Tuesday, 27 September 2011

Sources of local information Almost two thirds of American adults use at least three different types of media every week to get news and information about their local community, according to the latest report from the Pew Internet and American Life Project. Fifteen per cent of them rely on at least six different kinds of media weekly. Broadcast sources still dominate: 74 per cent say they get local information at least weekly from a local tv news broadcast and/or the website of their local tv news station. The figures for radio and newspapers are 51 and 50 per cent. Only fifty-five per cent of adults say they 'get local information weekly or more often via word of mouth, from family, friends, co-workers, and neighbors' which is fairly disappointing since as a species we've had quite a lot of practice and the technological barriers are mostly manageable. Nonetheless, for 14 of the 16 local topics asked about, the survey found that word of mouth was the fourth most cited source or higher — usually ahead of radio. The researchers have made a valiant attempt to keep categories clear and allow comparisons to be made, but the whole field of community information has always been hard to systematise. For example, the interpretation of 'local' is usually open; and the influence of a serendipitous information ecology, and the effect of push on pull, are enormously difficult to distinguish methodologically. Word of mouth is given significance but the survey questions don't distinguish personal emails or texts (presumably these count as 'word of mouth' in the way that informing someone by telephone might do). The most striking finding seems at first sight to be this: '41% of all adults can be considered “local news participators” because they contribute their own information via social media and other sources, add to online conversations, and directly contribute articles about the community' - but this is not what it seems. The category of “local news participators” includes, somewhat generously, people who say that they 'share links to local stories or videos online with others' for example, or those who 'have commented on local news stories or blogs they read online'. All the same, the survey finds that eight per cent of all adults (10 per cent of internet users) 'contribute to online discussions or message boards about their community.' Expect this figure to increase; and expect the Pew Research Center to be the ones to identify that increase as it happens.

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