Newspaper Circ Drops Another 5%; WSJ Is Sole Meaningful Gainer

This past week, we learned that it was another year, another dive for newspaper circulations: 5% for dailies, and 4.5% on Sundays, according to the Audit Bureau of Circulations. That's not as bad as some past declines, but it's still going the wrong way.

As usual, they'll blame the Internet, and reject the possibility that persistent, pervasive bias and blind adherence to politically correct reporting priorities have anything to do with the results. But as I've similarly asked before, how does one explain away the fact that the only daily paper in the nation's top 25 that has shown consistent gains during the past several years is the (usually) fair and balanced Wall Street Journal?

Bloomberg Businessweek has an Associated Press-compiled list of the results at the top 25 daily papers for the six months that ended on September 30 compared to the same six-month period in 2009, as well as their Sunday editions where applicable.

Here are some of the more noteworthy entries, absences, and some additional observations, based on this year's results and background knowledge accumulated during the past five years.

The Wall Street Journal and the Dallas Morning News are the only papers showing an increase in daily circulation (up 1.8% to 2,061,042, and up 0.2% to 264,459, respectively). The Journal, which had slightly trailed USA Today until 18 months ago, now has a lead of 230,000 over Gannett's flagship paper, which experienced a 3.7% decline.

On Sundays, only two papers showed improvement: The Minneapolis Star Tribune (up 5.7% to 504,616) and the St. Petersburg Times (up 1.9% to 377,235). According to a report at twincities.com, the Star Trib's Sunday increase "reflects the launch a year ago of its "Early Sunday" single-copy edition, which replaced its Saturday single-copy edition." The Star Trib's daily circ fell 2.3% to 297,478 in the past year.

Fully one-third of the 24 list members presenting year-over-year comparables had daily circ declines of 8% or more: The LA Times (-8.7%), Houston Chronicle (-10.5%), Newsday of Long Island (-11.8%), Denver Post (-9.1%), Chicago Sun-Times (-9.0%), Detroit Free Press (-9%), San Francisco Chronicle (-11.2%), and the Star-Ledger of Newark (-9.3%).

Of the 22 papers reporting year-over-year Sunday circ results, seven showed declines of 7% or more: The LA Times (-8.4%), Washington Post (-7%), Newsday (-9.2%), Cleveland Plain Dealer (-10.8%), Detroit Free Press (-11.8%), San Diego Union Tribune (-7.4%), and the San Francisco Chronicle (-7.9%).

Special awards for long-term underachievement go to the following papers:

  • The LA Times -- Circ is down by over one-third since March 2005, when it was over 900,000.
  • The San Fran Chronicle -- The nation's eleventh-largest daily in March 2005, it is now Number 24, and its circ has dropped 52% during that time.
  • The New York Times -- The Times held reasonably steady through March 2009, especially compared to other papers, by moving even further to the left after the U.S. invaded Iraq and then going completely into the tank for Barack Obama's 2008 presidential candidacy. But in the eighteen months since, daily circulation (876,138) has fallen over 15%. During that period, the Times has lost more daily print circulation than any other paper in the nation.

Two non-presences in the top 25, both of which tack far more to the left than their potential audiences, continue to be noteworthy.

The first is the Atlanta Journal Constitution. It dropped out of the top 25 a year ago, and has stayed out. This year, its circ dropped by 14% to below 200,000 -- by a lot, to 181,504. That may not even keep it in the top 35 nationwide, let alone the Top 25. One example: The St. Paul Pioneer Press, which covers only part of the sixteenth-largest metro area in the USA, came in with higher daily circulation than the AJC. Atlanta is the country’s ninth-largest metro area.

The second is the Boston Globe, serving the nation's 10th-largest metro area. Only 2-1/2 years ago, it had the 14th-largest daily circulation. It dropped out of the Top 25 six months ago. Its latest result: Down 15.6% to 222,683. The paper's lipstick-on-a-pig headline: "Circulation declines slow at the Globe." A group whose makeup is unclear and whose agenda bears watching, the 2100 Trust, announced its intent to buy the Globe from its parent company, the New York Times, on October 20.

Excluding the Wall Street Journal, circulation at the nation's top two dozen papers has dropped over 28% in the past 5-1/2 years -- and we're supposed to believe that it's all due to technology? If bias weren't a signfiicant problem, we would expect that the same players who dominated print media for decades would be dominant forces in Internet-based news -- but to a large extent, they're not.

Cross-posted at BizzyBlog.com.

Tom Blumer
Tom Blumer
Tom Blumer is a contributing editor for NewsBusters.