Being Informed: A Study of the Information Needs and Habits of Philadelphia residents

This study, by the Lenfest Institute and the Annenberg School for Communication at the University of Pennsylvania, examines a small sample of Philadelphia residents and their news consumption.

October 4, 2018

Philadelphia rowhomes

By Michael X Delli Carpini, Mariela Morales Suárez and Burt Herman

A functioning local news ecosystem is a critical component of a thriving community. In Philadelphia, the “City of Neighborhoods,” local journalism is produced by everyone from mainstream local media to hyperlocal and niche publications. As the city population grows and diversifies, and new information products and trends emerge, the Philadelphia Information Ecosystem must evolve and adapt to respond to residents’ needs. This is increasingly true as the cultural battles of national politics fracture trust between local residents, and as the growing presence of misinformation weakens trust in both the media and government.

Amid the challenges and opportunities facing local news outlets, The Lenfest Institute for Journalism is among the first organizations focused solely on the role of local journalism in democracy. Its work aims to sustain and improve a healthy ecosystem where every citizen  is heard and represented. This principle of community listening was a driving force behind Being Informed: A Study of the Information Needs and Habits of Philadelphia residents. The Institute also believes in a human-centered approach to building sustainable local news and information businesses, and this study also aims to inspire new products to serve citizens’ needs.

This study, co-authored by the Lenfest Institute for Journalism and the Annenberg School for Communication at the University of Pennsylvania, examines a small sample of Philadelphia residents and identifies significant trends that cut across all ages, races and socioeconomic backgrounds. The findings may debunk some assumptions about their news needs, and will offer insights into the waning trust consumers place in regional media.

From picking up a newspaper to scrolling through a Facebook feed, there are ever more ways people consume their daily news diet. This study divides major findings into information needs, information sources, consumption habits, participants’ recommendations, and final conclusions and recommendations. Two of our most important findings are further broken down as follows:

Information Sources

The mobile Phone

The mobile phone was the most popular source of information across all age groups, races and household income levels. One of the most commonly mentioned motivators for high reliance was how convenient it was to find information and news through the mobile phone.

Default Apps

Most participants consumed news on their default apps and social media mobile apps. Local TV news stations ranked second and enjoyed greater trust. Other news sources include worth of mouth and radio stations. Magazines and newspapers, mostly associated by study participants with their print versions, ranked last.

Social Media Apps

As popular as default apps were among our sample, many participants, (particularly younger ones) relied on third-party apps for a myriad of services, news and information-seeking practices like shopping, connecting with friends, following shows or podcasts, accessing hyperlocal news and finding out about restaurants.  

Hyperlocal and International Sources  

On the content side, hyperlocal sources like neighborhood newspapers or apps frequently produced specific content that no other local source covered – not even local television. Younger Philadelphians consumed somewhat less information by hyperlocal sources. A majority of the sample expressed interest in engaging with international news, even when not necessarily related to U.S. foreign policy.

Other sources of information

Participants mentioned a number of other general media and interpersonal sources for seeking information. Local television news was mentioned frequently and was regarded by most participants as a trusted source of information about the region. Other fairly common sources of news and information included simply talking to neighbors, friends and family.

Consumption Habits

News Jungles

Instead of feeling they were not finding essential information and news, participants said they had too much information and news on their screens and that they had to opt out, sort through and hunt for information that they were actually interested in.

Trust and mistrust of sources

Trust and mistrust of sources depended on the proximity to responders. Mainstream media outlets, received skepticism whereas independent producers and influencers were valued for their accuracy.

Besides these primary findings, the study also revealed interesting facts about information sources and consumer habits signaling developing trends among news consumers. A number of people said significant portions of their daily information diet came from social media influencers and activists, some of whom acknowledged their biases and political leanings. Products such as CNN’s 5 Things You Need To Know and the Skimm were another popular source for curated news and information around specific interests.

Adapting to new technologies, growing skepticism of traditional information sources and news fatigue have shaped and altered the ways that Philadelphians consume information in 2018. But in spite of disruptions to traditional consumption habits and attitudes, our study found a strong reliance on local and hyperlocal information. As final recommendations for our study, we developed seven premises that should be assumed into workflows or strategic plannings by local ecosystem actors, whether from Philadelphia, or other cities around the country. Here they are:

• The future of news and information is online and mobile.

• People need information curators as much as they need information providers

•The future of news and other information is interactive, social and engaged.

• Give people what they need by tying it to what they want

• Increase representation of all racial and cultural minorities in media

• Audience centric information builds support and trust among consumers

• Research, experiment and test.

You can read additional analysis of our findings here.

You can find additional highlights of the report here.

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