The TV station business is becoming tougher by the day, but here’s something that could make things painful: The broadcasters’ biggest cash cow, their local newscasts, could lose lots of viewers as people discover that they can find the info they want more quickly and easily on mobile devices such as smartphones. That’s one of the many sobering findings from a study that examines how people discover what’s going on in their communities, out today from the Pew Research Center’s Project for Excellence in Journalism and the Pew Internet & American Life Project with support from the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation. ”For some things TV matters most, for others newspapers and their websites are primary sources, and the internet is used for still other topics,” says PEJ Director Tom Rosenstiel. Newspapers satisfied the most needs with their coverage of issues including local government, taxation, and zoning matters — but still ended up as the fourth-most-popular sources of news behind TV, word-of-mouth, and radio.

But here’s the catch. Although 74% of adults watch TV newscasts at least once a week, viewers primarily tune in for just three things: weather, breaking news, and traffic. These “might easily be replaced by mobile platforms that are even more accessible than TV,” the report says. “For weather, this may already be happening — as roughly a third (32%) cite the internet as a primary source and 7% cite mobile devices.” The report adds that for “most of the local topics that require more deep reporting and analysis … consumers already turn to platforms other than television.” The phone survey of 2,251 adults was conducted in January and has a 2 percentage point margin of error.

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