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Sept. 26, 2012, 12:10 p.m.
Audience & Social

New Pew study: Where you live helps shape your news diet

Fewer than half of those surveyed in any size of community said they rely on a print newspaper.

Residents of cities, suburbs, small towns, and rural areas have distinctly different news consumption habits, according to a study out today from the Pew Research Center’s Project for Excellence in Journalism and Internet & American Life Project.

Pew found that while those surveyed in different communities reported similarly high levels of interest about most of the same topics, their habits differ based on where they live.

Some of the findings are intuitive — like how suburban residents, many of whom commute to work, are more likely than their urban counterparts to listen to the radio. Another example: Residents of large cities tend to be less interested in issues related to taxes, which could be because city-dwellers are likely to be younger and renters. Urban residents were also least likely to pay for a subscription to a local newspaper. Fewer than half of those surveyed in any type of community said they rely on a print newspaper.

Across the board, residents track local news more than other kinds of news. Weather is the most popular kind of news, followed by breaking news and politics. Most residents in large cities, small cities, and rural areas reported relying on word-of-mouth for news.

Suburban residents are more interested in national news than are residents of cities, small towns, and rural areas. Other distinguishing factors come down to choice: People generally want similar kinds of news and information, but they don’t always have access to the same news resources. Large-city dwellers and suburban residents, for example, are more likely to have multiple devices like tablets and smartphones.

Here’s a look at how news habits differed by community, according to Pew’s survey of 2,251 adults in January (including 750 calls to cell phones):

City dwellers

  • More likely to get local news and information via a range of digital activities, including sharing and search
  • Most likely to be active on Twitter and Facebook
  • Tend to be much younger than residents of other communities, with one-third of residents under 30 years old
  • Seek news from about four sources per week
  • Most likely to rely on local TV news for crime, politics, traffic, weather, and breaking news coverage
  • Least interest in news about taxes
  • Likely to engage with news content by sharing it, commenting on it, etc.
  • Likely to get news on mobile devices
  • Least willing to pay for a local newspaper subscription
  • Least likely to rely on print version of local paper


  • Highest level of income and education compared with residents of other communities
  • Most likely to be “plugged in” with home Internet, tablets, and smartphones
  • Most likely to rely on radio
  • Most willing to pay for a local newspaper subscription
  • Seek news from about four sources per week
  • More interested in news about arts and culture than those in other communities
  • High interest in local news about restaurants, traffic, and taxes
  • More likely to go online to get news on restaurants, businesses, and jobs
  • Tend to look to TV news for weather and breaking news
  • Most interested in national news, compared with other communities
  • Likely to engage with news content by sharing it, commenting on it, etc.

Small towns

  • Tend to rely on traditional news platforms like television and newspapers
  • Seek news from about three sources per week
  • Looks to local paper for news on weather, crime, community events, schools, arts, taxes, housing, local government and social services
  • Most likely to worry about demise of local newspaper

Rural America

  • Least technologically engaged compared with other communities
  • Less interested in almost all local topics than those in other communities — with taxes as an exception
  • Tend to be much older than residents of other communities, with more than half of residents older than 50
  • Seek news from about three sources per week
  • Tend to rely on newspapers and television for most areas of coverage
  • More likely to solely use traditional news platforms to get information
  • Less likely to say it’s easier to get local information now than it used to be

Photo by Dennis Yang used under a Creative Commons license.

POSTED     Sept. 26, 2012, 12:10 p.m.
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