A big part of the Raleigh News & Observer’s Q Section today is devoted to telling readers how great the N&O is now and how swiftly and smartly it’s moving to make the paper, in the words of executive editor for news John Drescher, even “greater than ever.”
N&O publisher Orage Quarles III, Drescher, editorial page editor Steve Ford, and other senior editors all have columns in the Q which beat the “better than ever” drum.
But instead of headlining the Q Section with the question:
WHAT IS THE FUTURE OF THE N&O?the headline should have asked:
CAN THE N&O FOOL YOU YET AGAIN?Let’s look at Drescher’s and Quarles’ columns. You already have links to them and I’ll provide links again at the post’s end. Now extracts from the columns in italics with my comments in plain.
First, from Drescher’s column titled “The N&O is winning new readers” - - -
More people are reading The N&O than ever.
In fact, depending on how you slice the numbers, our growth in readership is faster than the growth in population in the Triangle -- one of the fastest-growing areas in the country.
How can that be?
Aren't newspapers dying?
It's true that revenue is down for most of us.
But for many newspapers, including this one, readership is up.
When you add our paid print circulation to our online readership, more people than ever are reading The N&O. By far.
All Drescher has offered so far concerning circulation is “smoke and mirrors.”
He provides nothing that lets you compare N&O print circulation year-by-year, and nothing that lets you compare print circulation growth to population growth in the N&O’s circulation area.
Our future depends on our ability to sustain this growth -- and for advertisers to recognize that more people than ever are turning to The N&O for news, sports, business, features and commentary.
In the past decade, our Sunday print circulation has grown every year. Daily circulation has grown every year but one.
But that growth has been slow, especially since the rise of the Internet in the past five years. Our paid daily print circulation has plateaued at about 170,000.
Folks, you see what I mean about his not giving you figures which allow for meaningful assessment of print circulation growth itself and compared to population growth.
And what’s this about “plateaued at about 170,000?” Didn’t we just read:
In the past decade, our Sunday print circulation has grown every year. Daily circulation has grown every year but one.Intelligent readers who don’t like to be fooled are no doubt asking: Didn’t Drescher provide print circulation numbers for, say, 10 years ago, 5 years ago, and today? Didn't he provide comparable population figures for those same years?
The answers are “No” and “No.” And nowhere else in the almost three pages of the Q’s “can we fool you?” columns does the N&O provide those numbers or others which would allow meaningful examination of the N&O’ circulation growth and comparison of it to population growth.
Just "smoke and mirrors."
Now back to Drescher’s column.
But online readership is growing quickly.
In 2002, about 43,000 people a day visited our Web sites, newsobserver.com and triangle.com. In 2007, about 81,000 people a day visited those sites -- an increase of 88 percent.
Add the number of people who buy the print N&O every day to the number of people who read it online daily. That combined number has grown almost 19 percent in the past five years.
That's faster than the combined growth of Wake, Durham and Orange counties in the same period -- 17.5 percent.
Like any analysis of numbers, mine has its shortcomings. Some people buy the paper and read it online, so they are counted twice.
Again, Drescher doesn’t provide defined numbers necessary for readers to check and make sense of what he’s saying.
Take the number of “people a day” visiting N&O Web sites. Is that number based on counting only once per day a “visit” from a computer or are multiple “visits” during a single day from the same computer all counted as "visits"?
Further on in the column Drescher says - - -
If our combined readership -- print and online -- keeps growing, eventually more advertisers will figure out what a potent combination it is to buy space in the print N&O and on newsobserver.com and triangle.com.
In the newsroom, our challenge is to keep the print paper strong as we build our online report.
We will do that by emphasizing the news and public-service journalism that has been the staple of our print paper for decades.
Is the N&O really going to emphasize “the news and public-service journalism” that’s been its stable really going as far back as the Wilmington Riots?
That’s not going to help the paper. That’s one of the things driving informed, fair-minded people away from the N&O and other newspapers that hype a liberal/leftist slant.
I wonder if Drescher ever considered including in his column something like:
We know what many readers want most from us is integrity. They want us to be what our subscription advertising says we are: “Fair and accurate.”Now excerpts from publisher Orage Quarles’ column "Changes affect newspapers' bottom line"
That’s a great challenge for us at the N&O. But we’re taking it on.
Our strategic plan is for the N&O to become more fact-driven and less biased over the next 40 to 50 years.
So please subscribe. It only costs $165. 00 per year.
Sometimes, I think newspapers are our own worst enemies. Every quarter, most of us diligently report the latest on our audience and ad revenue performance, and even though The N&O is a bright spot in our industry, a lot of people think that all newspapers are reeling. Let me share a few thoughts on how our business is changing and a few examples of how the N&O is adapting, evolving, anticipating and creating.
Folks, take a look at the entire column here and see if you can find where Quarles reports “diligently” or even just in some reliable and verifiable numerical detail on the N&O’s recent “audience and ad revenue performance?”
It’s not in his column, but mentioning “the latest on our audience and ad revenue performance” in that first paragraph makes it less likely N&O “faithfuls” will realize the rest of Quarles' column is, like Drescher’s, “golly, we’re good” fluff and puff.
Many of us are uneasy about the economy, hoping that gas will get cheaper, mortgage lenders will weather the storm, employers will create new jobs. All of those factors -- along with other, changing market conditions -- have an impact on newspapers.
Yes, they do. But what about some hard figures concerning N&O revenue this past decade?
Is it true, as many people familiar with the N&O say, that the paper has been forced, in many cases, to cut its rates to keep some advertisers.
Is it true some advertisers are “driving deals” that give them more space for the same dollars as before?
Over the past 10 years, there has been a fundamental change in our classified advertising business model -- big dollars in print have become not-so-big dollars online. We haven't just stood by and watched; our strong Web products such as cars.com, apartments.com and careerbuilder.com represent more and more of our overall ad revenue and stack up well against growing competition.
In the next few months, we'll launch an advertising sales partnership with Yahoo that has huge potential, and we're days away from unveiling a Web site for moms in the Triangle that already has people buzzing. We're also expanding our print portfolio of niche publications and magazines, with the latest, Skirt!, ready to debut April 1.
It's true that our readership is shifting, as people turn to the Internet for news, community connections and multimedia experiences. We're fine with that. As you've read elsewhere in this package, when you combine our print readership with our online visitors, we've never been stronger or reached more people.
I leave Quarles with the last word for today. Tomorrow I’ll post again on the N&O’s titanic efforts to try to fool readers.
I’d like to hear what you think.
Here are Drescher’s column and Quarles’column.