Hey, Have You Heard the News?

Word of mouth is becoming a significant, trusted source of news that fills in media gaps and filters what the news means.Once upon a time, paperboys shouted out the day's news headlines. Then radio and, later, television emerged as the way people heard about the news. Now a lot of news travels by word of mouth from family members, friends and trusted sources.

A study released Monday by the Pew Research Center describes a complex "information ecology," which includes traditional and interpersonal news sources. Study findings reinforce the advice of PR professionals who encourage integrated communications campaigns that deliver consistent messages across a range of communication channels.

Local TV still commands top position as a news source, with 74 percent of survey respondents saying they check in on broadcasts at least once a week. However, Pew says its role is narrowing and fading. While local TV news is the go-to source for weather, breaking news, politics and crime, viewers don't rely on it for business, schools, government and cultural events. Local TV news largely appeals to viewers age 40 or older. Younger people increasingly access news on mobile phones.

According to Pew, more people rely on word of mouth (55 percent) for news than radio (51 percent), newspapers (50 percent) and the Internet (47 percent), which includes social media sites such as Facebook, websites and blogs.

People use interpersonal news sources to triangulate or vet information reported by traditional or new media, Pew suggests. They also use word of mouth to personalize the news to their own circumstances. A Brookings Institution study earlier this year concluded word of mouth sources fill gaps in media coverage on education. [The report says there is a strong interest in more in-depth coverage of what goes on in schools, as well as education policy and teacher quality that affect student outcomes.]

Survey respondents mentioned newspapers as the preferred source for a wide variety of topics including government, cultural events, schools and housing. The bad news for newspapers is that nearly 70 percent said the demise of their local newspaper wouldn't have a great impact on their ability to find out what's happening in their community.

Pew chose to omit sports from the survey, noting that there is wide variability in professional, college, high school and community sports coverage even within categories of news sources.

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