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Founding father Thomas Jefferson said in 1787, “Were it left to me to decide whether we should have government without newspapers, or newspapers without government, I should not hesitate a moment to prefer the latter.”
In small towns across America, Mr. Jefferson’s words seem to ring true today. A study recently released by the National Newspaper Association shows that communities served by local newspapers continue to demonstrate heavy reliance upon their local papers for news and information.
As a matter of fact, 73 percent say they read a local newspaper at least once a week.
Readers also say they read most or all of their community newspapers (78 percent), and of those going online for local news, 55 percent found it on the local newspaper’s website, compared to 17 percent for sites such as Yahoo, MSN or Google, and 26 percent for the website of a local TV station.
Working with the research arm of the Reynolds Journalism Institute at the Missouri School of Journalism, NNA tests reactions of people living in smaller communities served by local newspapers.
Since 2005, NNA has done research on how people read and what they think about their local newspapers. Results have been fairly consistent over the years, though the surveys have focused more tightly on small communities during the five years.
The early data indicate that the positive findings are consistent with the earlier surveys:
* 73 percent of those surveyed read a local newspaper each week.
* Those readers, on average, share their paper with 3.34 persons.
* They spend about 37.5 minutes reading their local newspapers.
* 78 percent read most or all of their community newspapers.
* 41 percent keep their community newspapers six or more days (shelf life).
* 62 percent of readers read local news very often in their community newspapers, while 54 percent say they never read local news online (only 9 percent say they read local news very often online).
• 39 percent of those surveyed read local education (school) news very often in their newspapers, while 67 percent never read local education news online.
• 30 percent read local sports news very often in their newspapers, while 67 percent never read local sports online.
• 35 percent read editorials or letters to the editor very often in their newspapers, while 74 percent (nearly three quarters) never read editorials or letters to the editor online.
• 75 percent think governments should be required to publish public notices in newspapers, with 23 percent reading public notices very often in their newspapers.
• 71 percent have Internet access in the home, but 66 percent never visit a website of a local government.
• Of those with Internet access at home, 89 percent have broadband access.
The local community newspaper is the primary source of information about the local community for 49.3 percent of respondents.
The next best source runs a distant second: friends and relatives for 18 percent of respondents and TV, 16 percent.
Readers are nearly seven times more likely to get their local news from their community newspapers than from the Internet (7.7 percent).
Less than 6 percent say their primary local news source is radio.
This guest editorial is our way of kicking off the importance of Public Notice Week, which is next week. Look for more on the subject then.