The role of local news in rural communities

“Whether in a tech-savvy metropolis or a city where the town square is still the communication hub, local news matters deeply to the lives of residents.” – Pew Research Center

Volume and choice. These two common denominators are changing the way communities access and appreciate local news, says a recent report from Pew Research Center.

The report, entitled “Local News in a Digital Age,” takes a close look at three metropolitan cities – Denver, CO, Macon, GA, and Sioux City, IA – and studied the factors that influenced how residents are consuming local news.

I know what you’re thinking – stop right here, cities that range from population 125,000 to 2 million simply don’t translate to rural Minnesota. Well, yes and no.

While the data is not meant to be extrapolated, rural communities should take note of some of the themes that surfaced.

  • “In more wired cities news may literally travel faster.”
  • “Civically engaged residents are more connected with their local news and are drawn to a more diverse set of news sources than are residents who are less civically engaged.”
  • “Overall interest in local news is highest in the city with the most limited number of offerings.”

What does this snapshot of the data tell us? Local news matters. And it might matter more to rural communities than metro. Why? Because volume and choice are limited. With fewer information sources available, residents place a high value on the news they are receiving.

Yet, in rural, receiving news is quite the challenge. Much of it has to do with both the supply of, and ability to access, information online.  Pew’s research found that in more wired cities, news travels faster. In rural Minnesota, where news choices are limited and online access can be nonexistent, information travels slower. Instead of getting a daily email update, people might be waiting for a weekly newspaper, radio show or their next trip to the grocery store to get their latest community info infusion.

In some rural communities, a monthly school newsletter or single community member could be the most trusted source for local news. This is convenient for someone who has a child in school or who is connected in the community, but this information does not reach everyone.

At a time when leadership demand is increasing in rural Minnesota, those that are actively engaged should start thinking about how their community’s information environment is supporting or stunting potential leadership growth.

What do you think? How does your community create and share local news? What are some of the information challenges your community encounters? Post below!