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Why Canít the Washington Post Keep Circulation Up?
Washingtonian ^ | 07/23/04 | HARRY JAFFE

Posted on 07/23/2004 6:47:52 PM PDT by Pikamax

Why Can’t the Washington Post Keep Circulation Up? Here’s an unsolved mystery: Why is the Washington Post losing readers while USA Today, the New York Times, and the Boston Globe are gaining them—and while the Washington region’s population is booming with college graduates?

“We can guess, we can speculate, we can estimate,” says executive editor Len Downie Jr. But the Post doesn’t know, which has its top people wringing their hands in regular meetings.

A year ago the Post’s average daily circulation was 796,367. Recent figures put it at 772,553, a drop of some 24,000 readers, or 3 percent.

“Theoretically, this is the best newspaper market in the country,” says newspaper analyst John Morton. “It’s surprising the Post is losing ground like this.”

Many newspapers are losing circulation because loyal readers are dying off and younger people are not in the habit of getting their information from daily newspapers. But those reasons don’t exactly apply to the Post.

“The Post isn’t performing as well as the industry at large,” says Morton.

Downie notes that “all papers are dropping” and reminds me that the Post still has the highest penetration of any major daily in the country. “And we came late to the circulation decline,” he says.

Perhaps, but flat and declining circulation have worried the Post’s publishing side for more than a decade. The paper has conducted secret studies, deployed reporters to suburban counties to write for zoned editions, created the Sunday Source to attract younger readers, launched a free daily for straphangers.

All to little avail so far. At its current rate of decline, the Post—currently the nation’s fifth-largest daily—could fall in a few years to ninth, below the Chicago Tribune. Among the top ten newspapers, the Post and the Tribune were the only ones that lost circulation in the last tally, according to figures reported in March by the Audit Bureau of Circulations. The Trib lost 1 percent and fell to 614,548.

Post publisher Boisfeuillet “Bo” Jones Jr. has said the newspaper is losing readers because of its free Web site, because of a cutback in telemarketing sales, and because readers are switching to the Express, the free weekday tabloid that the Post originally hoped would stave off competition and turn young Metro riders into Post readers.

The newsroom assessment is less generous.

“Clearly,” says a reporter who declined to have his name used, “we have failed to engage people as we should have.”

The New York Times, which has cushioned its local circulation base by positioning itself as a national daily distributed countrywide, gained a few thousand readers to hover just above 1.1 million. At the top of the heap, USA Today gained 2.3 percent to reach 2.1 million in circulation.

Meanwhile, the population of the Washington metropolitan region keeps growing. Last year it added 80,000 residents to reach 5.7 million, according to Census reports.

Downie says many of the new residents are “immigrant communities” from South America who are not English speakers. “There is not growth in the population that presents readership opportunities for us right now,” he says. But the Washington region is also attracting thousands of well-educated, English-speaking residents to work for telecommunications companies, law firms, and government contractors.

Like many other major dailies, the Post has attempted to protect its franchise by buying up suburban weeklies. Still, the Post finds itself in a two-front newspaper war: To the north and east, the Baltimore Sun is battling hard for readers in Howard County; to the south and west, the Times Community Newspaper chain, owned by the Arundel family, has the weekly franchise in Virginia’s burgeoning Loudoun and Fairfax counties.

Sources in the paper’s top echelon say both the publishing and news sides are close to obsessed by the declining circulation. In surveys, readers say they want more local news. Says Bo Jones: “We are trying to do a number of things across the paper to try to address the changing interests, habits, and nature of the Washington area.”

One thing the Post has not done is lay off reporters or editors, a tactic many major dailies have chosen. The Post’s recent buyout was the closest it has come to improving its bottom line by trimming staff.

The bottom line—and the share prices—of the Washington Post Company are in quite good shape. The flagship daily newspaper is now only a small division of the Post Company, which reaps its largest profits from other divisions, especially the Kaplan education training group.

If only Kaplan could train newspaper readers.

TOPICS: Culture/Society; News/Current Events
KEYWORDS: circulation; liberalmedia; newspapers; topnewspapers
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To: Pikamax

Well let's see. They are owned in part by Warren Buffet who is also a Kerry financial adviser. They choose to ignore FEC rules on campaign equal coverage. They lie through their teeth. Many more reasons also. Washington post is just one of many failing liberal papers. I am not shopping at Nebraska Furniture Mart which is owned by Buffet, ever!!!

21 posted on 07/23/2004 7:17:39 PM PDT by tobyhill (The war on terrorism is not for the weak!)
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To: cyncooper; Miss Marple
Next should be Dana Priest. Both Danas should go.

They should leave together on a double-dana.

22 posted on 07/23/2004 7:21:05 PM PDT by EllaMinnow (Re-elect Bush - because Kerry just doesn't have the time.)
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To: Miss Marple
My nomination for the first to go: Dana Milbank.

But, but, but, Dana Milbank is a Skull and Bones guy.

I'm torn between Milbank, Dana Priest, Mike Allen, Walter Pinkus, Ceci Connelley, et al. Cripies, get rid of all of those pukes.

23 posted on 07/23/2004 7:26:57 PM PDT by jackbill
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To: E. Pluribus Unum

When I was younger there used to be a Globe on every porch in the morning,lying there,looking very sinister.

Now they are few and far between.

I think they are cooking the books.

24 posted on 07/23/2004 7:28:16 PM PDT by Redcoat LI (You Can Trust Me , I'm Not Like The Others.....)
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To: Redleg Duke

" parakeet died."

I'm sorry the rotting stench killed your beloved pet.

25 posted on 07/23/2004 7:36:33 PM PDT by Socratic (Yes, there is method in the madness.)
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To: Pikamax
If the NYT is gaining readers, why are advertisers dumping them in droves? And why is their stock in the crapper?

the New York Times, and the Boston Globe are gaining them

26 posted on 07/23/2004 7:37:08 PM PDT by DManA
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To: jackbill

Easy now. Ceci's kinda cute.

27 posted on 07/23/2004 7:37:32 PM PDT by Coop (In memory of a true hero - Pat Tillman)
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To: muawiyah
"I think the last straw was when they turned the corporate lesbian harpies loose on Richard Cohen and Juan Williams."

I must have missed this. What's the story behind that statement? I see Williams on Special Report/Brit Hume often but he always struck me as more of a DNC operative than an analyst, and I thought he worked for NPR. Seems like this would be right up the Post's alley.

28 posted on 07/23/2004 7:42:27 PM PDT by Oblongata
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To: Pikamax
At the top of the heap, USA Today gained 2.3 percent to reach 2.1 million in circulation.

I usually buy the W Times, but this week USA Today had a fabulous page 1 picture comparison of the two candidates. They showed each candidate saluting. A handsome President Bush was holding his hand as straight as an arrow, showing respect. John Kerry's hand was arced over and his fingers were wavy. It was a pre-botox picture, so he looked really bad. I bought it.

My local Giant Food Store had a kiosk right inside the door today trying to get subscribers by practically giving away free Washington Post's. I almost went over to the young man and told him that I didn't think that anyone should read the leftist rag, but he was just trying to do a job, so I moved on.

29 posted on 07/23/2004 7:44:30 PM PDT by Freee-dame
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To: Pikamax
Hilarious (yet typical) article, ignoring the giant elephant in the middle of the room.


30 posted on 07/23/2004 7:54:40 PM PDT by Jhensy
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To: RealPiedPiper
Williams worked for the Post, and the usual suspects filed sexual harrassment charges against him. The Post owns the Boston Globe, and the usual suspects accused him of sexual harrassment as well.

Both men were made to kneel and kiss the ring.

Williams had a bit more pride and left the Post. Cohen is older, near retirement, and was treated like an animal by his management.

The Post, it's reporters, editors, managers and owners are "dirty". They are not good people and should never be trusted.

31 posted on 07/23/2004 7:54:41 PM PDT by muawiyah
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To: Unam Sanctam

A few months ago Newsday's circ seemed OK :-)

32 posted on 07/23/2004 7:58:39 PM PDT by Tribune7
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To: Pikamax
The New York Times, which has cushioned its local circulation base by positioning itself as a national daily distributed countrywide, gained a few thousand readers to hover just above 1.1 million. At

As someone who works at a newspaper, I can safely say that between 10-20 percent of newspaper circulation are "freebies," such as issues donated to schools, hospitals, hotels, and other public venues.

Likewise, whenever a newspaper manager sees circulation falling, he or she often launches into promotional mode in which he gives away thousands of additional newspapers just so he can claim the numbers are going up.

How many times have you stayed in a hotel only to find a free USA Today or NY Times at your doorstep in the morning.

One paper I worked at GAVE every school in its territory a stack of about 100 newspapers each and every morning, for the students AND for the faculty. These were included in the daily circulation numbers even though the paper did not get one red cent.

It was their little scam to try and hook the kiddies into reading their paper every day.

33 posted on 07/23/2004 8:03:08 PM PDT by Edit35
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To: Pikamax

Obviously, they haven't been taking their V1AKG-RA

34 posted on 07/23/2004 8:07:45 PM PDT by Antoninus (Federal Marriage Amendment, NOW!)
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To: muawiyah

I don't get it, the (com)Post has the best comics section in the country, and since they move Dumsbury to the front of the Style page, that idiot no longer gets between me and Hagar. Am I the last conservative to still read it?

I have a political friend who bagged his subscription a few years ago; he re-subscribed when friends kept calling him, wondering if he'd seen his picture and bad press in the Post... He had to stay up with the cr*p they were throwing at him.

The Post also has an awesome sports section, give or take Kornheiser, who's an idiot. I subscribe for two reasons: 1) Thomas Boswell; and 2) Know thyne enemy.

The Post became the Post when the Evening Star died to Walter Cronkite. The Star was the best paper since forever, and the talent went to the Post. The paper lives off its high-profile columnist talent, and that's it. With only a few exceptions, the news reporting sucks. They can't even get out a good local page (sports excepted).

If you ever do historical work going back to the 19th century and early 20th, stick to the NY Times (generally a solid paper all the way through to the 1960s, and certainly through the 1920s) and the Washington Star. The (com)Post owns the Star archives. It bagged the Star in favor of its own pathetic archives for the Proquest digitization project. I'm stuck with microfilm for the Star. It's worth the extra effort.

The (com)Post is an academic profile of business atrophy.

35 posted on 07/23/2004 8:12:15 PM PDT by nicollo
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To: Pikamax
Here are figures for the top 20 daily newspapers:

The newspaper name is followed by average daily circulation, gain/(loss), and percentage gain/(loss).

1. USA Today, McLean, Va. (M-F*) 2,280,761; 49,029; 2.2%
2. The Wall Street Journal (M-F) 2,101,017**; 280,417; 15.4%
3. The New York Times (M-F) 1,133,763; 3,023; 0.3%
4. Los Angeles Times (M-Sat*)#983,727; 4,178; 0.5%
5. The Washington Post (M-F) 772,553; (23,814); (3%)
6. Daily News, New York (M-F) 747,053; 10,023; 1.4%
7. New York Post (M-F) 678,012; 57,932; 9.3%
8. Chicago Tribune (M-F*) 614,548; (6,557);(1.1%)
9. Newsday, Melville, N.Y. (M-F) 580,346; 995; 0.2%
10. Houston Chronicle (M-Sat) 549,300; 792; 0.1%
11. The Dallas Morning News (M-F*) 529,879; (2,172); (0.4%)
12. San Francisco Chronicle (M-F) 501,135; (13,130); (2.6%)
13. Chicago Sun-Times (M-F) 486,936; (1,551); (0.3)%
14. The Arizona Republic, Phoenix (M-Sat) 466,926; (19,205); (4%)
15. The Boston Globe (M-F) 452,109; 3,334; 0.7%
16. The Star-Ledger, Newark, N.J. (M-F) 407,945; 215; 0.0%
17. The Atlanta Journal-Constitution (M-F*) 401,077; (18,491); (4.4%)
18. The Philadelphia Inquirer (M-F) 387,692; 802; 0.2%
19. Star Tribune, Minneapolis (M-Sat) 377,058; 1,552; 0.4%
20. The Plain Dealer, Cleveland (M-Sat) 367,528; (5,609); (1.5%)

* Averages calculated by E&P.
** Includes 301,162 paid online subscriptions qualified under ABC rules. Online subscriptions were not counted in the year-ago figure.
# Change in publishing plan and/or frequency.

As is noted elsewhere, you can't go to a hotel in the US without having a USA Today dropped at your door, and I've noticed a lot of restaurants like McDonald's and Dennys have them for people to read around breakfast time. Their total paid circulation is probably around 50. How often do you see them at supermarket checkout stands?

The NY Times gained less than 1/2 of 1 percent, despite going national. I suspect the problem the Washington Post has is that their news people are older than the on-air talent at 60 Minutes. Also, by the time anything hits print, it's not news. I don't get the newspaper anymore because anything I would have an interest in reading is already posted on the internet, I can read it from six different viewpoints, and also read the parts the local paper cut out to save space.

As a side note, I photograph sports for a local high school and the local newspaper. I post them to my web site, also. The parents all tell me, "I saw your photos in the paper." The kids all tell me, "I saw your photos online." It's a small weekly paper, and the kids see 20 to 30 photos on Saturday morning, while their parents see 5 or 6 photos the following Thursday. Newspapers are dying. The way the country's growing, they wouldn't be fighting to hold even if the whole concept of "newspaper" wasn't becoming outdated. I think their problem is two-fold. Literacy is dropping, while people who are smart enough to read a newspaper go online. Notice the Dallas Morning News. It's in one of the fastest growing regions of the country and dropped 2,000 readers. Of course, it was once locally owned and conservative and has been bought out by a major liberal chain (I think Cox).

I also noticed the LA Times reported a readership increase, but the # indicates a change in something about the way they report, and I know they just had a bunch of layoffs because of falling revenues.

BTW, info is from, a pretty good source for news about the news business.

36 posted on 07/23/2004 8:17:09 PM PDT by Richard Kimball (We sleep soundly in our beds because rough men are ready to do violence on our behalf)
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It's the commutes, and two income families - there's no one home to read the paper during the day. So the damn things pile up unread for weeks until they get moved to the recycle bin.

We have to get on the road early to get to work on time, and by the time we get home in the afternoon, the news is stale. There's no elbow room on the metro during morning rush hour to do a quick read, either.

Anything we would need the weekday edition for, like sports scores or headlines, we can get online or from Channel 4 news (which runs from 5 AM to 7 AM). The news is fresher from those sources, too. News moves fast around here.

37 posted on 07/23/2004 8:18:19 PM PDT by vollmond (DS2 CV-66 83-87)
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To: Pikamax
Two Words: Extreme Bi-ass!!!

Pray for W and The Truth

38 posted on 07/23/2004 8:29:07 PM PDT by bray (Yaaaawn Tax , Tax , Tax & Kerry wants more gummit!)
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To: Pikamax
Gee, have you thought about trying a little.....balance? You piss off half your readers they are eventually going to look elsewhere for their news.

What on earth is the matter with liberals? Why do they think we will put up endlessly with them trying to shove their agenda down our throats?

There is nothing, not even the web, that can compare to the comfort of curling up with a cup of coffee and a good newspaper in the morning, but when that experience ends up making you so mad you eventually stop. If it hurts when you do something, stop doing it.

39 posted on 07/23/2004 8:30:29 PM PDT by McGavin999 (If Kerry can't deal with the "Republican Attack Machine" how is he going to deal with Al Qaeda)
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To: Temple Owl


40 posted on 07/23/2004 8:37:52 PM PDT by Tribune7
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