By: E&P Staff
In today’s letters, readers weigh in on circulation declines at major newspapers, and speculate as to why.
Circulation Falls and Falls — but Why?
With all the confusion and headlines concerning circulation declines, I believe that the primary question is not being addressed. The question that is posed endlessly is “is circulation declining?” to which the answer is “yes”. The bigger question is “are newspapers losing their relevance?” to which the answer is “no” considering the shift to multimedia delivery of its content. The real question should be “to which audience(s) are newspapers still relevant?”.
Consumers clearly still rely on newspapers, whether printed or online (which meets the relevance question). Local and national advertisers, however, are finding other means of reaching their targeted consumers. Therefore, the angst over declining circulation obscures the point in today’s marketplace. Without increasing appeal to advertisers, newspapers have a dark outlook. So, the question becomes “in a world where electronic delivery is at least as important as print, how do newspapers increase their appeal to advertisers?” It would be very helpful to me if Editor&Publisher would address this question consistently and thoroughly.
In your article yesterday, you attributed the continued slide in newspaper readership to “the effects of the Internet,” with no discussion of other reasons. I, for one, have cancelled my subscriptions to three daily newspapers (one local, two national) in the last six months. I did so for one reason — the content. When I want “news,” I simply want facts … the unvarnished, complete accounting of the event. I find it offensive when news articles go beyond those basics and attempt to instill in readers how to feel, who to blame, and other editorial “asides” that are purportedly objective. I am smart enough to draw my own conclusions.
I also grew tired of the shameless devices used by major papers in their clumsy attempts to further a particular viewpoint. Statements such as, “some experts think,” or “most agree” or “recent studies have shown” frequently lack any details as to who the “experts” are, their qualifications, their affiliations, etc. A “startling new study” might merit the front page of every major newspaper, without anyone taking the time to point out that the underlying research is not sound. Very seldom are readers directed to where they can review the underlying study or research it its entirety.
What the Internet has done is empower the masses to conduct their own research. Ten years ago if a particular newspaper wanted to, for example, selectively includes or omits relevant facts in a specific story in an effort to lead readers to a particular conclusion, they could get away with it. Now, the facts are available. A newspaper may still try to selectively report only certain stories, or report half-truths about the ones on which they do cover, but they do so at the peril of being exposed. That is the point where I have arrived … I’m tired of the editorial games and biases that pervade most major papers. I choose to no longer pay for what essentially amounts to being manipulated.
So, I suppose your basic assertion that the Internet is responsible for declining newspaper subscriptions is factually correct, but to ignore the dynamics of why is a gross oversimplification. It is not like readers are presented two, equal choices: either read a daily newspaper or use the internet for news, and the internet has eked ahead. Instead, I feel as though what the internet has done is gradually expose most newspapers for what they really are. Readers like me are now aware and have acted accordingly.
Anyway, I appreciate your time. I simply wanted you to know why some readers have stopped subscribing. To chalk mine up to “the Internet” is a huge oversimplification and just not accurate. If my local daily had any modicum of impartiality, I would still be a subscriber, even with the internet in existence.
Gregory S. Mihaly
You referenced the Baltimore Sun in your recent article with this quote, “While daily circulation stabilized compared to past reporting periods at The Sun in Baltimore, down 4.4% to 236,172, Sunday took a massive hit. Circulation on that day dropped 9% to 380,701.”
Just so you’ll know, we have tried every technique we can think of to CANCEL our subscription to the Baltimore Sun, and guess what? It keeps coming. We are not paying for the newspaper and haven’t paid for it for over two years. A year or so ago, it started coming three days a week as part of a promotion with our local community paper, but we canceled that newspaper also when the publisher said that we couldn’t separate the two. We are convinced that they are falsely keeping their distribution numbers up by refusing to cancel subscriptions! We are considering standing on the curb at 5 a.m. to tell the delivery man to stop leaving our papers.
Do you know who audits the Baltimore Sun’s circulation? We would like to inform them of our situation.
I just read your article “Analysis: Why Circulation Keeps Heading South.” The progression away from print and towards the Web as a prime source for information is one dynamic in the decline of newspaper readership.
But it is also true that consolidation in media ownership and a more marketing-centric approach to newspaper content also serve to devalue newspapers. It could be that I am romanticizing the recent past, but there are some things newspapers can do better than other media that it seems like they are doing less of. Long-form, thoughtful reporting is hard to read on-line. In my own hands-on experience with newspapers, many papers seem to be doing less of this because it is first of all expensive and second of all runs counter to a philosophy of “breaking” news and appealing to the prurient interest of readers.
Newspapers likely build and market their online presences to both consumers and advertisers, but also rebuilt their images as impartial participants in society, where one could go for information and analysis unbesmirched by our flash-over-substance media environment.
The tactile experience of reading a newspaper is sublime, inimitable experience. This experience — and the depth of understanding that is possible to convey in print — will keep newspapers in the black if they are marketed as virtues rather than forgotten.
The virtue of substance can be leveraged online as well. Article archives are the killer application for newspapers online, and papers do well to offer this information for free. But deeper dives into data behind stories, or deeper search functionality, I believe will prove to be value-addes services that the information-hungry will happily pay for, or see as excellent value-adds for print subscriptions.
For the Record
Just wanted to drop you a quick note to let you know that we appreciated the mention in the article: Hat’s Off! Circ Gains Reported by Smaller Papers in Today’s FAS-FAX Published: October 30, 2006. I also wanted to point out that the name of our paper was incorrect. [Editor: This has since been corrected.] I am aware that most of those listed were done by (city — state — name) but in our case the city was incorrect. We should have been listed as Bridgeport (CT) CT Post or at least Bridgeport (CT) Post. Fairfield is one of the counties we serve and/or one of the towns in our market area but not our “home” town.
I realize this may seem like a very small issue but to all of us at the Connecticut Post in Bridgeport, CT it was a little disappointing not to be recognized correctly.
Director of Circulation