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exploring how the world works and why it works that way …

18 of 20 top newspapers lose circulation, but so what?

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Editor & Publisher reports that 18 of the top 20 newspapers in the U.S. lost weekday circulation in the previous six months ending Sept. 30.

But Jay Smith, chairman of the Newspaper Association of America and president of Cox Newspapers Inc., says newspapers aren’t dead. It’s only a problem with scorekeeping:

In an era of 24-hour cable news, more radio and television stations than we ever dreamed possible and, of course, the Internet, newspapers get a bad rap. Too often their wounds are self-inflicted. The scorekeepers in our business have failed to count readers, preferring to track the easier-to-measure metric of paid circulation.

Smith argues that the broadcast media don’t count just who pays for the product. They count all who consume it. Newspapering’s scorekeepers ought to be counting all who read the paper, not just who buys it. And those Web consumers? Count ’em too, says Smith.

These newspaper sites have grown a typical newspaper’s already substantial audience by another 10 to 15 percent of readers, many of whom are young, well-educated and affluent.

In Cleveland, Ohio, for instance, the local daily reaches 58 percent of all households earning more than $150,000 a year. The newspaper’s Web site adds 20 percent more of those households.

So Smith wants to count all those (apparently richer) readers to bolster circulation figures so newspapers can increase ad rates.

But advertisers these days want certified ROI — return on investment. How will the newspaper industry demonstrate that not only did readers see the ad, they also acted on the ad — i.e., buying something? That’s the premise behind Google’s advertising model. (Read BusinessWeek’s Jon Fine’s take on this.)

Newspaper want to count affluent subscribers (note what Smith said above about Cleveland) because advertisers want dollar-heavy demographics.

Therefore content will change. It will focus on the wants of the few and wealthy (and perhaps a need or two) at the expense of the less-affluent many.

Wait, wait … isn’t that what’s been happening for the past few decades?

Newspapers won’t die, but they’ll become comatose in terms of their ability to fully fulfill their First Amendment obligation: Inform the people — all the people — regardless of demographic station in life.

More readers counted doesn’t necessarily mean journalism will improve — but corporate owners will get richer … and democracy poorer.

Written by Dr. Denny Wilkins

November 7, 2005 at 1:18 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

One Response

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  1. Another cheery thought
    Let’s see: if they’re counting more readers, then it means they’re doing everything right. Which, in turn, means they can continue on the path they’re on. Which means more of all these fun things: jobs cut in newsrooms, good reporters going nuts trying to do too much with too few resources, good people leaving newspaper work …
    And the emperor is wearing WHAT these days?


    November 8, 2005 at 2:28 am

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