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U-T circulation plunging

Other metro dailies sinking, too

Richard Tofel, writing for medium.com, has come up with some shocking numbers on print newspaper circulation. Tofel, general manager of the investigative organization ProPublica and a former vice president of Dow Jones, has dug into newspaper weekday circulation numbers put together by the Alliance for Audited Media, showing "individually paid circulation," or the number of papers being bought by subscription or at newsstands.

The Union-Tribune figure is merely 117,000 for September of 2015, Tofel reports. That compares with 193,000 for March of 2013, the last time newspaper circulation figures were widely reported. Tofel concedes that the 2013 and 2015 numbers are not exactly comparable because the 2013 numbers are "total average print circulation." But the numbers show significant declines.

In 1999, the U-T had a campaign to lift daily circulation to 400,000 from 381,256; that 381,256 number was inflated, but it wasn't wildly bloated. (I was a columnist there at the time and knew some of the tricks the paper pulled.)

Tofel shows USA Today plunging from 1.4 million in 2013 to 299,000 in September of last year.

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Richard Tofel, writing for medium.com, has come up with some shocking numbers on print newspaper circulation. Tofel, general manager of the investigative organization ProPublica and a former vice president of Dow Jones, has dug into newspaper weekday circulation numbers put together by the Alliance for Audited Media, showing "individually paid circulation," or the number of papers being bought by subscription or at newsstands.

The Union-Tribune figure is merely 117,000 for September of 2015, Tofel reports. That compares with 193,000 for March of 2013, the last time newspaper circulation figures were widely reported. Tofel concedes that the 2013 and 2015 numbers are not exactly comparable because the 2013 numbers are "total average print circulation." But the numbers show significant declines.

In 1999, the U-T had a campaign to lift daily circulation to 400,000 from 381,256; that 381,256 number was inflated, but it wasn't wildly bloated. (I was a columnist there at the time and knew some of the tricks the paper pulled.)

Tofel shows USA Today plunging from 1.4 million in 2013 to 299,000 in September of last year.

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Comments
45

$52 a month for this paper is way to much. Your numbers are going to keep dropping until you go out of business.

Jan. 21, 2016

boemac: I have been told by several people that if you cancel your subscription, you will be offered a discount. If you say several times that the discount is not enough, you can get the price down a long way. I assume this is still going on.

Newspapers don't make their money on circulation per se. They make their money on advertising, although the volume of advertising is tied to circulation. Best, Don Bauder

Jan. 21, 2016

Some sobering numbers. Newpapers have long been the prime source of information for other media: the wire services and TV reporters got their stories by rewriting what was in the newspaper. Now what passes for news are blogger's opinion pieces and TV coverage of accidents, disasters and the pet of the week from the local animal shelter.

I am grateful that I had a chance to be a print journalist during the heyday of the profession, when newspapers had competitors AND a large circulation, and we worked our butts off to scoop the other guys and uncover wrongdoing. Journalism was once, by its very nature, investigative and we really did act as the eyes and ears for the community. Yes, there were sacred cows, but in time even their bad deeds were exposed in banner headlines. As I recall, journalists did not lean Democrat or Republican - we disliked everyone!

The large circulations meant that people had a much more common frame of reference on public affairs than today. Now they glance at headlines on Facebook sidebars or scroll the list of news, opinion and sponsored links that passes for Yahoo News, or they get a email summary from a special interest group. It's all quite filtered and served up piecemeal to satisfy narrow-minded perspectives.

Jan. 21, 2016

Bob_Hudson: Yes, Bob, there are serious consequences of the decline of newspapers, particularly metro daily papers. People are increasingly getting their information -- often "information" -- from biased sites.

Interestingly enough, if you go back to the early days of papers in the U.S., they tended to be slanted for one party or another. But then, there were many more papers then -- several in one market. Best, Don Bauder

Jan. 21, 2016

If they don't improve their deteriorating delivery service I'm going to cancel my subscription. The UT or whoever they outsource paper delivery has had high turnover of delivery employees. My paper comes as late as 10 a.m. on some days, other days I only get one paper (I subscribe to both the UT and the LA Times), and other days I get no paper. I'm getting tired of having to call for a "replacement" paper and if this problem persists they are going to lose another long time subscriber.

Jan. 21, 2016

Ponzi: The U-T is now being printed in L.A. and serious delivery problems have multiplied greatly.

Personally, I am having problems with my online edition. I can't bring up stories to print them. I have called five or six times and gotten the runaround. The last time I called, someone finally admitted they are having these problems. Best, Don Bauder

Jan. 21, 2016

Ponzi: I changed browsers. For awhile, I was able to open the stories. Then it stopped. I went indignantly to the clerk on the phone (the sixth time) and once again got an admission that this is happening with other customers. At least, I was given six free weeks of service. But what good is that if I can't open the stories? Best, Don Bauder

Jan. 27, 2016

When you pay independent "contractors" next to nothing you get nothing. Most of the delivery drivers do it to augment their income and no one can make enough money to live on so they do it until something better comes along like a job at Walmart.

Jan. 22, 2016

AlexClarke: The U-T lost the suit filed by those so-called independent operators who deliver the paper. The court found that they are NOT truly independent. Best, Don Bauder

Jan. 22, 2016

What happened to paper boys? I was a paper boy and shared a route with a neighbor boy. I recall creating a good sized savings account for my age.

Of course now the routes are more far-flung because of the low circulation. In fact it seemed like most of the kids I went to high school with had after school jobs in fast food, mowing lawns, washing cars.

Jan. 22, 2016

Ponzi: I was also a paperboy. I was only in grade school, but I became suspicious that our boss, who took in the money we collected, was pocketing some of that money. I have been interested in scams ever since. Best, Don Bauder

Jan. 22, 2016

You can't hire kids to work 7 days a week at 5:00 a.m. any more. I did it for $50/month in the 1970s - the Evening Tribune – and I had to collect my own subscriptions.

Jan. 26, 2016

Ken Harrison: Working for the Evening Tribune you didn't have to get up at 5 a.m. I would guess that young boys don't want to get up at 5 a.m. these days to deliver papers or do anything else. Best, Don Bauder

Jan. 26, 2016

It's important to have local newspapers (more than one). I like the physicality of newspapers just as I still prefer the physicality of books. While I do read news online, I don't ever want that to be the only option.

Jan. 21, 2016

Julie Stalmer: My wife and I feel the same way. We drive 20 miles a day to get the New York Times. We also get online editions, but we like to lie down and read a paper edition. Best, Don Bauder

Jan. 21, 2016

I'd been wondering when some updated circulation figures would be disseminated. Since I was once a media buyer, those circulation figures are of interest. I'd been suspecting that declines were worse than earlier reports indicated. The last time they came out, I described the U-T situation as catastrophic. What is worse than catastrophic? Whatever that is, these declines are best described that way. In light of the fact that the county has well in excess of 3 million residents (not all citizens, for sure) the proportion of them that actually see that paper is tiny.

Some of the explanation for all the ultra-prominent Chargers coverage in the U-T is that the paper cannot generate interest in anything else. The Charger jingoists will still love the paper if it keeps pandering to their desire to keep the team. And they'll keep buying the rag.

The newspaper business is drying up and threatens to blow away. Even among readers of these dailies, how many are swayed by editorials, and how many are misinformed by biased reporting? If nearly no one reads it, what does it matter?

Jan. 21, 2016

Visduh: I agree that the U-T's emphasis on sports is an attempt to bolster readership. From a business perspective, I don't have a problem with that. I also agree that the stadium coverage smacks of jingoism. That is more problematic.

Incidentally, I would not be surprised if the Chargers end up staying in San Diego and playing at a moderately updated Qualcomm, financed by both the city and the team. I question if the Spanos family can afford L.A. and, certainly, San Diego cannot afford to subsidize the Chargers. But Kroenke is borrowing a billion dollars, so the Chargers might be able to get long-term financing. In today's environment, interest rates are dirt cheap, and it looks like they may get cheaper. Best, Don Bauder

Jan. 21, 2016

and if they raise their rates again they will lose one more.

Jan. 21, 2016

cvret: Yes, the U-T may be getting to the point where it can't raise its rates further, just as the Chargers can't raise ticket prices much, if at all. Best, Don Bauder

Jan. 21, 2016

Why can't the UT do simple things like print the city council agenda and tell us how the members voted on the issues, they are just out of touch,

Jan. 21, 2016

UCLA2010: As the paper is economically squeezed, it can't provide services or coverage it used to provide. It's a down spiral. Best, Don Bauder

Jan. 21, 2016

Much of that kind of thing is now on the Internet, available from the primary source, in this case http://www.sandiego.gov/citycouncil/ - it's rather like the old days when newspapers filled several pages with prices for individual stocks: when those started showing up online, there was no need to waste ink and paper on them.

Jan. 21, 2016

Bob_Hudson: Even the Wall Street Journal gave up on the full stock listings. Also, remember when race results from tracks all over the country were in the paper? Best, Don Bauder

Jan. 22, 2016

When the sole metropolitan daily newspaper of a major city is on the skids, there are serious negative civic repercussions, even if the Reader keeps hitting its marks and other journals sporadically publish "stories."

Our GOP Mayor Faulconer, who replaced shooting-star Bob Filner, is a sunny public relations mouthpiece and is running for re-election UNOPPOSED in this big city, even with majority Democrat registration. City Council has been rendered powerless by Strong Mayor provisions and internal defections within its Democratic majority.

Two of five sitting School Board representatives were elected UNOPPOSED and a third member, warmly praised by her colleagues while under investigation for wrongdoing by the District Attorney's office, also may run for re-election UNOPPOSED. The novice Superintendent of Schools overtly plans to end racial and socioeconomic integration (busing and magnet schools) and has unilaterally announced that 135,000 kids will start school in August 2016 (rather than after Labor Day) even though a majority of families polled last year (after school ended) opposed such a radical change. Not a word of dissent from any quarter.

We don't all buy the U-T anymore so its resources are shrinking daily. Thus we don't hear regularly or repeatedly about what's happening in our community -- what needs attention, what needs interpretation, what's unacceptable, what needs to change and improve. We don't share a common source of reliable information anymore and we are losing touch with each other, losing interest in our present and losing control of our future.

Jan. 21, 2016

I like the small local rags as they give me the neighborhood news. Most are free and cover a small area like La Mesa or San Carlos and give details about what is going on locally. The UT has little local news if it is outside the downtown area. There will always be a place for small local area papers but the UT is a good example of yesterday's news today.

Jan. 22, 2016

AlexClarke: The one area in which newspapers continue to do well is small rural regions where there is little competition from the internet. I don't know how well neighborhood papers in metro areas are doing, though. Best, Don Bauder

Jan. 22, 2016

monaghan: You are absolutely right that there are serious civic repercussions when the major daily newspaper is on the skids, as the U-T is. Politicians and bureaucrats are relieved of public pressure for performance. The numbers of politicians running unopposed are reflections of this ennui. Best, Don Bauder

Jan. 22, 2016

SD Maestro: But to cut expenses, the U-T hires young, inexperienced reporters. Their output is often shallow and puerile. Best, Don Bauder

Jan. 22, 2016

Fred Branstetter: Yes, these are indeed sad days. And for the most part, newspaper top management did not see the crash coming. Best, Don Bauder

Jan. 22, 2016

Driveway litter truly sucks! The main reason I want the Union Tribune to "fold" (pun intended). I am so sick of finding their advertising packets in my driveway every week. I travel often, and I can stop mail deliveries and other things so the burglars wouldn't know if someone was home, but I can't stop the friggin' UT from leaving it's litter in my driveway! Hopefully the mythical El Nino rains will flood Mission Valley and wash the UT building out to sea (without the employees inside, of course). The world would then be a better place. If I had a bird, I wouldn't use the UT to line the bottom of it's cage. The poor bird would be ashamed.

Jan. 22, 2016

Rocket_J_Squirrel: One time I was credited with thwarting a county outbreak of canary constipation. When people put my column in the bottom of the bird cage, the constipation immediately stopped. Later, however, canary diarrhea became a concern. Best, Don Bauder

Jan. 22, 2016

Ponzi - You're not alone. Late or no delivery has become the norm for me. I stopped calling them some time ago because it didn't do any good. By the way,the last time I called I spoke with someone in Tuscon, Arizona!  Things have gotten so bad at the UT that they failed  to take the automatic deduction from my checking account last month. I'm definitely not calling that one in. Like they say, you get what you pay for. 

Jan. 22, 2016

The U-T is better by far than ATT, an organization that, if there were a god, would be swept away in a great flood.

Since November when my DSL modem conked out, I thought I'd switch to faster much-advertised ATT U-Verse, minus all the TV stuff. Just a land line and faster internet was what I wanted.

Install U-Verse? It's impossible. Call the main phone number to complain? Get caught in an automated labyrinth, wait forever and then get "Asia" or "an official representative of ATT in the Philippines" after about 25-45-65 minutes. Sometimes you are disconnected and get to start over from scratch. When there is connection, there is deafening background noise as ATT "agents" apparently work from cell phones on the teeming sidewalks of Manila.

Foul-up is ATT's default mode. Cancel U-Verse and give me back my old DSL and local-only phone service? Incompetent techs come repeatedly to the house to remove their handiwork. Phones die, internet dies, sometimes there's sporadic operation, but many days and nights are spent like "Little House on the Prairie."

Total system breakdown on Christmas Eve. Tech on vacation. Go-to boss never calls back. No technician to fix systems and no mechanism to stop daily robo calls promising help "tomorrow." No way to stop robo harassment, apparently, short of perfecting the installation.

Well into this new year of 2016, after another long hold-with-muzak, an angel from New Orleans registers my service on the phone, walking me through on-line forms I'd never seen or heard about, taking time to help a sputtering customer.

To conclude: since then I have received numerous ATT bills, each amount-due different from every other, along with threats to shut down my "service" toute suite with penalties accruing until restoration. So today I spent another hour and a half on the phone, until a Filipino agent/saint set the account to rights, forgave sums that were not mine to pay, ascertained that I was not harboring any ATT "equipment," and allowed me to pay what I owed by VISA card. I asked if now I could throw away the half-inch ATT file I'd accumulated, and the representative said, "Better keep it for the record."

Jan. 22, 2016

monaghan: But the AT&T ads say that all the modern services are a wonder of perfection. No hassle, no futile arguments with agents who barely speak English. I have a slug of AT&T stock. I was thinking of buying more when the current down spiral appears to abate. Any recommendations? Best, Don Bauder

Jan. 22, 2016

joepublic: I have complained to the U-T five or six times about my problem. I get the online edition. I can't open stories to read or print them. Finally, one of the phone complaint takers admitted the U-T is having similar problems elsewhere.

Each time I have been given instructions to clear my screen and try a new twist. It doesn't work. Each time they say I will hear from a technician. I never have. I don't know if I am still being charged for the non-newspaper. I get different stories. Best, Don Bauder

Jan. 22, 2016

Have you tried copying the text into your word processor?

I don't subscribe because I find nothing substantial. The UT should open-source its on-line version, including their archives, and lower ad costs. Media people (not journalists) do not understand the computer age, nor do they understand what people want and do not want.

Good journalists give people what they don't even know they want, but when they get it, recognize its value. But even they cannot get follow-up stories published, because it has to bleed in order to lead.

Jan. 22, 2016

Flapper: Newspapers have not learned how to make much money on the internet. Their profits still are in print editions. But print editions are dinosaurs. It's a difficult situation to be in. Best, Don Bauder

Jan. 22, 2016

Dennis St. Onge: When Craigslist first surfaced, some in U-T management dismissed it as "guys in a garage." Craigslist soon became one of the major factors doing in metro daily newspapers. Best, Don Bauder

Jan. 23, 2016

Fred Jacobsen: I remember your wise words when we were both at the U-T. In the early 1980s, I was trying to convince U-T top management that the market share was bad and had to be improved. Top management in La Jolla agreed, but nothing was done. At some point in the 1990s, the then-general manager said the same thing, but too late.

Some in top management in La Jolla knew of the looming problems. Some were encouraging Helen Copley, and later David, to sell. They didn't listen. So a paper that had been valued at $1 billion was sold (the first time) for around $50 million.

La Jolla management did wisely dump papers in Ohio and Illinois for $382. 5 million. Best, Don Bauder

Jan. 23, 2016

I subscribe to the UT, weekends paper, and dailly online (because I travel extensively and need to read it from elsewhere). I tip my delivery woman $50 every Christmas. No problems there, subsequently. I download the whole paper every day, and move that to a hard drive quarterly, to free up space on my laptop. Look, I've long disagreed with UT's editorial bias (being a pragmatical socialist, myself). But I believe in a hometown newspaper. I NEED a hometown newspaper; for the Sunday ads and coupons at least. And I LOVED the 1996 fireworks show for the Republican convention, which I understood was paid for by the publishers. I actually like the transition to an adjunct LA Times type of paper right now. I'd love to keep local journalists employed, if I could guarantee so. Surely there's some way of keeping the writers employed.

Jan. 23, 2016

mridolf: I like the idea of the $50 tip. I always tip more than 20 percent in restaurants. It's a way to spread the wealth.

Local journalists will be happy to know you are thinking of them. Best, Don Bauder

Jan. 26, 2016

Mr. Idolf: The fireworks show probably started the Normal Heights fire about 25 years ago.

Mr. Bauder: I'm a cheapskate too. I tip as you do, but only give the entire restaurant staff a $50 box of candy for New Year's. That's only about 14 cents a day. How much should I tip you?

Jan. 26, 2016

Flapper: Journalists should tip citizens who share a news tip. Best, Don Bauder

Jan. 26, 2016

Hil-larious! I've sent in lots of tips, but not only never got one in return, And they were all gutted of their essence before printing. If it bleeds it leads, but they're not interested in scandal. Who in the local media is really interested?

Jan. 26, 2016

Flapper: The Reader is very interested in scandal. Several of us specialize in scams and scandals. Best, Don Bauder

Jan. 27, 2016

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