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Pew: Local TV is Top Source for Breaking News, Weather, Traffic, Politics

Local TV news continues to be the go-to source for breaking news, weather and traffic, according to a new study. And while newspapers get top marks in a number of local news categories -- crime, taxes, zoning -- they are tied (at last statistically) with local TV as a source for local political news, and for Hispanics and African Americans, who have a greater percentage of over-the-air viewers than that general population, local TV, not newspapers, is the medium of choice for local politics by a wide margin.

The Internet is growing, the study says, and has some cautionary words about TV dominance, but the study demonstrates that dominance in key areas.

Those are some of the findings of a new study "How people learn about their local community," from Pew Internet Project, Pew Research Center's Project for Excellence in Journalism, and the Knight Foundation. The survey is a phone -- landline and cell -- poll of a "nationally-representative" sample of 2,251 adults 18-plus conducted Jan. 12-25. Margin of error is plus/minus 2%.

The survey, which asked people where they got various kinds of news, concluded that the survey "exploded" the "myth" that there was a primary source for most local news. The local TV news category could have included regional or local cable news nets, but one of the study's authors said that, from the answers, it was clear that the vast majority were talking about local TV station newscasts or their Web sites.

The study did find that local TV news is rarely the primary source for information on things like housing, jobs, taxes or community events, or, put another way, has built its business on a handful of topics with wide appeal. It warned that, given that that local TV dominates in categories -- breaking news, weather -- where timeliness is a factor, mobile platforms could be a threat to that dominance.

The study found the 'net to be "especially powerful" for info that required input from citizens-restaurants or education. It is also a top source of news for most topics among younger demos, with mobile devices used to get information by 47%, though still in a supplemental role.

But it also said that what local news had that other platforms don't "is the force of personality of local anchors and reporters on camera." Respondents talked about getting news from a particular anchor, WRC-TV Washington's Jim Vance, for example.

And the study clearly showed that broadcasters are the primary source for the most sought-after news categories.

For breaking news for example, local TV is the "outlet of choice" of 55% of the respondents, which is far more than the Internet (16%), local newspapers (14%) combined. For weather, that figure is 58%, again more than the Internet (32%) and local newspapers (10%) combined.

And local TV's dominance in breaking news cuts across demos, with adults under 40 still twice as likely (47%) to tune in to TV news as turn to the Web (22%). In weather, they are almost even, however, though the study does not differentiate between checking a forecast or coverage of weather emergencies, which likely would fall under the category of breaking news.

The study found that Hispanics are more than four times more likely to use local television than newspapers as their top source for local political news (37% vs. 9%). For African-American adults that figure is almost double (36% versus 19%).

With Weather and breaking news the most popular news topics, and local politics third, that means local TV leads as the source of the news most people are most interested in getting. "It has made itself essential in people's lives for events happening right now," says the study, though it adds that the Internet is making some inroads. TV's tie with newspapers as a source of local politics is a statistical one. It got a 28% score, with newspapers getting a 26%, which is within the margin of error.

Asked the sources of news they use at least once a week to get local news and info, 74% of respondents said local TV news, which included by the station and the Web site. The second biggest source was actually not a digital medium, unless the person talking to you poked you with his finger to make the point: "Word of mouth," which was cited by 55% (that was news gleaned from family, friends, co-workers, neighbors), with the 18-29 demo the most likely to get their news that way. Radio was next at 51%, followed by local newspapers at 50% (that was essentially a dead heat given the margin of error, and the Internet at 47%.

Only 17% of the respondents said they get local information from social networking sites, and mobile apps "have yet to emerge for most local topic areas," though weather 5% said the relied on a weather app.

TV station and newspaper Web sites did not score "highly" as a relied-upon source of information (low-single-digits for "relied upon" scores) on any of the topics, though they show "modest footholds" in weather, crime, politics and breaking news.