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Attitudes About Local News Mostly Stable Amid COVID-19

Attitudes About Local News Mostly Stable Amid COVID-19

Story Highlights

  • Attention to local news remains elevated
  • Local news mostly rated positively for coronavirus coverage
  • Little evidence fundamental attitudes about local news are improving

WASHINGTON, D.C. -- The coronavirus situation has led to a spike in attention to news. Although attention to national and international news has fallen back to pre-coronavirus levels in recent weeks, attention to local news, though also down, remains higher than before COVID-19. Additionally, more Americans consider themselves to be "very informed" about local issues than did so last year.

Americans acknowledge the importance of local news in a time of crisis and are generally positive about the way it has handled the coronavirus situation. However, other than a modest increase in confidence in local news as well as other local institutions, their attitudes about the importance of the ways local news performs its basic roles and covers specific issues, including public health, have not changed.

These results are from an April 14-20 Gallup/Knight Foundation survey focused on the coronavirus situation, part of the Knight Foundation's Trust, Media and Democracy initiative.

Attention to News Is Down From Peak, but Still Higher Than Before Crisis

The survey finds 32% of U.S. adults paying "a great deal of attention" to local news. Although this is down from 44% in March, it remains 10 percentage points higher than the pre-coronavirus reading in December and is significantly higher than all other 2018-19 measurements.

By contrast, attention to national and international news is also lower now than in March, but only slightly higher than before the coronavirus situation, and the same as or lower than most other 2018-2019 measures.

Line graph. Americans’ attention to local news, though down in recent weeks, remains higher than before the COVID-19 crisis.

Notably, there has been an increase in the percentage of Americans who consider themselves to be "very informed" about local issues. The 28% who say they are very informed is up from four separate 2019 readings that ranged between 17% and 21%.

The increase is greater among college graduates (up 13 points since last fall to 34%) than those with some college (up six points, to 29%) or no college (up four points, to 23%).

Local News, National Network News and Newspapers Rated Best for COVID-19 Coverage

Local TV news is rated best for the coverage it is giving to the coronavirus situation, with 55% describing the coverage as "excellent" or "good." National network news, local and national newspapers, and local radio news receive nearly as positive ratings, while national cable TV news and online news organizations get less positive reviews.

Bar graph. Americans give local TV news higher ratings for coronavirus coverage than other news sources.

Seven in 10 Americans say local news is "extremely" (31%) or "very" (39%) important for "providing factual, relevant information during times of crisis."

Of five specific types of information people may want to learn about the coronavirus situation, Americans are most looking toward local news to inform them how local political, business and economic leaders in their community are responding to the coronavirus situation (68%) and how to protect themselves from being infected by the virus (62%). A majority of 55% also turn to local news to find out where to seek medical attention if they think they have the coronavirus. Fewer see local news as a source for dealing with the economic impact of the situation (44%) or finding out how to purchase household necessities (31%).

Americans are generally positive in their ratings of how local news is covering these aspects of the coronavirus situation, particularly the ones people say they most want to know about, including how to avoid being infected by the virus.

Bar graph. Americans say local news is doing a good job of providing coronavirus-related information.

Modest Increase in Confidence in News Organizations and Other Local Institutions

Consistent with observed approval rating bumps for the president and Congress amid the coronavirus situation, more Americans also say they are confident in local news, as well as other local institutions.

Currently, 42% of U.S. adults say they have "a great deal" or "quite a lot" of confidence in news organizations in their local area, a modest increase from 37% last summer. Local government, businesses and schools also show meaningful increases in confidence since last year, with the 10-point increase in local government the highest.

Local government and local news organizations still engender less confidence than other local institutions. Local businesses, hospitals and libraries are the highest-rated local institutions, with roughly seven in 10 expressing confidence in these.

Changes in Confidence in Local Institutions, Before and After the Coronavirus Situation
Thinking about some institutions that exist in cities and towns, how much confidence do you have in each of these institutions?
2019 2020 Change
% % pct. pts.
Government 29 39 +10
Businesses 64 70 +6
Schools 46 51 +5
News organizations 37 42 +5
Law enforcement 56 59 +3
Churches 48 50 +2
Courts 42 44 +2
Libraries 73 67 -6
Hospitals n/a 70 n/a
Figures are the percentage with "a great deal" or "quite a lot" of confidence in the institution; Hospitals item was not asked in 2019
Gallup/Knight Foundation

Confidence in local news has grown among Democrats (up eight points to 58%) and independents (up six points to 37%), while there has been no change among Republicans (27%).

Specific Aspects of Local News Coverage Rated No Better

Even as more Americans express confidence in the institution of local news, they are not increasingly positive about the way local news is performing its key functions or how it is covering specific issues.

Americans are positive about the way local news handles some of its key societal roles, but are generally no more positive now than they were a year ago. About six in 10 rate local news positively for educating people about what is happening in their area, providing the information they need to participate in public affairs, providing factual news reports about the community and making residents feel connected to the community.

Americans Still Positive, but No More So Than in 2019, About Local News Performance of Key Roles
Do you think news organizations in your local area do an excellent, good, fair or poor job at each of the following?
2019 2020 Change
% % pct. pts.
Educating people about what is going on in your local area 61 65 +4
Providing factual local news reports 63 63 0
Making residents feel connected to their community and each other n/a 58 n/a
Making sure people in your local area have knowledge they need to be informed about public affairs 54 57 +3
Holding local leaders in politics, business and other institutions accountable for their actions 40 41 +1
Figures are the percentages who say "excellent" or "good"
Gallup/Knight Foundation

Americans' trust in local news to cover specific issues has also not improved; in fact, most show small but not statistically meaningful decreases. These include public health, the dominant issue for local news amid the coronavirus situation. Fifty-five percent of Americans say they have "a great deal" or "quite a lot" of trust in local news coverage of public health and safety, compared with 58% last year.

Still, public health remains one of the issues, along with the environment and weather emergencies, that Americans are most likely to trust local news to cover.

Americans' Trust in Local Media to Cover Specific Issues Is No Better Than a Year Ago
How much do you trust the coverage of each of the following topics by news organizations in your local area -- a great deal, quite a lot, some, very little or none?
2019 2020 Change
% % pct. pts.
The local environment and weather emergencies 75 71 -4
Public health and safety in your local area 58 55 -3
Business and the economy in your local area 51 51 0
Schools and education in your local area 52 49 -3
Local politics and government 45 42 -3
Social and cultural issues like abortion, race relations, gun rights and LGBT rights 32 25 -7
Figures are the percentages who say "a great deal" or "quite a lot"
Gallup/Knight Foundation


The coronavirus situation has prompted Americans to pay greater attention to local news, and their attention remains elevated compared with what it was before the crisis, even with a decline in recent weeks. Americans are generally positive about local news coverage of the situation. The coronavirus situation has provided local news with an opportunity to convince the public of the vital role it can play in shepherding them through a crisis, something Americans largely acknowledge.

However, other than an increase in confidence of local news organizations that may be part of a rising tide lifting confidence in most local institutions, local news does not appear to be benefiting much from the coronavirus situation.

This is especially notable at a time when many local news organizations -- particularly newspapers -- are being forced to lay off large portions of staff to address the financial fallout of the coronavirus situation that is hitting them especially hard.

The same Gallup/Knight Foundation survey finds a small percentage of U.S. local news nonsubscribers willing to personally pay to support local news. While Americans do favor directing federal COVID-19 relief funds to local news organizations, they advocate spending only a small amount for that purpose.

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