I recently posted Raleigh N&O's print circulation drops.
In this post, I want to give you a sample of the “smoke and mirrors” approach the N&O now takes to “reporting” its print circulation – the principal factor determining its revenue – followed by an example of how I try to get as accurate a picture as possible of what’s actually happening with N&O print circulation.
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. …
End of portion of March 30, 2008 post.
Now in there amidst all the smoke and mirrors editor Drescher states the N&O’s “paid daily print circulation has plateaued at about 170,000.”
Since just before mentioning that he talked about the N&O’s Sunday print circulation which for some years has been above 200, 000, I think we’re safe to assume Drescher’s 170,000 number refers to what the Audit Bureau of Circulations refers to as daily (M-F) circulation.
In that case Drescher’s “about 170,000” print circulation number can be compared to the ABC report for the period Apr. 1 – Sept. 30, 2008 which reported a daily (M-F) print circulation for the N&O of 157,000. (See the ABC chart in this post. The ABC reports total numbers. I posted numbers rounded to the nearest thousand.)
Based on what editor Drescher reported on March 30 and what the ABC reported for the following six month period ending Sept. 30, 2008, the N&O’s daily (M-F) print circulation for that period fell about 13,000.
That’s a huge loss.
Who can’t understand why an editor might use “smoke and mirrors” to try to hide it?