Thursday, August 26, 2004

Dallas Morning News circulation, ah, scandal

How the Dallas Morning News "fudged the numbers" - the circulation fraud that allows newspapers to claim more subscribers than they have. They've been doing that very thing since the 80s according to one independent contractor who was forced to accept $300 a day more papers than needed. He doesn't say what he did with them, but other contractors working for Newsday report they regularly threw theirs away.
"So when they started an automated draw system in '99, and the split came, the numbers were wrong," he says. The paper would give each contractor too many papers every day. Morning after morning, Johnson would watch as contractors would walk into DMN managers' offices saying the numbers are wrong.

"They never did fix it," he says. "I was off 300 papers [a day]. That might not sound like a lot, but when you're paying for those papers every day, it is." He says--and other contractors who've contacted Buzz confirm--that they were losing anywhere from $1,000 to $1,500 a month from their paychecks.

The vice president in charge of circulation knew it too. Maybe he should use the same lawyer the circulation manager at Newsday's Hoy is using.


Jib said...

In regards to circulation, I can say with certainty that probably 50% of all daily and periodical publications have circulation problems. While the auditing companies set standards for the publication, the standards are very easily flouted. This growing scandal should reflect as much on the auditing firms as the publications. To be frank, the auditing firms and their audit reports have way more respect than they deserve right now. From an honest publication's perspective, they aren't worth the paper they are printed on, let alone the exhorbitant prices publications have to pay for them.

Mediaskeptic said...

It's even more complicated. ABC, the newspaper auditing firm, is dependent upon print media in the same way the Nielsens are dependent upon television and cable. It becomes an accomodation. Whenever ABC or Nielsen offers figures that displease the clients, they threaten to find another measurement means. Each time ABC or Nielsen caves.

In 2001 ABC was forced to allow copies sold at 25% of the going rate be counted as paid circulation. (It used to be 50%).

This deeply discounted paper sale amounts to a near-give away counted as paid circulation. Fake a few subscriptions, give away 12 cent newspapers as full subscription and newspaper sales look good on paper. In actuality it doesn't matter. Newspapers aren't in the business to make money. They are there for power and the pursuit of it. The four most influential newspapers are New York Times, Boston Globe, Washington Post and Los Angeles Times are all privately owned until Chicago Trib bought Lala Times. Which means they don't have to prove profitability to Wall Street - or, indeed, to any public accounting. The public isn't buying their trash.