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U-T print circulation continues to plummet

Swan dive due to several factors

Publications have been required to disclose their circulations to the United States Postal Service since 1960.
Publications have been required to disclose their circulations to the United States Postal Service since 1960.

Union-Tribune average seven-day print circulation is plunging precipitously. For the year ended October 1, average daily print circulation was only 144,085, down from 164,532 in 2015 and from 189,822 in 2013. This information is critical to advertisers.

On the Sunday before the report was published, U-T Sunday circulation plummeted to 196,049, down from 221,257 in 2015 and 251,318 in 2013.

Since 1960, publications have been required to disclose their circulations to the United States Postal Service. These reports are supposed to be revealed publicly in October. The Union-Tribune printed its report this morning, October 17, on page A-9. The report to postal authorities is more reliable than reports to the Alliance for Audited Media (formerly Audit Bureau of Circulations) which has loosened standards considerably and thus shed reliability.

There are a number of reasons for the U-T's stark drop. Since the paper was taken over by the former Tribune Co. (now called tronc), the paper has been printed in Los Angeles. This has led to late, unreliable deliveries and untimely news coverage. In metro daily newspapers throughout the United States, print circulation has been declining for several years. Some observers believe metro daily papers are dinosaurs, doomed to extinction.

The U-T's news coverage has worsened. During the brief period when the paper was owned by real estate tycoon Douglas Manchester, the editorial slant was far right. Now that it is owned by tronc, and essentially run by the Los Angeles Times, the U-T editorial slant has become middle-of-the-road, except in local issues such as the Chargers convadium vote, for which its slant continues to be pro-corporate welfare, as it was in the Copley and Manchester regimes.

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Publications have been required to disclose their circulations to the United States Postal Service since 1960.
Publications have been required to disclose their circulations to the United States Postal Service since 1960.

Union-Tribune average seven-day print circulation is plunging precipitously. For the year ended October 1, average daily print circulation was only 144,085, down from 164,532 in 2015 and from 189,822 in 2013. This information is critical to advertisers.

On the Sunday before the report was published, U-T Sunday circulation plummeted to 196,049, down from 221,257 in 2015 and 251,318 in 2013.

Since 1960, publications have been required to disclose their circulations to the United States Postal Service. These reports are supposed to be revealed publicly in October. The Union-Tribune printed its report this morning, October 17, on page A-9. The report to postal authorities is more reliable than reports to the Alliance for Audited Media (formerly Audit Bureau of Circulations) which has loosened standards considerably and thus shed reliability.

There are a number of reasons for the U-T's stark drop. Since the paper was taken over by the former Tribune Co. (now called tronc), the paper has been printed in Los Angeles. This has led to late, unreliable deliveries and untimely news coverage. In metro daily newspapers throughout the United States, print circulation has been declining for several years. Some observers believe metro daily papers are dinosaurs, doomed to extinction.

The U-T's news coverage has worsened. During the brief period when the paper was owned by real estate tycoon Douglas Manchester, the editorial slant was far right. Now that it is owned by tronc, and essentially run by the Los Angeles Times, the U-T editorial slant has become middle-of-the-road, except in local issues such as the Chargers convadium vote, for which its slant continues to be pro-corporate welfare, as it was in the Copley and Manchester regimes.

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Comments
40

Maybe if it was actually a newspaper and not just a paper filled with ads and puff pieces I, and others, might consider re-subscribing. But I suspect it would die a more rapid and compassionate death without the commercial propaganda and biased reporting.

Oct. 17, 2016

JustWondering: Good point. The paper's lack of credibility no doubt contributes to the circulation decline. Best, Don Bauder

Oct. 17, 2016

These are indeed dismal circulation figures for what once was a major city daily paper in a county of more than 3 million residents. Off the top of my head, I don't know how many households that represents, but with households getting smaller all the time, I'd guess there are close to 2 million households. And on a weekday, only 145,000 of them see a copy of the paper? That's approaching the vanishing point. The good news here is that when the rag backs the stadium scam, very few folks know it, and of those who do, plenty of them will vote the opposite way.

Years ago, when I was making use of newspaper circulation figures, I'd run across smaller cities where the dominant daily newspaper (or maybe two where there was a morning and an evening paper) covered as many as 80% of the households. Those were paid subscriptions, meaning that the readers wanted--and I'd guess liked--what they were getting enough to shell out real dollars for it.

Last time those U-T circulation figures came out, I described the decline as catastrophic. So, what is even worse than that? I'm running out of words to use.

Final comment: You describe the editorial content now determined by the LA Times as middle-of-the-road. I'd say that it is left of center, just about the way most major dailies are today. No paper is free of bias, least of all those owned by tronc.

Oct. 17, 2016

The county has 3.2 million people and about 1.1 million households -- around 2.85 people per household. I don't think households are yet near 2 million. The persons per household may actually be rising because of al the families who double-up or triple-up because of the high cost of living. You may be right, though: persons per household may be shrinking.

Yes, it is startling that this few people and households read a collective 145,000 papers. (Of course, some of those papers get passed around.) Generally around the U.S., it is the big metro dailies that are sinking fast. Some rural weeklies and dailies (maybe five a week) are still prospering because of little electronic competition.

I'm not sure the U-T is left of center, but I wouldn't argue the point. I guess it depends on subjective views. Best, Don Bauder

Oct. 17, 2016

CHICAGO TRIBUNE NEWS RACK SALES PLUMMETING AS BLUE BOXES DISAPPEAR. The publication Crain's Chicago Business reports that "Blue metal boxes stacked with copies of the Chicago Tribune have nearly disappeared from Chicago's streetscape." The publication counted the blue boxes in Chicago's Loop area (a large part of the central part of the city). The boxes were almost gone.

The Tribune is the base paper of the parent company, tronc, which owns the U-T. This appears to be another step in abandoning old newspaper practices as the company moves more into the digital age.

The tabloid Chicago Sun-Times, the Tribune's competition, is sticking with its news rack strategy, however.

The Tribune's news rack philosophy may portend similar strategies for the Union-Tribune.

Much will depend, however, on whether tronc is sold to Gannett. Gannett has offered $17.50 a share. Tronc won't take it and wants $25 a share. Internally, top officials secretly think the deal will be made at $20 a share. That is a big price to pay for a company doing poorly, and offering a product that is becoming a dinosaur. Best, Don Bauder

Oct. 17, 2016

Buying a newspaper or news chain today, for any price, may be akin to riding out in a hurry to catch up with Custer on his way to the Greasy Grass, aka Little Big Horn . Buyers still think there's a bottom to all this decline in newspapers, and there may be--at zero. If Gannett buys tronc, we will be looking at a virtual newspaper monopoly, and nobody will care, 'cause they have stopped reading or buying newspapers.

The surprise is that Chi-town still has two papers. I'd always had the picture of the Sun-Times as an also-ran operation. Maybe that was based on hearing only from the Tribune, which I used, and not the rival.

Oct. 17, 2016

Visduh: I agree. Who would pay big bucks for a chain of metro dailies? The company named tronc, the U-T's parent, wants $25 a share from Gannett, which has raised its bid to buy this dying chain of dailies. Even if the final price is $20, as some suspect, I wonder what has gotten into Gannett. That is far too much to pay, unless there is some very valuable real estate in there.Best, Don Bauder

Oct. 17, 2016

I have access to a free U-T newspaper daily. It's more trouble than it's worth. I have the Reader online for local news, I have Google News for worldwide news and I have Slashdot for thought provoking news, I have the weather.gov site for weather news -- all online, all right at my fingertips at home and abroad. Sometimes Google will point out a U-T article that I should read online. There is still some good stuff there, but not enough to suffer through the bulky print edition.

I filter the annoying ads that jump around the screen or present unstoppable slide shows. I do not allow the spyware and web bugs that follow internet users around and report their activities. I use a browser and add-on software that prevents malware. This removes many ads that support the content providers, but is justified because those particular ads are offensive and intrusive.

I get newsfeeds from KPBS, Democracy Now and Ars Technica. This is quality sh*t that is not watered down with ads or other distractions. They arrive daily in my email program without effort on my part and I can skim through them in 20 minutes or so.

I get audio and video podcasts from TED Talks, Economic Update, Ralph Nader Radio Hour, Voice of San Diego and KPBS Midday Edition. These are time consuming but dense with info relevant to my interests. Who has time for the dead tree edition of the Union Tribune? Who has time to wade through the ads in search of relevant news you can use? The ratio of useful news to junk is far higher online.

The future will be very different from the past. Few people are as news hungry as we here are. They will select from People magazine, Sports Illustrated, Entertainment Tonight, etc and all online. Print will be reserved for National Geographic and possibly The Guardian, maybe NYT, The Atlantic, Time mag... Clever users of online services will always be able to find 'news you can use' around the internet and avoid the commercial noise.

Oct. 17, 2016

swell: I agree: ads ruin online editions of just about all such publications. But the publishers have to make money somehow. This is one reason newspaper companies are not succeeding online. They are still making money on print editions, but they know print editions could be dead in two or three generations. Best, Don Bauder

Oct. 18, 2016

The future of major daily papers is what's happening at the Denver Post, where a hedge fund owns the chain of papers and has laid off two-thirds of the staff, with the aim of making profit on as little overhead as possible until the profits run out and they close the doors. There was an excellent article about the Denver Post's direction in 5280 magazine last month.

Oct. 17, 2016

Matt101: The Denver Post is a strange publication. It dedicates a huge amount of space to sports, and actually does a very good job covering it. (The Post is always lambasting local team owners and players. Could you imagine that happening at the U-T?)The Post also does some very good investigative reporting. Best, Don Bauder

Oct. 18, 2016

How do the declines in the various newspapers compare? Is there a graph over time on this?

Oct. 18, 2016

Flapper: There must be, but I have not come across such a thing. Best, Don Bauder

Oct. 18, 2016

There are good local beat writers at the Union-Tribune. Steve Breen pens a good cartoon in the editorial section. For me, I enjoy the local sections as the national areas, as noted, are just ads and wire copy. I also get the LATimes. Since the takeover, both papers are tronced up with the same stories. The financial section on Sunday's, the same. The wheels section in the Times and the Trib? Virtually the same. Yes, the paper is losing its San Diego identity. Soon, we'll all be one big happy town of San Barbara: San Diego to Santa Barbara with one paper and one TV group controlling the paper. The only thing missing is a castle for the owner.

Oct. 18, 2016

Chriscarmichael: I believe tronc would like to take over papers from San Diego to Santa Barbara. Somebody will snatch the OC Register -- probably tronc. Some L.A. area papers could go into the mix, too. Then all the Southern California papers would be running the same material, along with local news. Best, Don Bauder

Oct. 18, 2016

Don, it'll be an even worse move if Gannet buys tronic and makes the Union-Tribune "USA Yesterday". With robot "journalists" writing stories, and editors who-knows-where, the ole ink stains on local fingers will be few and far between.

Oct. 18, 2016

chriscarmichael: We have seen a decline both in delivery and quality of coverage since tronc bought the U-T. Look out for more. Best, Don Bauder

Oct. 19, 2016

Chris Brewster: It's true that these figures only represent print editions. The Alliance for Audited Media purports to measure electronic reach of papers. but I don't trust its information. Best, Don Bauder

Oct. 18, 2016

Walter Blevins: Agreed: one positive is that Papa Doug Manchester and his one-time sidekick, John Lynch, are no longer around. We don't have to read highly embarrassing stories putting George W. Bush among the five greatest presidents and Barack Obama among the five worst.

Today, the U-T's coverage of the Chargers stadium is slanted in favor of the project, but think what it would be under Manchester and Lynch. Manchester considers himself a conservative. But corporate welfare is NOT in the slightest conservative. Best, Don Bauder

Oct. 18, 2016

A newspaper is a great way of getting yesterdays news today. They are worthless unless you read the obits. News changes so fast that by the time a paper goes to print it is old news.

Oct. 18, 2016

AlexClarke:That is one of newspapers' biggest problems. By the time you get the paper in the morning, you have already seen the major news stories online or on TV. That's why newspapers should put more emphasis on investigative reporting and other types of stories that the reader can't get elsewhere. Best, Don Bauder

Oct. 18, 2016

AlexClarke: That is a good point. A century ago, news didn't change so quickly. Best, Don Bauder

Oct. 18, 2016

When print newspapers and professional journalists disappear, this country will be in deep trouble.

Who will watch the politicians and their "foundations" and self-interested corporate funders? Who will tell us about public utilities that rip off the public with the willing compliance of their citizen oversight committees appointed by the Governor? Who will report on the coastal watchdogs who are blind to the public interest, many of whom also are appointed by the Governor? Who will blow the whistle on banks that scandalously open unauthorized accounts in the names of their customers?

I could go on, but I won't. We got a presidential election year like this one because print journalism is being gutted by its economic woes and because the business model of "greed is good" has been the low standard in all areas of American life for the last 30-plus years. The performance of the press in this too-long presidential contest has been shocking -- we are right to worry where it all will end.

Oct. 18, 2016

monaghan: But how many newspapers have exposed the "greed is good" mentality of our nation? In many respects, daily newspapers lead cheers for the "greed is good" mentality. Best, Don Bauder

Oct. 18, 2016

I think the rise of the internet and decline of print newspapers has made it easier - not harder - for public watchdogs to be heard. IMO, neither Assaunge (sp?) nor Snowden would have made much impact 20 years ago.

Information is no longer controlled by a finite number of media outlets. Literally anyone in the world can post information to everyone in the entire world. There are certainly problems with that - there is much more variation now in the quality, veracity, and bias of news reporting. But all in all I think the internet is a far better media for distributing information than a limited number of news outlets.

Oct. 18, 2016

Mark Zegan: Correct me if I am wrong, but it seems to me that the El Cajon shooting made it around the world a couple of days before the U-T picked it up. Best, Don Bauder

Oct. 18, 2016

Mark Zegan: The Reader doesn't jump on every news story that pops up. The Reader will likely have a new and creative slant on a hot story. Best, Don Bauder

Oct. 18, 2016

ImJustABill:The Internet will eventually shove out radio news. It will take longer to supplant newspapers. Best, Don Bauder

Oct. 19, 2016

In the meantime, those of us in the hinterlands - North of Del Mar - get only a passing notice from San Diego news outlets. It has to be something salacious before notice is taken.

And to think, we (North San Diego County readers) used to have two thriving newspapers. Talk about being the red headed step-children!

Oct. 19, 2016

SkinnyMan: Yes. North County (which has higher household incomes than the rest of San Diego) is getting shorted. It took the U-T far too long to invade North County. Then it did so in a big way. There were good editions -- coastal and inland North County. Then it came crashing down. Best, Don Bauder

Oct. 19, 2016

Hey Don: Any circulation figures for Hispano/Latino newspapers?. THOSE have to be increasing, if anything. Maybe someday we'll see El Tribuno Uniono in the newstands on the curb.

Birds will still have lining for their cages.

Oct. 22, 2016

Rocket_J_Squirrel: Sorry. I don't have those numbers. Best, Don Bauder

Oct. 23, 2016

Laurence Peery: You make a good point, but the non-interest in news isn't restricted to San Diego. I think it is a factor that the editors, publishers, and academics pondering why the media are declining are missing: people don't read publications, watch TV news, track online news so much is at least partly a result of a lack of interest in news. This year, it may be because the political news is a farce. Best, Don Bauder

Oct. 27, 2016

We'uns pay a king's ransom for Internet "access" shell games.

Oct. 27, 2016

Flapper: Maybe that should be investigated. Best, Don Bauder

Oct. 30, 2016

Don, the U-T has been destroying its own circulation ever since Manchester bought it.

Before then we received it on our doorstep before 0600 during the week for over 30 years so we could read it before going to work or take it to work. After Manchester bought it (and sold it) it has been it has been going past 0700 delivery to as late as 0800 during the week, which is not something you want visible on your doorstep all day long until you get home from work.

We still subscribe to the U-T and the LATimes, but I have been retired for 17 years and it doesn't matter as much when it is delivered, but for most other potential and past subscribers of our older generations the U-T committed suicide.

Oct. 28, 2016

Anon92107: When a newspaper is looking for ways to cut costs, it should be careful looking at circulation. Best, Don Bauder

Oct. 30, 2016

Kind of off topic, but about newspapers. I have been a precinct volunteer for over 10 years. Many people bring their sample ballots, but I discovered a surprising number of people who bring the SDUT's Endorsement page with them and vote off of it.

Oct. 28, 2016

Ponzi: Taking the U-T's endorsements into the voting booth has been going on for decades. Best, Don Bauder

Oct. 30, 2016

Newspapers are a dying industry...Your news is now coming off online media...Companies in the print media industry must rapidly change or die..

Nov. 11, 2016

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