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Here’s where, and how, Utahns are getting their news

Digital devices rule when it comes to how Utahns are getting their news these days. But trusted sources still matter, according to a new, statewide poll

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The CNN app is viewed on a mobile device in Cottonwood Heights on Tuesday, Dec. 13, 2022.

Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News

When it comes to how Utahns are consuming their news, a vast majority say digital devices are their No. 1 go-to and more than half report they rarely or never get news from television, radio or print publications.

That, according to data gathered in a new Deseret News/Hinckley Institute of Politics poll that explored the current news habits of residents from around the state.

But, while Utah residents appear to have migrated to using digital tools to view, read or listen to their news at a higher rate than the national average, they still overwhelmingly rely on news-dedicated websites and apps as the sources of those reports.

Over 91% of respondents said they use a smartphone, computer or tablet often or sometimes to get their news and, when they do, 78.4% are often or sometimes visiting news websites or using news apps for the latest reports.

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BYU journalism professor and media expert Joel Campbell reviewed the new Deseret News survey data and said the numbers reflecting the predominance of digital tools when it comes to news consumption is no revelation.

“It’s probably no surprise to anyone that smartphones, computers or tablets have the lion’s share of news now,” Campbell said. “That’s what most of us that study media have been watching happen for some time now.”

While the use of digital devices to connect with the news easily outpaces other sources, Campbell said he was heartened that traditional platforms still draw significant engagement from the Utah audience.

The survey found that almost 48% of participants said they listen to radio news often or sometimes, 42.7% find their news via television and over 40% said they are reading news from a print publication.

“It’s a sign of hope that this many Utahns are still seeking out news from sources like radio and print,” Campbell said. “Given the facts I’ve seen on how things are trending, that’s surprising and good news.”

Utahns’ news habits show a few areas of divergence when compared to a national sample of respondents from a Pew Research survey conducted this summer on similar topics.

Utahns are engaging the news with digital devices at a rate almost 10% above the national average of 82% of respondents who said they often or sometimes use a smartphone, computer or tablet to get their news.

And, while over 57% of Utah poll participants said they rarely or never watch TV news, only 35% of the national audience reported the same to Pew researchers. More Utahns also appear to be engaging with printed news with around 10% more Utahns reading hard copy reports than the 31% of Pew respondents who said they sometimes or often get their news in print.

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Ashley Moser and Mike Headrick present the news from the Triad Center in Salt Lake City on Tuesday, Dec. 6, 2022.

Scott G Winterton, Deseret News

The Deseret News/Hinckley Institute of Politics polling was conducted Nov. 18-23 by Dan Jones and Associates of 802 registered Utah voters. The data comes with a margin of error of plus or minus 3.46 percentage points.

West Valley City resident Leah Russell said she gets almost all her news via her smartphone and, typically, is reading stories directly from news websites or links to news websites she sees on social media platforms like Twitter or Facebook.

“I’m always a little suspicious of stories that aren’t coming from places I recognize,” Russell said. “Sometimes you click on a link and end up somewhere you’ve never even heard of.”

Campbell said he believes the idea of trusted sources still wields a lot of power when it comes to drawing a news audience, and it’s a component that gives local news reporting organizations an advantage when it comes to competing with national sources.

“I still think people seek out a brand they trust when it comes to news, and especially local news,” Campbell said. “They’re looking for the brands they grew up with. I think if you asked a survey question about it, you’d find the Utah audience trusts the local news stations and papers more than they trust national outlets.”

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When it comes to social media as a source of news, most survey participants, almost 58%, said they rarely or never get their news from sites like Facebook, Twitter or Instagram. And, respondents were decidedly mixed when it came to assessing the value of news sourced from social media. While 21.5% said it helped them better understand current events, 20.7% said it was a source that caused more confusion and almost 55% said news sourced from social media did not make much of a difference when it came to understanding the news of the day.

While social media earned mixed reviews from respondents, Campbell noted its various platforms are heavily used by television, radio and print sources as alternative ways to distribute and amplify their content.

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Jeff Caplan of KSL News Radio does his broadcast from the Triad Center in Salt Lake City on Tuesday, Dec. 6, 2022.

Scott G Winterton, Deseret News

That point was also underscored by Tanya Vea, the executive vice president of content and media operations for Bonneville International. Vea oversees operations for KSL-TV, KSL NewsRadio and other Bonneville news brands.

Vea said distributing content produced by KSL journalists on multiple digital platforms, including websites, social media, podcasts and apps, has become an operational requirement when it comes to building and maintaining engagement.

“As we’ve seen audiences start to fragment into different platforms we’ve taken the approach that we want to be wherever the audiences are,” Vea said. “We’re really platform agnostic about our content. We want to be where our audience can get what they’re looking for and we have a presence in all of those spaces.”

Vea stressed that audiences for broadcast news content have by no means disappeared, but “the pie has shrunk.”

“TV, radio and print were once the primary distribution models,” Vea said. “We now have a dozen or more distribution models. And, every outlet is sharing the space with more people right now.”

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Vea also agreed with Campbell’s assessment that trust was one of the most powerful factors when it comes to attracting and retaining news consumers, regardless of the method of content delivery. And, she noted digital tools were reshaping the business of news reporting into a process that is much more engaged with audience members on a regular basis.

“We’ve built a brand on trust,” Vea said. “And, not only are we not moving away from that but are doubling down.

“Media, historically, has been an us-to-them mechanism. Now with social media and other digital assets we’re working even more on behalf of the community. It’s become a two-way street with engagement at much higher levels. And, I see that as really beneficial for news gathering.”