New FAS-FAX: Big Drops at Some Big Papers, Amid a Slight Decrease Industry-Wide

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By: Jennifer Saba and Mark Fitzgerald

The Audit Bureau of Circulations released its FAS-FAX report for the six-month period ending September 2004, this afternoon, revealing another decline in overall circulation for daily newspapers and some steep drops among the largest dailies.

Earlier today the Newspaper Association of America reported that overall daily circulation for the industry, as reflected in the new FAS-FAX, was down .9%, and Sunday circulation declined 1.5%.

But some Top 20 papers suffered much bigger declines. The Top 20 papers suffering the steepest falls in weekday circ — more than 3% — are the San Francisco Chronicle (-6.09%), The Buffalo News and the Los Angeles Times (both -5.55%), The Arizona Republic (-4.40%), The San Diego Union-Tribune (-3.74), the San Jose Mercury News (-3.28%), The Washington Post (-3.04%), The Plain Dealer in Cleveland (-3.01%), and The Sun in Baltimore (-2.43%).

In addition, the Chicago Sun-Times, Newsday, and The Dallas Morning News did not report circulation, as they are under censure by ABC.

Big gainers in weekday circ include: the New York Post (+5.18%), The Atlanta Journal-Constitution (+3.84%), USA Today, (+2.80%), The Tampa Tribune (+1.9%), and the Orlando Sentinel (+1.78).

On Sunday, the biggest losers in sales (in order of losses) were: the Los Angeles Times, The Buffalo News, the Chicago Tribune, the San Francisco Chronicle, and The Arizona Republic.

The biggest gainers on Sundays were New York Post and The Tampa Tribune. In fact, they were the only two Top 20 papers that gained more than 1% on Sunday.

The true extent of the latest setbacks can be seen by analyzing one large state: New York. Of the 39 daily papers reporting figures to ABC, 34 showed losses in weekday circ and only five (three in New York City) had gains. And this doesn’t count embattled Newsday and Hoy. The Buffalo News lost over 11,000 weekday sales.

What about in still-growing Arizona? There the tally is much closer, with four dailies losing weekday circ and three gaining. But the state’s biggest paper by far, The Arizona Republic in Phoenix, dropped 19,000 copies.

But surely Texas showed gains? Actually, 23 papers there reported declines (not counting The Dallas Morning News), and only seven posted gains. This doesn’t count the Fort Worth Star-Telegram, which was all over the map: up 8,000 copies Monday-Thursday, off 6,000 on Fridays, and down 23,000 on Saturdays.

Among the nation’s biggest newspapers, some consistent performers stumbled during this period. Perhaps the most suprising result was reported by The Star-Ledger in Newark, N.J. In the previous four September FAS-FAX reports, the Newhouse Newspapers-owned paper had barely moved from a circulation of about 405,000, but always in a positive direction: up 0.1% in 2000; up 0.8% in 2001; up 0.2% in 2002; and finally a statistical zero growth in the year-ago FAS-FAX.

This time around, the Star-Ledger was down 2.11%, or 8,730 copies, to 400,042. Circulation director Dennis Carletta was in meetings Monday afternoon and not immediately available for comment.

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