Saturday, April 17, 2021
April 17, 2021

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From the Newsroom: Local news and the value disconnect

The Columbian
Published:

Here’s some fake news: The news media in America is doing well financially.

At least, that’s the view of 71 percent of Americans surveyed for a new study of U.S. media by the Pew Charitable Trust.

But to get a view of how it is actually going financially for news media, consider another statistic from the report: Only 14 percent of Americans said they had paid for news in the last year.

When is the last time your mechanic fixed your car for free? Same thing for us. We have to pay our reporters, our editors and our taxes. And though the study shows more and more Americans prefer to get their news from news media websites, we still buy a lot of paper and ink!

The disconnect here shows that we have a lot more to do in our industry to tell our story, even as we try to tell the rest of the world’s stories.

Although that is a glaring problem, overall I was pleased with the results of the study.

Here’s why I was pleased: A large majority say they follow the news closely or somewhat closely, that they like local news, and that they value journalists with community connections. We try to do all of those things here at The Columbian.

The Pew study also broke down its survey results for 99 large geographical areas. We’re part of the 2.4 million people in the Portland-Vancouver-Hillsboro market, so I pulled those results. The margin of error on the following numbers is approximately plus or minus 3 percentage points, by the way.

Good news! 70 percent of the Portland-Vancouver-Hillsboro respondents follow the local news closely or somewhat closely.

As is the case elsewhere in the country, our neighbors say they most prefer to get their news from TV stations, at 32 percent. Another 30 percent prefer news websites and apps, and 14 percent are traditionalists and like print newspapers. Radio and social media round out the choices.

Breaking it down even further, KPTV-TV was named by 16 percent as the place where they most often get local news. That was the tops in our market, followed by KGW-TV. The Oregonian finished fourth, with 10 percent mentioning it as their go-to source.

We here at the Columbian finished with 4 percent. That’s to be expected, since less than 20 percent of the market area lives in Clark County. Still, we’ll work to get this number a little higher.

What are local people reading/listening to? The weather is Portland’s top story, with 92 percent saying the weather report is important. Hey, there’s a reason TV news invests so heavily in their weather departments. Other top issues in our market are traffic and transportation, crime, prices, and government and politics. A bunch of other subjects fell below that.

Restaurants, clubs and bars finished last among 11 choices, with 39 percent saying they are important for daily life, or at least important. That surprises me, since at least on our website, restaurant news always ranks very high in page views. (The opening of the Golden Corral was one of our top 20 stories of 2018.)

Also encouraging: 74 percent said local journalists are in touch with the community, and 78 percent said that local media report the news accurately. The respondents also say we keep an eye on local political leaders (74 percent), provide news that you can use daily (73 percent), are transparent about our reporting (69 percent) and deal fairly with all sides (67 percent).

All in all, 84 percent of local people told Pew that they are very or somewhat confident that their main source for local news can get them the information they need.

But, only 19 percent of Portland-metro-area adults said they had paid for local news in the last year. There’s the disconnect, and the challenge for us as an industry and here at The Columbian.

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