By: Jennifer Saba and Mark Fitzgerald
Rumors have swirled around the Chicago Sun-Times for weeks that executives had overstated circulation by 25%. The newspaper’s publisher, John Cruickshank, who blew the whistle on the scheme back in June, denied that figure. But Thursday night, the Sun-Times admitted that circulation was inflated by just about the rumored figure: 23% or 72,000 copies.
The statement is the first issued by the publisher since circulation scandals emerged simultaneously at the Sun-Times and two Tribune Co. papers, Newsday and Hoy. Hollinger’s statement “noted” that the single copy decline was revealed in a Thursday ruling by Delaware Chancery Court Judge Leo Strine Jr.
Hollinger said the 23% decline figure was based on unaudited single-copy sales data, not total circulation. It said that prior to the 15-cent price increase imposed in April and while “improper circulation enhancement practices” were still ongoing, the paper reported a daily single-copy circulation average of about 320,000 copies, or about 67% of it total circulation of approximately 480,000.
According to the Chicago Tribune, advertisers and shareholders of the Sun-Times were unaware of the magnitude of circulation problems at the paper. Potential Sun-Times bidders, however, were not and because they knew the extent of the problem, bids for the Sun-Times fell off. Cruickshank told the Tribune that, “it was too early to say how much the firm would owe advertisers.”
Hollinger said it expects to announce “within the next few weeks” the conclusions of its audit committee review of the circulation fraud and “the practices that gave rise to it.” It said an independent accounting firm had been hired to assist in the review.