More puffery from Ryerson

Dateline: Tue 31 Mar 2009

At a time when newspapers are enduring the biggest crisis of their existence -- the Chicago Sun-Times is the latest to file for bankruptcy protection -- Dennis Ryerson, exec editor of the Star, writes a Sunday column about how high "readership" is in the Indianapolis market.

On Sunday, he told readers, "In Indianapolis, you are among 80 percent of all adults who regularly read The Star and Indystar.com.

"These numbers," he continued, "come from Scarborough Research, a national company that measures consumer lifestyle, shopping and media behaviors. It released its latest readership information last week, noting that even in weaker readership markets, more than half of adults regularly read papers."

If things are so wonderful, then why is Star management again mandating furloughs of its employees -- round No. 2 -- and a freeze on salaries?

Ryerson implies that the culprit is advertisers, but he provides no proof of that statement.

As has been reported here in the past, the newspaper industry deliberately misleads when it comes to circulation figures; it now counts -- and Gannett is the leader of the pack in this -- "readers," which means anyone who touches a newspaper in a given time span. Circulation figures are a thing of the past; they show the declines that all newspapers have experienced.

The other part of the story is that the Indianapolis Star remains a productive player in the Gannett chain, according to sources still toiling in the industry.

To Ryerson's credit, he heaps praise on reporters for several stories that have appeared of late -- (of course, he leads with a graphic): the "exclusive graphic information" about upcoming roadwork at high-traffic spots in Indy; Phil Richards' wonderful story on Larry Bird and the Indiana State University glory days; disparity of services between poor and middle-income neighborhoods in the city; and a nod to the Taste food section. I would add Bobby King's Sunday story about a pastor accused of sexual harassment and Matt Tully's recent columns on the Pacers.

Praise is great, but it does not pay the bills. If Ryerson's heart was really where his head is, he would challenge Gannett's efforts to furlough more employees and demand top-heavy corporate execs take a hike.

That would be getting to the truth of what is wrong with newspapers today.

Here's the link to the Scarborough report --

http://www.scarborough.com/press_releases/INA%20FINAL%203.25.pdf

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