By paulgillin | November 3, 2008 - 9:54 am - Posted in Fake News

The top 23 US newspapers collectively lost about 6% of daily circulation over the past six months, indicating that even the most compelling Presidential election in a generation isn’t stirring people to subscribe. Ironically, the news came the same week that the Newspaper Association of America reported that traffic to newspaper websites was up almost 16% in the third quarter. The contrast underscores the trend toward consumers turning to newspapers for information but preferring not to read in print.

The downturns were especially bad in towns like Houston, Newark, Atlanta, Philadelphia and Boston, where consumers have plenty of choices and strong media operations in nearby cities. The Washington Post and New York Times suffered the smallest percentage declines, indicating that those papers that made the leap to national circulation a few years ago are struggling less. In fact, the two biggest national dailies – USA Today and The Wall Street Journal – actually had small circulation increases.

Editor & Publisher doesn’t provide raw circulation decline numbers, but we reverse-engineered them out of the published data. Here are our estimates of total declines among the 23 papers that lost circulation:


% Decline

# Decline

Atlanta Journal-Constitution



Houston Chronicle



Philadelphia Inquirer



Newark Star-Ledger



Boston Globe



Dallas Morning News



Cleveland Plain Dealer



Portland Oregonian



Chicago Tribune



Daily News



San Francisco Chronicle



St. Petersburg Times



Detroit Free Press



New York Post



Arizona Republic



Los Angeles Times



Star Tribune



Sacramento Bee



Chicago Sun-Times



New York Times



San Diego Union-Tribune






Washington Post






Other than a concentration in the northeast, the most precipitous declines don’t follow any clear pattern. This is similar to the story six months ago, when the top 10 Sunday newspapers lost 635,000 circulation in one six-month period. Alan Mutter provides the historical perspective. American newspapers have lost nearly a quarter of their circulation since 1984, he says.

Layoff Log

Ugly week…

  • The Orange County Register will lay off 110 people, or about 8% of its workforce, in the fourth staff cut this year and the six since 2006. Publisher Terry Horne said the reductions are part of a process to become a “different kind of company.” The company will be “more focused on Interactive and make more of an effort in the print business,” whatever that means.
  • The Santa Rosa Press Democrat will lay off 16 people, 10 of them in the newsroom, in the California paper’s third headcount reduction in a year. The newsroom is now about 30% smaller than it was in 2004. The publisher said the weakening economy has cost the paper some major retail advertisers.
  • The Memphis Commercial Appeal will lay off 27 workers, or about 4% of its workforce. The cuts include 11 editors.
  • McGraw-Hill will cut 270 jobs, but the company’s woes apparently aren’t due to the publishing industry’s implosion as much as to the bigger implosion on Wall Street. The media and information division actually grew revenue 5%, with business-to-business publishing leading the way. It was the market data and analysis businesses that got clobbered. McGraw-Hill has trimmed 670 jobs this year.
  • The Cape Cod Times will cut six newsroom jobs and will close bureaus in Falmouth, Orleans and Sandwich, MA. The paper’s owner also plans to consolidate printing operations. The reductions amount to a little less than 10 percent of the Times’s editorial staff. They include three full-time and three part-time positions.


The New York Times’ David Carr has an exceptionally lucid account of the troubles afflicting the newspaper industry and the implications for us all. The twist at the end is especially effective – and troubling.

Writing in Fortune, Richard Silkos is optimistic that the newspaper industry will survive and thrive, although he’s not sure in what form. Silkos sums up the caterwauling by financial analysts and dismisses it as opportunistic. In the long term, the industry outlook is better described by Disney CEO Bob Iger, who said, “It would be hard to dispute the universal appeal of a product that promised to practically deliver the news of the world to your doorstep every morning in a neatly produced, printed package.” Someone’s going to make a killing when the industry recovers, Silkos says. Just you wait.

The editor of the Echo in Suffolk, England, has been jettisoned after 32 years, and he does not go quietly into the night. David Hart uses the occasion of his farewell column to protest the proclivity of media executives to treat editors like replaceable parts. In reality, the editor is deeply ingrained into the community, Hart writes, quoting Malcolm Muggeridge: “Like a man with a white stick, tapping his way blindly through events first in order to try to guide others coming after.” Hart thanks his readers for letting him lead them through the shadows all these year, but one gets the sense he’d use the stick differently on his boss.

The Associated Press has been under mounting pressure from newspapers that object to its fee structure, and now it has a new problem: CNN. The Atlanta-based cable network is wooing editors at some major newspapers with promises of a news service that will “provide stories of interest to your newspaper and online readers — breaking news, national, international, business, politics, consumer, medical, and more.” And it’s hosting several top editors at a three-day, all-expenses-paid event in Atlanta next month to tell them more. Meanwhile, the AP is further reducing rates in a frantic effort to stave off defections.

And Finally…

“The American newspaper may be dying. But this one, the oldest college daily, isn’t going anywhere,” chirps the Yale Daily News in a stirring kickoff to its 132nd year. It seems the president of Yale still makes time every day to speak to the campus paper and, with the university kicking off its biggest expansion in 50 years, there’s plenty to write about and plenty of eager students to read what the editors write. Booya!



This entry was posted on Monday, November 3rd, 2008 at 9:54 am and is filed under Fake News. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. Both comments and pings are currently closed.

Comments Off on Circulation Free-Fall Continues


  1. November 3, 2008 @ 12:39 pm

    I’m in full agreement that circulation is in a tailspin, but technically, the 23 papers you cite in your fist sentence are not down 6% in the last six months (which implies a 12% annualized pace of decline) — the ABC FAS-FAX figures are year-over-year comparisons, so: for the 6-month period April 1 through September 30, these papers are down 6% versus the year-earlier levels. See also my take on the numbers:

    Posted by Martin
  2. November 3, 2008 @ 12:41 pm

    Great post.

    I have one quibble about your Sacramento Bee numbers.

    My calculations show the Sacramento Bee has lost 15,506 subscribers in the past 6 months:

    Bee circulation as of 3/31/08: 268,755
    Bee circulation as of 9/30/08: 253,249

    Kevin Gregory
    McClatchy Watch

    Posted by Kevin Gregory
  3. November 3, 2008 @ 8:00 pm

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    […] its demise would be this fast, or so deep. The layoffs, the incredibly fast drops in circulation – 6% in just six months. It’s […]