Housing density and affordability are chief areas of concern for Littleton residents, according to a broad survey and focus group meetings conducted by the Littleton Independent earlier this year.
Through a grant-funded project in 2022, the Independent worked to gauge readers and the community regarding priorities and readership, and to take a deeper look at where the local newspaper can improve.
To carry out the project successfully, the Littleton Independent, which is part of the Colorado Community Media network, took a multi-faceted approach to reach a variety of readers and residents, posting a survey online and hosting multiple focus groups to further discuss community issues.
To round out the project, the Independent will host a town hall event that is open to the public. The event will be held on June 30 from 6 to 7:30 p.m. at Shift Workspaces, located at 2679 W. Main St. in Littleton..
CCM Publisher Linda Shapley said the survey questions were mostly open-ended, to encourage participants to provide in-depth responses rather than clicking on a multiple-choice board.
“The point of this project has been to get a true sense of how our readers feel about the community and learn how we as the local news resource can serve citizens better,” she said.
Some of the questions posed included:
• What excites you most about Littleton?
• What questions do you have about your community?
• What information do you need to understand the issues facing Littleton?
• What frustrates you most about the news today? What would you most want to change about it?
• How can the Littleton Independent serve you better?
In March and April, CCM hosted three focus groups, which focused on readers of the Independent, leaders of nonprofit organizations and another discussion with representatives from public entities, including the City of Littleton and the local school district.
In the area of what residents are excited about, many said they are thrilled with continued improvements being made downtown, especially those that have preserved historic elements of the area and helped small businesses and increased local dining options.
Participants in the project were also asked to list issues most important to them in Littleton. Housing, as it relates to growth and density, was a top issue for most participants. It was also the top issue listed in the survey.
The majority of responses were provided by individuals 45 and older with income levels above $50,000 and those who identified as white and with bachelor’s degrees or higher. The predominant audience of this survey aligns with age and education proportions of Arapahoe County, and respondents were predominantly at income levels above $58,000, the median for the county.
Housing affordability was also a big concern in the region. Respondents said they continue to worry about how the overall cost of housing continues to climb in Littleton and the Denver metro area.
Increased crime rates also have some residents worried, though the level of concern varied by demographic. Individuals 65 and older were most worried about crime, according to the survey results. Individuals between the ages 18 and 34 were least interested.
Traffic and homelessness were also issues of concern in the community.
Based on survey results, the subject that generated the least amount of interest from respondents was COVID-19 developments, followed by education policy.
When it comes to news coverage, focus group participants were asked what frustrates them about the media.
Some said they hate how “dramatized” the news has become, wanting more factual information over the “alarmist” trend of coverage.
On a local level, some said they are concerned with accessibility. Several spoke about the lack of racks the Independent has around the community and that younger readers may not even know local news coverage is out there.
Respondents were also concerned with timeliness of news delivery at the local level. When a print edition is hitting homes late, the news may be already outdated. Some said besides the print edition, they have to subscribe to the Independent online for quicker news delivery.
Shapley said improving news access is a Colorado Community Media priority in 2022 and moving forward. The company continues to improve when stories are posted online and started multiple newsletters throughout the region this year.
When asked how the Littleton Independent can serve the community better, survey respondents affirmed a collective desire for ways to connect within the community.
As the Littleton project moves into the final stages, Shapley said the information gathered will not be shelved and forgotten.
“The input we received throughout the process is valuable,” Shapley said. “As the primary source for community news in Littleton, we can take this information and apply it to how we report and distribute local news.”
The funding for the project came after Colorado Community Media, which publishes 26 newspapers across eight Front Range counties, came under new ownership in 2021. The new owners, the Colorado News Conservancy, secured the grant to study how news impacts the local community and what readers deem important.
Using the Littleton project as a pilot program, the Colorado News Conservancy will look to apply a similar outreach model in all communities that CCM covers.
CCM Editor-in-Chief Lisa Schlichtman said staff gained powerful insight into what readers, and, in some cases, non-readers think about the Littleton Independent.
“This is a great opportunity for us to do this across all of our regions,” Schlichtman said. “It is important for us to get into our communities and work side by side with residents and leaders to provide the best local news coverage possible.”
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