Monday, September 25, 2023

New study shows what news Oklahoma residents trust and where they want to read it

Local news sources by type (OMC chart)
An academic study analyzing Oklahomans' media habits reveals that readers rely on social media for much of their news and information, and that they trust local news stories more when local residents are in charge of the news reporting.  

The study was recently released by the Oklahoma Media Center. It was "designed to fuel data-driven training from the nationally known Trusting News nonprofit to help collaborating newsrooms execute experiments aimed to increase trust and support of local news," reports OMC. 

"It's the first qualitative observational study of both news deserts and underserved metro communities statewide in Oklahoma," reports OMC. The  study was completed by Rosemary Avance, assistant professor at the School of Media and Strategic Communications at Oklahoma State University, and Allyson Shortle, associate professor of political science and co-founder of the University of Oklahoma's Community Engagement and Experiments Lab.

Some condensed study highlights:
State residents mainly rely on social media and community word of mouth for local news. "Most participants also use word of mouth to find out about local events, stay involved in community happenings, and engage with community processes," Avance and Shortle wrote. "This includes information exchanged through social media, text message, email, telephone, and in-person, face-to-face communication with people the participant actually knows."

According to the study, small-town residents express more trust in local news when a local person is in charge of it. "Respondents value free, accessible news and want to access it via social media," Avance and Shortle wrote. "For the most part, they will not pay for access, especially in the form of a subscription. As one participant explained, 'I don't want to pay for something I can get for free from the internet.'"

Based on study analysis, Avance and Shortle made five preliminary recommendations for news organizations to increase engagement with local news.

Commit to ongoing investments in local communities: Distrust of outsiders and news organizations' failure to understand a community's priorities and contextual dynamics can cause even well-funded news media ventures to fail, especially in tight-knit rural communities. News media organizations cannot simply report on a community from afar, nor can they rely on past knowledge of community dynamics.

Identify ways to continually communicate the importance of civic engagement, local politics and journalistic reporting to populations at risk of disengagement from local news: In many areas with low access to reliable news, participants reported that they did not need or want it. However, after conversing about the types of news and information that the community may be unable to access, most ultimately came to the idea that more news would benefit their communities.

Shift news communication models to prioritize social media: While it is apparent that general interest in print publications has declined, we also found that people are less enthusiastic about visiting websites to access information. Instead of clicking through a post on social media, they prefer to gather information from their social media feed itself.

Partner with area individuals and organizations: Each area we visited had one or more individuals or organizations who were considered reliable sources of information. These influencers already have social capital and can serve as vital entry points for community engagement.

Experiment with community-engaged journalism solutions: Many respondents talked about former town newspapers run by a trusted local citizen who cared enough and was embedded enough in the community to offer a reliable source of information. . . .The concept of a community paper is still relevant. Partner with local high schools, colleges, and universities to develop and deploy customized community journalism models.

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