Nearly one-half of US adults (47%) get at least some local news and information via cellphone or tablet computer, and such mobile consumers tend to be young, affluent, and more plugged into digital media and their local communities, according to a survey from Pew.

More than eight in ten surveyed US adults (84%) own a cellphone, a figure that has remained relatively stable since mid-2008. Roughly 7% of adults own a tablet computer, but virtually all tablet owners are also cellphone users, so the total population of mobile device owners (cellphone and/or tablet users) is 84%.

Below, other findings from the survey titled How Mobile Devices Are Changing Community Information Environments, issued by the Pew Research Center's Internet & American Life Project and Project for Excellence in Journalism.

Demographics of On-the-Go Local News Segment

Though nearly one-half of all adults on average access local information via mobile device, that on-the-go local news segment is disproportionately young, affluent, and educated:

  • 70% of adults age 18-29 who own cell phones or tablet computers get local news and information via mobile device, as do 63% of those age 30-39.
  • 67% of cell/tablet owners with annual incomes greater than $75,000 access local news information via mobile device, compared with 54% of those with incomes below that level.
  • 63% of college graduates who own cellphones or tablets get local news and information via mobile devices, compared with just 37% of cell/tablet users who have not completed high school.

Mobile Users Seeking Practical, Real-Time Information

Some 42% of cell/tablet owners—or 36% of the US adult population—say they use their device to access local weather information weather updates, and 37% access information about restaurants or other local businesses via mobile devices.

Fewer mobile device owners get news about local traffic and transportation (22%) or general news alerts (15%).

Mobile apps—one of the newest forms of on-the-go local news consumption—are just beginning to take hold: 13% of all mobile device owners report having an app that helps them get local information or news.

Young cell/tablet owners (age 18-29), however, are more likely than other mobile users to use local news apps (20% vs. 13%). That younger segment is also more likely to use mobile devices to find local restaurants and business information (55% vs. 37%) and participate in local coupon offers (28% vs. 19%).

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Local Mobile Users Plugged Into Communities, Digital Media

On-the-go local news consumers are more likely than others to feel they can have on impact on their communities, keep up with local information, and use a variety of media platforms such as social media:

  • 35% of mobile local news consumers say they can have a big impact on their community, compared with 27% of adults who do not consume local information via mobile devices.
  • 65% say it is easier today than five years ago to keep up with information about their community (vs. 47% of non-mobile connectors).
  • 51% use six or more different sources or platforms monthly to get local news and information (vs. 21% of non-mobile connectors).
  • 75% use social networking sites (vs. 42% of non-mobile connectors).
  • 5% use Twitter (vs. 4% of non-mobile connectors).

Local News Apps

Roughly 11% of the total US adult population—or 24% of on-the-go local news consumers—say they access local news information via mobile app. Among that segment, 89% say they get those apps for free.

Interestingly, local app users are not more interested in news: 

  • 56% of local app users say they enjoy keeping up with news a lot, compared with 55% of all adults).
  • 76% of local app users say they follow local news closer most of the time, compared with 72% of all adults.

But local app users use technology more avidly:

  • 65% of local app users use 6+ news sources regularly, compared with 25% of all adults.
  • 73% of local app users participate in local online news, compared with 41% of all adults.

Moreover, local app users are twice as likely as other adults to subscribe to premium broadband service at home (49% vs. 25%) and to use social networking sites (80% vs. 48%). They are almost three times as likely as other adults to use Twitter (21% vs. 8%) or geo-location services (32% vs. 13%) such as Foursquare or Google Latitude.

Paying for Local News

Overall, 36% of adults say they pay for some form of local news.  Most (33%) report paying for a local newspaper subscription; just 5% report paying for local news in some other form such as a blog or other online venue; and roughly 1% pay for a local news app.

Pressed on the value of online access to their local newspaper, 23% of adults say they would pay $5 a month to get full access to local newspaper content online. Asked if they would pay $10 per month, 18% of adults say yes.

Both figures are substantially higher than the percentage of adults (5%) who currently pay for online local news content. Even so, roughly three-quarters say they would not pay anything to access their local newspaper.

Asked to assess the value of their local newspaper, i.e., the loss of the local newspaper:

  • 28% of adults say such a loss would have a major impact on their ability to keep up with local information.
  • 30% say the loss would have a minor impact.
  • 39% say losing the local newspaper would have no impact.

About the data: Findings are part of the Project for Excellence in Journalism's 2011 State of the News Media Report, via a national phone survey of 2,251 American adults (age 18+) in English and Spanish, Jan 15-25, 2011.

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Pew Profiles 'On-the-Go' Mobile Local News Consumers

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