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Archive for May, 2012

Way back in the days of Watergate, most newspaper-business watchers would have said that The Washington Post and The New York Times were neck-and-neck as the two top general-interest papers in the country.

Some people would have said, based on the Post’s astonishing scoop that eventually brought down President Richard Nixon, that the Post was the superior paper.

No more. Oh, no. In horse racing parlance, The Times has proved to be the equivalent of the great Secretariat, while The Post has been exposed as a sprinter that folds after three-quarters of a mile.

Consider:

:: While The Times has had some employee buyouts, The Post is in its fifth round of buyouts since 2004.

:: Based on a flexible “pay wall,” The Times last year launched a well-thought-out campaign to increase online subscriptions. Since then, the paper has added more than 450,000 digital subscriptions.

:: The Post, on the other hand, “hasn’t jumped into the world of online subscriptions and has suffered for it,” The Motley Fool, a multimedia financial-services company, said in an online story Thursday.

:: In reporting its first-quarter results last week, The Post reported a 10 percent drop in weekday subscriptions between the first quarter of 2011 and the first quarter of 2012, and a five percent drop on Sunday. “On the plus side,” said The Motley Fool, “newsprint costs dropped 11 percent because no one is buying the paper anymore.”

:: Between last Friday and yesterday, The Post Co.’s stock price fell 10.4 percent, while The Times Co.’s price rose 7.4 percent.

The Post is also showing signs of stumbling on the journalistic side.

Yesterday morning, The Post ran online a 5,500-word story by reporter Jason Horowitz about some of Mitt Romney’s high school escapades, including an incident when he and some friends held down a student they thought was gay and cut his hair off, while the student screamed for help.

Horowitz recounted another incident, based on accounts of students who witnessed the events, in which Romney shouted “atta girl” to a different student at the all-boys’ school.  That student later declared that he was gay.

The story generated huge attention and comment on Twitter and other social media, and as of last night the story had drawn more than 5,000 comments under The Post’s online story.

And yet, The Post did not run the story in Thursday’s print edition, although it clearly was ready to go Wednesday night.

The Poynter Institute, a non-profit school for journalism located in St. Petersburg, FL, quoted Kevin Merida, the Post’s national editor, as saying that President Obama’s historic declaration on Wednesday that he favored same-sex marriage same-sex marriage was a factor in the decision to hold off on running the Romney story in print.

Poynter also quoted Merida as saying, “It’s also just a very long and involved tale, sensitive and complex, and it needed to be edited to our collective satisfaction.”

However, Michael Calderone of The Huffington Post got a slightly different explanation from Steven Ginsberg, the Post’s political editor.

“We’re mindful of the news going on this week, particularly yesterday,” Ginsberg told The Huffington Post. “We thought it was better not to have it in today’s paper.”

“The (Obama and Romney) stories aren’t really about the same thing,” Ginsberg added, “but the perception among some might have been that putting them together would have created an impression we didn’t want to create.”

Ginsberg did not say, as Merida did, that the story needed more editing.

All in all, print subscribers had good reason to be irritated, at the very least, that they didn’t get Horowitz’ story in the printed edition.

As Andrew Beaujon, who wrote The Poynter Institute, said:

“I can’t be the only Post subscriber wondering why I’m paying for the print edition of the Post when something this important flies onto my porch a day after the political world has chewed it over and reacted already.”

Horowitz’s story was scheduled to run in today’s printed edition of the Post.

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It’s not enough to prompt the staff at 18th and Grand to start singing “Happy Days Are Here Again,” but the latest figures from the newspaper Audit Bureau of Circulations do offer hope for better times — digitally speaking, anyway.

The figures, released yesterday, show that instead of dropping below the key 300,000 threshold, which seemed likely six months ago, The Kansas City Star’s Sunday circulation rose to nearly 310, 500.

In addition, Monday-to-Friday average circulation got its head back above 200,000 after falling below that benchmark in ABC’s September 2011 report.

That news on both fronts — Sunday and daily — must have Star publisher Mi-Ai Parrish and the other business-side executives breathing easier because those big, round benchmark figures are extremely important to advertisers. If The Star can stay above 200,000 daily and 300,000 Sunday and continue a gradual rise, it should be able to hold the line on print advertising prices, while waiting for digital-side circulation and advertising prices to move up.

Tuesday’s report showed that most newspapers across the country gained readers in the last six months, compared to the same period a year ago, primarily on the back of rising digital subscriptions. Nationally, average daily circulation was up nearly .7 percent for digital and print at the 618 papers reporting; Sunday circulation was up 5 percent at the 532 papers reporting.

In its report on the latest report, the Poynter Institute, a newspaper think tank in Florida,  said that digital circulation now accounts for 14.2 percent of newspapers’ total circulation, compared to 8.7 percent in March 2011.

The New York Times reported a 73 percent year-to-year gain in circulation, propelled by the growth of its online subscription business, which it launched last year. In fact, The Times’ daily digital subscribers exceed its daily print subscribers.

The nationwide jump in circulation is partly explained by new ABC reporting rules. A paying subscriber who accesses The Times on different digital devices — everything from a smartphone to a tablet to a desktop computer — could be counted three times in a single day.

Come on, Bill, how 'bout a little smile?

At The Kansas City Star, Sunday circulation still has a long, likely impossible road back to the glory days of the 1950s, when Sunday circulation probably was between 400,000 and 500,000.

In this day and age, however, it’s good to be able to cheer even minor newspaper-circulation achievements.

The Star owes its Sunday statistical improvement to a combination of higher print sales and higher digital subscriptions. Surprisingly, print sales rose by nearly 5,000 over the September 2011 reporting period, while digital subscriptions went up about 5,000. The digital increase was not a surprise.

You must keep in mind, of course, that digital subscriptions are not nearly as profitable as print subscriptions because the bulk of newspaper revenue is in print-side advertising.

On the daily front, print-edition sales of The Star dropped by about 3,400 from the September 2011 report, but digital subscriptions rose by 4,300, pushing total weekday average circulation to 200,365.

Saturday circulation stayed about the same — about 205,000 — from September to March.

The March report marks the one-year anniversary of ABC rules changes that allowed papers to include in their figures newspapers distributed through Newspapers in Education (NIE) programs and copies sold in bulk to places like hotels and restaurants. Those changes gave all daily papers a boost at a point when circulation had fallen sharply for at least a decade.

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