Tuesday, November 16, 2004

Newday circulation woes tip of iceberg

Editor & Publisher is spinning the Newsday circulation audit restatement. It was shockingly only 17% 16.9% and the tallies " come close to the range that Tribune Co. estimated in September (daily circ at 480,000-490,000 and Sunday circ between 570,000 and 580,000)."

To their immense credit, Newsday has been upfront on the story, more so than Editor & Publisher, "America's Oldest Journal Covering the Newspaper Industry". What the misstatement represents is

Weekday circulation fraud 97,783 copies
Sunday circulation fraud 97,739 copies

To see the scale, however, these are their revised figures
481,816 daily, 392,649 Saturday and 574,081 Sunday.
(Down from a circulation of 706,954 M-F and 790,187 Sun circulation in 1994. -- see graphic to right of the article.)

But look at the figures the Newspaper Association of America is still showing at their site.

Newsday - - - 574,941 (m)
Houston Chronicle - - - 542,414 (m)
The Dallas Morning News - - - 490,249 (m)
Chicago Sun-Times - - - 468,170 (m)
The Boston Globe - - - 462,850 (m)
San Francisco Chronicle- - - 456,742 (m)
New York Post- - - 438,158 (m)

But outright fraud with drivers backing up to dumpsters, charging distributers for papers they can't sell, delivering to people who cancelled ages ago or people who never wanted the paper, is only part of the problem. One of the biggest scandals in the industry is the definition of "paid circulation" as this 1999 MediaLife story demonstrates. Jack Shafer in Slate wrote a whole article on the Ghost Readers and the convenient 2001 ABC auditing that allows "paid circulation" to include papers discounted by 75%. Thanks to ABC rules, the newspapers can even count newspapers they give away to their employees. Nevertheless, newspapers like USA Today give away their papers at "bulk rates" that are ridiculously discounted and USC Annenberg Online Journalism Review spends hours agonizing over the Wall Street Journal discounted subscription rate that even charges regular subscribers $39 for online subscription. Compare that to the cost of USA freebies at hotels, airports, and restaurants.

And you wonder why they hate Bush when the Justice Department is investigating their circulation figures and when the New York Attorney General is investigating and an attorney for a group of advertisers is alleging racketeering and talking about $600 million in damages?

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