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The “App Gap” in Local News Consumption

Plenty of people use their mobile devices to gather local information. But only 1% have paid for an app to do so.

checking cellphones

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If the Internet has crippled local newsgathering in many regions, could smartphones and tablets bring it back? This is the question implied in the data in a new report on how Americans use mobile technology to access local information. The study finds that while many Americans use cellphones and tablets to access such information, very few pay to do so.

The study, which is based on a survey of 2,251 people conducted in January, comes from the Pew Research Center’s Project for Excellence in Journalism, the Pew Internet & American Life Project, and the Knight Foundation (but let’s call it the “Pew study” for short.) Here, by the numbers, are a few major findings of the report. Almost half of all Americans use their cellphones and tablet computers to get local news and information–47%, to be precise. (We’d wager that as smartphones tip to become the dominant kind of phone, that number will go way up.) Among owners of mobile phones and tablets, 42% get local weather and 37% get information about local businesses, including restaurants, via their devices.

Despite the wide use of mobile technology for local information gathering, few are paying for it. The Pew report identifies what it calls an “app gap”; just 11% use apps to get local info, and just 1% have paid for such an app.

Here, in a bit more granular detail, is how people are using these devices to get local info, according to the report:

•    42% of those who own cellphones or tablet computers use those devices to check local weather reports
•    37% use the devices to find local restaurants or other businesses
•    30% use the devices to get information or news about their local community
•    24% use the devices to check local sports scores and get updates
•    22% use the devices to get information about local traffic or public transportation
•    19% use the devices to get or use coupons or discounts from local stores
•    15% use the devices to get news alerts about community sent via text or email
•    13% have an app on their device that helps them get information about their local community

We’re always told that “information wants to be free.” Nonetheless, when survey respondents were pressed to put a monetary value on what they’d pay to prevent loss of access to local information, 23% said they’d pay $5 a month for local newspaper content online. About 18% of adults said they’d pay $10 (only 5% currently pay anything at all for local news online). About 75% said they wouldn’t pay anything.

“Many news organizations are looking to mobile platforms, in particular mobile apps, to provide new ways to generate subscriber and advertising revenues in local markets,” said Lee Rainie, Director of The Pew Research Center’s Internet & American Life Project, in a release. “The survey suggests there is a long way to go before that happens.” 

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[Image: Flickr user dennis]

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About the author

David Zax is a contributing writer for Fast Company. His writing has appeared in many publications, including Smithsonian, Slate, Wired, and The Wall Street Journal

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