After Last Year’s Circ Scandals, ABC to Tighten Its Procedures

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By: Jennifer Saba

The turmoil the newspaper industry has experienced in the past year, with circulation fraud unveiled at four newspapers, prompted the Audit Bureau of Circulations to take out a full-page ad addressed to media buyers and publishers in the Nov. 5 edition of The New York Times. “ABC’s standards are needed now more than ever,” the ad proclaimed.

As a new year unfolds, ABC is trying to reassure the industry that the circ scandals plaguing newspapers (and magazines) were unfortunate circumstances rather than common occurrences. “This was a unique year,” said John Payne, ABC’s senior vice president, strategic planning and communications, told E&P this week during a visit to New York City.

Now ABC is setting out to explain some of the controls instituted to catch publications that are less than forthcoming with their numbers. “We hope to catch them quicker,” Payne explained

Part of the new process involves auditors going directly to distributors and subscribers on an exploratory basis. It’s something the organization had been doing in the past, but only if red flags had been spotted.

It will add roughly two to three hours to the process, which Payne says already takes about one week for a medium-sized paper.

Currently, ABC employs roughly 130 auditors with a turnover rate of 20%. About 80 of them are on the road collecting field data before it’s sent to headquarters for analysis. The organization is looking to hire more auditors at some point, depending on how the well the new auditing techniques take, Payne said.

Another approach: ABC now requires that publishers sign the Publisher’s Statements that are submitted to ABC twice a year. In the past, an agent of the publisher could signoff on the reports.

Payne likens the overall process to airport security checks. “You can’t strip everyone,” he said, adding that it would be too costly. But procedures can be instituted to help catch those who might otherwise slip through, he says.

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