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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: GretchenM

What is really funny is they can't even GIVE their paper away. Phoenix used to have two papers, one conservative, one liberal. Then it became just one liberal paper (in a conservative state, go figure!). A few years ago it was bought out by Gannett, and it's gone steadily down since. Now people don't even want it for coupons.

51 posted on 07/23/2004 10:13:11 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: muawiyah
"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."

Wow. I did not know this. Was there any truth to the allegations? Or was it just a typical Lib smackdown on someone who was out of line?

52 posted on 07/23/2004 11:23:11 PM PDT by Oblongata
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To: Tamsey
LOL! I loathe that guy, whose sole purpose is the think of every way possible to bash the President.

I suggest everyone read Bill Sammon's Fighting Back in order to see the true weasality of Milbank.

53 posted on 07/24/2004 3:07:42 AM PDT by Miss Marple
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To: RealPiedPiper

Because it all took place within the framework of Post corporate existence no one believes any of it.

54 posted on 07/24/2004 5:50:36 AM PDT by muawiyah
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To: William Tell

Ask my husband, like LAT readers, he can't do without the sports page.

55 posted on 07/24/2004 9:02:44 AM PDT by the Real fifi
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To: Miss Marple

loathe.... Dana Milbank....

Yes, that works, the right word exactly :-)

And I'll look for the book, thank you!

56 posted on 07/24/2004 10:58:46 AM PDT by Tamzee (Tell me honestly, Honey... do these classified documents make me look fat?)
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