Last week’s assertion that the more highly educated a person, the less time is spent proportionally consuming news about local issues drew some skepticism. Isn’t Flagstaff, after all, a college town known for its grassroots activism and engagement on all sorts of local issues?
The figures came from a new in-depth Pew study of three cities and their news “ecosystems”: Denver, Macon, Ga., and Sioux City, Iowa. In each city, barely a third of those with a college degree said they followed local issues more closely than national or world news. That didn’t mean they weren’t interested in local news – just that they were equally drawn to the wider world, too.
The more significant finding was that the newspaper and its digital journalism in each city were far and away the primary source of civic-oriented, local news – local TV and radio were mainly reactive or not significantly involved in the 12 local topics surveyed other than weather, traffic and local crime.
Also, the groups following local news most intensely were racial and ethnic minorities – local development and the economy, education and government were all high on their lists.
The newspaper and its website was also the primary source for those identifying themselves as “civically engaged” – they took part in at least four civic or community events in the past year. The smallest city had the fewest number of news outlets beyond the local newspaper, and thus more citizens had a closer connection to the newspaper and its journalists.
For Flagstaff and the Arizona Daily Sun, this is heartening news as we launch a bundled subscription package of print and digital products (for more information, see Section F today). Local news is the touchstone of civic engagement, and vice versa. It’s heartening to know both have a strong future in small cities with small newspapers -- and for our money, the more educated the better.