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Union-Tribune daily circulation is plunging at more than three times the rate of other metropolitan daily papers, according to Editor & Publisher, the media trade magazine, which was apparently leaked advance information on the official Audit Bureau of Circulation numbers, which will be released Monday a.m. I will post the official numbers Monday morning. Daily circulation at the U-T plummeted 8.5 percent over a six month period, compared to a similar period a year earlier, according to E&P. Sunday circulation was down 7.9 percent. On average, dailies will report losses of 2.5 percent to 3.5 percent Monday, says E&P in its news story. The publication quoted a U-T executive saying the loss greatly reflects a deliberate drop in discounted and bonus copies. A category called "other" circulation has artificially bloated U-T numbers for several years; advertisers normally don't like such misleading numbers. Some, including myself, believe that the U-T's consistent and escalating slanting of news in the last two years has exacerbated the circulation plunge. According to E&P, there were large falloffs in Atlanta, Dallas and South Florida, as well. These may reflect real estate problems, such as San Diego has suffered.

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Comments

Anonymous Nov. 1, 2007 @ 7:07 p.m.

As I was reading your report on the Editor & Pubisher, I was thinking back to today's (November 1, 2007) Union-Tribune "Business" section that was all of 2 pages long (OK, 4 pages if you count both sides).

Maybe the U-T should could use a new motto, along the lines of "All the distilled news that's fit to print"?

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Anonymous Nov. 1, 2007 @ 8:17 p.m.

Though I'm no particular fan of the Union-Tribune, I'm disheartened to see such a steep decline. I'd venture it results from trends unrelated to any political slant to news articles. My impression is that the paper's headline writers/copy editors aren't really clever enough to pull such stunts off consistently. (And probably fewer than 10% of the UT readers ever do more than glance at the editorial pages.) Rather, I suspect that San Diego's intense cable/WiFi/New media penetration has rendered the newspaper habit superfluous for younger people in greater numbers than seen in the dropoff in young readers for papers nationwide. I also doubt that the vast majority of the people who pick up the Reader do so for either the cover story or for City Lights; they want the entertainment listings and the free classified ads. If they could find those packaged as comprehensively online as in the Reader, your weekly distribution would decline rapidly as well, I would wager, even though it's free.

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Don Bauder Nov. 1, 2007 @ 8:17 p.m.

Yes, the decision to slice the news hole drastically was a dubious one -- not just for the business section, but for other sections, too. As to a motto (not just for U-T but some other papers, too), it could be "Alll the distilled news that's s**t to print." Best, Don Bauder

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Don Bauder Nov. 1, 2007 @ 10:59 p.m.

Response to post #2: San Diego is more wired than other cities. That has been true for a long time. Certainly, the major reasons the U-T is doing so poorly are the competition from the internet, dumbing down of society, young people not reading -- the factors hitting all metro dailies. But why has the U-T been doing so much worse than other metro dailies for several years? One reason, I believe, is that it's often difficult to distinguish news stories from editorials. The U-T will have to make personnel cuts, and reporters are trying to play up to management by taking the management slant. For example, why didn't U-T jump on the mayor's failure to warn Rancho Bernardo? Or the failure to provide personnel for the brush management program? Why didn't the newspaper remind people that Sanders proclaimed the city was in good shape in firefighting capability in 2005? Readers, unconsciously sometimes, become aware of this slant. Schwarzenegger and Sanders were treated as heroes when both had failed to implement most recommendations after the 2003 fires. People can sense when a propaganda campaign is rolling along. I think this has contributed to the U-T doing worse than other metro dailies, although it's not the entire explanation by far. Your second observation: listings, reviews, etc. are clearly a key to the Reader's success. I think it would be difficult for anyone to do it as well online. Best, Don Bauder

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Anonymous Nov. 2, 2007 @ 8:18 a.m.

I believe readership levels, and the dramatic drop therein, is directly tied to the "freshness" of stories. A “daily newspaper” is already stale the moment it leaves the loading dock for morning delivery. With radio, TV and now the Internet, I have instantaneous access to information, making the so-called print media as obsolete as the horse and buggy. It’s just part of the “Information Age” technologically evolution affecting all of our lives.

Additionally, why would I pay twice for the same information? The UT “publishes” SignOnSanDiego.com daily, and it includes updates made repeatedly during the 24 hour news cycle, leaving no need to wait till the next morning for my paper. With my free WI-FI access, I can read it and other sources of news all day long if I chose to do so.

There’s also one other BIG benefit of the new information age, leading to the demise of print media. I no longer have to hunt for my morning paper, lodged somewhere in the bushes, sopping wet in my front yard, when it’s on the screen in my breakfast nook.

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Don Bauder Nov. 2, 2007 @ 10:10 a.m.

Your points are excellent. This lack of freshness is particularly obvious in a war in a different time zone. In both Iraq wars, the TV and electronic media (internet in the current war) were reporting news right through the night. The morning newspaper had something 8 to 10 hours old. Smart newspapers are doing more interpretative reporting and featuring material that has a shelf life. The U-T is doing some of that. But as you point out, you can get the nuggets online. Newspapers' online revenues have grown to be 5 to 7 percent of total revenues, but they are still small potatoes. I just read something that the growth of newspapers' online revenues has begun to slow down noticeably, however. I don't know about the U-T. Best, Don Bauder

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DavidGUrban Nov. 2, 2007 @ 4:23 p.m.

Well, you know I just have to join in.

The U-T is failing because it is dull, predictable, and hopelessly biased.

In a one-newspaper town, a town known nationally for its corruption, you'd might surmise that a newspaper would have a literal party exposing and highlighting the insider deals, the back-door planning, and all the rest of the shenanigans going on.

Instead, we get business as usual reporting, unbelievably biased "editorials" that are really nothing more than hit pieces, and "soft" news pieces that never really cut to the heart of the matter.

It's a shame, too, because some of the news reporters are good, but it's obvious they work under a tight leash.

My heavens, how much fun would it be to see a Pat Flannery or Don Bauder working for the paper; unfettered and free to really investigate and report on what they find. Now THAT would be worth subscribing to.

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Anonymous Nov. 2, 2007 @ 5:15 p.m.

I was a U/T subscriber for over 25 years and let my subscription lapse this year. One major reason is because I am tired of their editorial slant. They endorsed Michael Aguirre during the city attorney election. The guy does what he said he was going to do, “go after the corruption.“ And now the U/T can't print enough bad press about him. I believe people do read the editorial columns, especially during elections. I can't count how many times I have seen people with the Union Tribune editorial page "recommended votes" clipped out of the paper and laying in the voting booth with them. I think the paper should be not be endorsing candidates so blatantly. That’s not voting, that’s just being a proxy for the UT.

The paper is getting thinner. They print fewer letters to the editor and they are cutting back on other news departments. I'd say craigslist has probably dealt a big blow too, killing the classified ad cash cow. The classifieds in the UT look pretty anemic these days. I wonder how many people even use them to look for anything?

But again, in my case, I wouldn't mind paying for the news if they weren't so obvious in being a mouthpiece for the real estate and development establishment. It seems if it’s good for the people that can afford to live behind gates, that’s what the UT pushes.

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Don Bauder Nov. 2, 2007 @ 5:38 p.m.

Response to post #7: "Dull, predictable and hopelessly biased" -- good assessment and part of the problem. Actually, I did work for the U-T for 30 years; I was the business/finance columnist (also editor), specializing in scams. I retired in early 2003. (As you can see from my picture above -- we finally got an up-to-date one -- I am no youngster.) A good example of embarrassingly biased reporting came today. All week, the newspaper completely ignored the fact that people in Rancho Bernardo had not been warned before they lost their homes. Much of the blame lay with the mayor, who could have alerted RB Sunday evening. He confronted citizens early in the week. The Associated Press covered the session as citizens peppered the mayor with tough questions. The U-T, having just falsely editorialized on what a wonderful job the mayor had done, did not cover RB until today. I read the story, almost losing my breakfast, and never saw a word about the mayor's blunders. Best, Don Bauder

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Don Bauder Nov. 2, 2007 @ 5:52 p.m.

Response to post #8: As far as I can remember, the Copley organization was completely beholden to the establishment and the crooks therein. In the 1950s and 1960s, it slobbered all over C. Arnholt Smith and John Alessio, both of whom eventually went into custody for their crimes. Now it's Spanos, Moores, et al. It has always licked the boots of the real estate industry. A very good source tells me that at one time, the U-T got 35 percent or more of its advertising dollars from various aspects of real estate. It may not be that high now. It also kisses the shoes of the auto industry, another large advertiser. Yes, Craigslist has taken business from most print media. Best, Don Bauder

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Anonymous Nov. 5, 2007 @ 3:43 a.m.

Don, the most overwhelming fact of life of U-T rule over San Diego is proven by the fact that U-T Establishment and their "Ballot Recommendations" politicians refused to accept former Chief Bowman's recommendations after the 2003 firestorms, as documented in Steve Lopez’s L.A. Times Oct 24 column “He won't say 'I told you so . . .'”, and the consequences are the 2007 firestorms.

Anon92107

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Don Bauder Nov. 5, 2007 @ 7:41 a.m.

Response to post #11: I honestly don't remember whether the U-T went along with the recommendations to upgrade firefighting capability after the 2003 fires. I think you are right that it did not go along with Bowman's recommendations. The 2003 and Bowman recommendations would have cost money; the U-T, as always, was keeping up the fiction that there would be no tax increases. (There was a huge fee increase, which is simply a disguised tax.) If San Diego County is to protect itself against future fires, it will have to shell out some money. Period. Best, Don Bauder

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