Social media is becoming a key part of civic life, helping Americans connect to their local communities, according to a new report. In fact, social media such as Facebook and Twitter and mobile devices have become key to connecting citizens and providing local information as the “local news and information ecosystem” continues to “fracture,” the study concluded.
“Many local newspapers and TV stations have been cut to the bone in recent years, but thanks in part to the proliferation of Facebook and blogs, residents in three U.S. cities say they’re getting more local news today than they did five years ago.”
The rising influence of social media in the local news landscape was just one finding of a just-released survey conducted jointly by the Monitor Institute and the Pew Research Center’s Internet & American Life Project.
The study also found that broadband users, 67 percent of total Internet users, are more likely to be critical of city hall or other aspects of community life, indicating that broadband is raising the bar on information transparency.
“This suggests that those citizens with broadband expect — but don’t always find — information from their governments, schools and other local civic organizations there where they want it when they want it,” said Tony Siesfeld, head of research for the Monitor Institute.
Of all Internet users, the survey found that nearly one-third (32 percent) turn to social sites like Facebook and LinkedIn to stay updated on local matters, 19 percent to blogs, 12 percent to smartphones and other mobile devices, and 7 percent to Twitter.
The findings are based on surveys, conducted last November in three cities — San Jose, Calif., Philadelphia, Pa., and Macon, Ga. — aimed at assessing how well local media and information systems were serving citizens.
The majority of respondents in the three cities reported they are getting more local information now than they did five years ago, and using the same online services that provide that information to share information with their neighbors and friends.
32 percent of Internet users have posted updates and local news on social sites, 17 percent of Internet users have commented on issues through a local news site, 14 percent discuss local issues, 12 percent have posted on blogs and 6 percent on Twitter, the report concluded.
“There have been vast changes in the local news and information landscape in recent years,” stated Lee Rainie, director of the Pew Internet Project and author of the study. “One of the key insights here is that citizens have new ways to assess the performance of City Hall.”
Overall, the study found, 50 percent of respondents believed Web sites focused on local affairs were doing an excellent or good job, compared to 74 percent who said the same for local TV stations and 70 percent for local radio stations and newspapers.
Those numbers indicate, according to the study’s researchers, that, despite the growing presence of social media, traditional media is not dead, and ground still exists for online and mobile outlets to gain.