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Josh Bergeron: Insight into consumers’ views of local news

In a time when the “fake news” phrase has made its way to town council meetings, the Pew Research Center has some good news.

An overwhelming majority of adults in our region say local media report news accurately. That finding was one of many in a survey released last month of 35,000 adults across America. Because of the large number surveyed, the Pew Research Center was able to create profiles of individual regions, including the Charlotte region.

So, when respondents in our area were asked about news, local sources most likely to come to mind are a local newspaper, in print and online; a regional newspaper such as the Charlotte Observer; TV news such as WBTV, WSOC, NBC Charlotte and others; radio; and online-only outfits.

The finding should not be surprising considering the lengths to which we go to confirm and double check news before publication. And when we get something wrong, we correct it. But the finding is especially relevant in a time when “fake news” is the response to stories that local officials don’t like.

While the survey’s results do not allow for us to make specific conclusions about news in Salisbury, it provides insight into the state of news across our region.

We’re in the business of news, but our business is affected by local, regional and national factors.

One such factor is the rise in the use of smartphones, social media and the internet as a means by which we can view news.

And one national headline in the survey’s results is that nearly as many Americans get their local news online — 37 percent — as those who do so through TV news — 41 percent. Printed newspapers were third at 13 percent. Radio was fourth.

A similar trend is true in the Charlotte region, too. Though, here, TV news has a much larger lead over any other source.

Interestingly, 69 percent of Charlotte-area residents say they do not only rely on online sources, indicating many use a mixture of sources to learn about what’s going on in their communities.

With the exception of accuracy, there’s one factor that’s more important than any other for us, the Salisbury Post — connection to community. If we aren’t involved in and knowledgeable about our community, then the news we report may not reflect current events and what people are interested in.

In the Charlotte region, the survey found that 66 percent of adults said local journalists are in touch with the community.

Meanwhile, 18 percent of adults in the Charlotte region say they have spoken with a journalist.

That’s an area where improvement is necessary.

In Salisbury, Rowan County, the Charlotte region and across the nation, there are many areas where important stories are not being told. We’ll continue to do our part — looking for stories in unexplored places and finding new voices to talk about topics at the forefront of conversations in our community — and we hope that others do the same.

Finally, the survey found that just 14 percent of adults across the country and 12 percent in the Charlotte region have paid for local news in the past year.

That low number largely is due to the availability of free content, the survey found. Only 10 percent said concerns were about news quality.

But news is not free to produce. To report on the proposed closures of public schools and a state embezzlement investigation in Landis, we’ve worked tirelessly. We talked to parents affected by the proposed school closures. Reporter Liz Moomey has sifted through hundreds of pages of public records related to the Landis investigation and requested many more.

To many reading this column, stressing the importance of local news and paying for it is like to preaching to the choir.

For the many more to whom it is not, I’d point to a story published Tuesday about a multi-million-dollar tax incentive deal for a company that proposes to bring 1,250 jobs here (“Incentives offered for ‘big news’ company”) as an example of reporting on an event that could fundamentally reshape our community. Our work to provide transparency into Landis’ finances are an example of our unique responsibility to hold public officials accountable. Our terrific, local sports coverage is something you won’t find on TV news or in any other news source. And the “Spirit of Rowan” section published March 31 is an example profiling the many, diverse people who live in Salisbury and Rowan County.

From investigative reporting to well-reported features, it’s our goal to continue as Salisbury’s and Rowan County’s best local news source and shine as a gem across the country.

Josh Bergeron is editor of the Salisbury Post. Email him at josh.bergeron@salisburypost.com.

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