Americans’ evolving relationship with local news, in charts


Forgive me for writing more about Pew Research Center’s good news-bad news report on local news in America.

I wrote May 8 about some of its findings, like 85% of U.S. adults believe that local media is important to their community.

But I can’t stop thinking about the rest of Pew’s survey, which found people are paying less attention to news and turning to non-journalism sources to get informed.

Brier Dudley's SAVE THE FREE PRESS columns are made available for free to the public and to other newspapers for their use — to build awareness of the local journalism crisis and potential solutions. The entire body of work is viewable here:

This further highlights the urgent need for solutions that universally address America’s local journalism crisis, as if more evidence was needed.

Especially in an election year, it’s worrisome to see people getting less news from sources doing actual reporting and more from places like Facebook.

Even more concerning, Pew found that as of January, more Americans are getting local news from government than newspapers.

That’s a big change from Pew’s last major survey on this topic.

In 2018 it found 43% received local news “often” or “sometimes” from daily newspapers and 30% from local government agencies and officials.

By early 2024 that had flipped, with 33% now getting local news from dailies and 35% from government.

That’s not how it’s supposed to work in a democracy . But it’s also inevitable when the independent press system withers, as it has in the U.S.

If local newspapers are gone, “maybe that’s all they’ve got,” said Jevin West, associate professor and co-founder of the Center for an Informed Public at the University of Washington.

“It’s a little disconcerting to see that more people are getting more of their news from places like social media,” he said. “And partly that may be due to the fact there’s less options for them in local areas. We know there are lots of news deserts and they surveyed people likely from these different areas.”

The latest news desert tally, by Northwestern University’s Medill School, found more than half of U.S. counties now have little to no local news coverage.

The country lost nearly a third of its local newspapers, around 2,900, since 2005, so Pew’s findings aren’t surprising.

Even if a community still has local news coverage, it’s probably much thinner. Pew earlier found two-thirds of newspaper newsroom jobs were lost in recent years.

Still, Americans appreciate media and 71% say it reports news accurately.

That should tell policymakers that constituents favor helping local media survive their digital evolution and secure fair payment from tech gatekeepers. It would help if Americans better understood the industry’s evisceration and impediments to its revival.

Pew also delivered hard truths for news outlets.

Consumers aren’t very satisfied with the quality of local coverage on core topics like government, crime and schools.

There’s always room for improvement and such findings should prompt introspection at news organizations. Yet today’s newsrooms can only do so much. Many are chain-run “ghosts” with few remaining journalists.

This dilemma should also inform policymaking.

Federal and state proposals to save local journalism should be viewed as more than just keeping newsroom lights on a little longer.

Their goal should be reinvigorating the industry. More robust newsrooms are needed to make local news more compelling. Then more will follow it closely, pay for it and rely less on Facebook and what local politicians say about themselves.

Otherwise the downward spiral will continue, despite a few bright spots here and there. We’ll become more disconnected, less informed voters and more susceptible to bogus information.

“I do think that’s the case, that there’s not a shared set of facts or stories that are important,” West said. “We just have no common ground to even start a conversation on the bus because we’re not reading local newspapers, we’re in different worlds that exist online, that are customized just for our attention.”

Americans don’t want that dystopia. Pew found most of them appreciate local journalism informing their communities and want it to improve.

If Congress acts soon, it can turn things around. If not, I shudder to think what Pew will find in its 2030 poll.

Brier Dudley on Twitter: @BrierDudley is editor of The Seattle Times Save the Free Press Initiative. Its weekly newsletter: Reach him at