of information.
Localists have widely varying views of advertising across local media. Localists find print newspaper advertising to be most credible, with 66% saying they trust ads in the local print edition, followed by ads on local TV at 51%, local radio at 46% and community websites at 45%, the survey found.
Where is local media headed? Huffington Post and Wall Street Journal are thought by some to be local newspaper killers. AOL's purchase of Huffington Post brings together the Huffington Post's local editions in New York, Los Angeles, Chicago and Denver and AOL's Patch in 800 towns. National newspapers are in the fight too: The Journal and the New York Times are chasing local readers and advertisers with local editions in San Francisco and other markets.
So we asked localists if they thought the Huffington Post or their local newspaper would be better source of local content, and 87% picked their local newspaper compared to only 3% for the Huffington Post. The concept of a local edition of the Wall Street Journal fared somewhat better. When we asked localists if they would drop their local newspaper in favor of a hypothetical local edition of the Journal, 18% said they would switch.
Although tablet and e-reader sales are forecast to explode, it's not clear from this study that these new devices will dominate how localists will consume local information. Nine percent of localists have tablets or e-readers today; 24% are interested in getting newspaper content on a tablet or e-readers. These "tablet localists" are more male (60%) and younger than overall localists, with 54% younger than 35. In spite of their relative youth, only 36% of "tablet localists" say a tablet or e-reader edition will replace their printed newspaper; 61% see it as a complement to their print version.
So it doesn't look like tablets will be killing newspapers any time soon. Nor does it look like the fight for localists will be an easy one, either for newcomers or established players.