What is the Star's circ?

Dateline: Mon 18 Jun 2007

In preparing for the possibility of selling our home, I called the Star's marketing/advertisting/circ department to see about placing an ad. In the course of my chat with an anonymous woman -- a clerk (Frankie? Nicci? No matter) -- I asked her a question a lot of us have tossed around:

What is your Sunday circulation? What is daily?

Without skipping a beat to take a breath to blurt out a bald and dangerous lie, she said, "Sunday? Half a million. Daily is 300,000."

Beware, gentle reader: the paper that purports to bring you fair, accurate and truthful reporting has instructed its circulation people to lie about its circulation.

How do I know? Common sense and reserach. The Star reported a hike." some of the biggest increases for metros, up 2.4% to 261,405," for daily, the Editor and Publisher printed in April. I frankly do not believe that figure, either -- at least not in the sense that anything the paper reports is a genuine number.

A few years ago, when I was still working for the paper and prepping for a talk, I called Barbara Henry to get ciruclation figures; it was a fact I had always shared in the past with newspaper readers, who typically made up the audience. Instead of getting them over the phone, I was asked to stop by, where I was told that ciruclation was no longer relevant as a number; instead the paper relied on "readersrhip" figures. I forget the number she quoted -- it was something inflated as well -- but she explained that readership was the number of times a paper is touched on a daily basis.

The Star, like other Gannett publications, fudges its numbers by including all the freebies it gives away to schools and universities -- for which it is paid grant money. We all know the papers given to IUPUI, DePauw, etc., sit in stacks for the most part, only to be recycled; we've seen it, or I have and so have readers of this blog.

Anyhow, what are the true numbers for the Star? Who knows. When I was there during the Pulliam/Frank Caperton era, I recall we were always trying to beat 400,000 for Sunday and sometimes did. Daily was in the 200,000 range, probably the high end.

Here is what a former colleague recalls: "...they were something like 240,000 daily and 325,000 Sunday in 2001." (the year this person left).

Anyhow, in "The Chain Gang: One Newspaper Versus the Gannett Empire,"

newspaperman Richard McCord reports that Gannett got into big trouble for falsifying the sale of its Hartford Times to a new buyer. The paper under Gannett lost its socks to the Hartford Courant; in typical Gannett style, papers that are ruined by its draconian practices are dumped and sold. But when the paper claimed a 113,000 circulation instead of the accurate 105,000, and the new buyer realized he'd been had, the case when to court. Gannett was found guilty of fraud. The lies went all the way to the top: Robert Neuharth, founder and then prez, and legal counsel and former head Dougie McCokingdale, were both cited as being in on the scam.

Why is this relevant? Who knows when the Star may find itself in court on legal matters...

Lying about circulation is not just bad form; it's a crime. And that employee who told me the Star had a half mil Sunday and 300,000 daily committed fraud.

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