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Monday, November 21, 2011

I had a pleasant surprise this morning when I opened up my copy of the Dayton Daily News and saw a 'teaser' article at the bottom of the front page.  Julia Wallace, publisher of the newspaper, announced to the paper's readers that the Sunday circulation for the official reporting period from March-September 2011 had increased, the first such gain in the past 10 years.  She thanked the readership and directed us to go to the above page (AA4), where Jana Collier, the paper's editor-in-chief, explains the recent changes.

On that full-page 'thank you', Collier provided a recap of the recent efforts to revamp the 113-year old daily (change in appearance, a new Local section, and an increased focus on investigative journalism) as well as a change in its editorial process (balancing views by conservative and liberal columnists, asking for reader input instead of posting an editor's perspective on important issues).  Feedback from readers, examples of the investigative stories, and an overview of future improvements round out the display.  Her letter ended by thanking the readers--to include the members of our household who have been subscribers since moving here in the late 1990s--and hoping that we will look to the paper as our news source for years to come.

Being a journalist-in-training, I went back and reread that entire page as well as Wallace's introduction and one glaring piece of information was missing.  If there was an increase in readership, where is the quantifiable data to back that claim up?  During my studies, I have read that the current period is supposedly the worst time in the history of print journalism.  With an ever expanding list of sources for people to get their news from (television, radio, internet) coupled with recent changes to this media's traditional business model, newspapers have seen precipitous slides in their subscribers and many, to include the DDN, are hemorrhaging jobs and consolidating operations to maintain profitability.  I could not let this obvious omission get by me so off to 'the Google' I went.

The first site that I visited was the Ohio Newspaper Association, a non-profit trade association of 250 daily and weekly newspapers and more than 150 websites in the state.  Last week, they posted an article concerning the recent circulation data release and provided the Ohio numbers from the Audit Bureau of Circulations report.  The Dayton Daily News' Sunday circulation was given as 149,268 readers (with 92,750 on Saturdays and a 93.259 average for Monday-Friday editions) which does show a nearly 5,000 reader increase over figures on Cox Media Group Ohio's own website (from March 2010).  In their opinion, the ONA believes that no meaningful comparison can be done between those two sets of data and that the papers that are touting increases are using internal statistics to base their claims.

The American Newspaper Association's press release on this recent phenomenon provides a clue as to why the Sunday circulation figures are what these gaining publications are citing:

For many papers, Sunday is the most profitable day of the week, given heavy advertising spending in both display and preprint advertising to reach a broad, local audience. In addition to the traditional Sunday print edition, newspaper publishers are launching free opt-in products to nonsubscriber audience segments highly valued by advertisers.

“Many newspapers are demonstrating that focusing on the overall value proposition of their Sunday products can deliver concrete results,” said Caroline Little, president and CEO of the Newspaper Association of America.

One of the DDN's sister publications, the Atlanta Journal Constitution, was singled out for its recent Sunday success:

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution demonstrates how newspapers focusing aggressively on local journalism are able to win the hearts and minds of Sunday readers. “The research we did showed a great hunger for deep, investigative news,” said Amy Glennon, vice president of audience. “We made some changes in our editorial pages with a new lineup of columnists to bring a balance of authoritative and strong viewpoints to the page.” Combining its focus on local journalism with operational changes in single copy and a high demand for coupons, the AJC’s Sunday circulation has risen 6.7 percent.
When directly compared to the Collier piece, it appears that the Dayton paper is simply following the strategy that Cox Media Group is taking with that Atlanta-based daily and its other publications in Austin, Texas and Palm Beach, Florida.

Sunday appears to be a important day in terms of newspaper readership.  As a subscriber to just the Sunday edition of the New York Times, I get the features I want to have in print as well as 24/7 computer and smartphone access to their website to keep up with ongoing events throughout the week.  In today's uncertain economic times, manufacturer newspaper coupons have become a highly valued commodity.  The Dayton paper highlights just how much readers can save by purchasing the Sunday offering by prominently featuring that total above the fold on the main page ($193 in today's edition).  Subscribers can weigh the current $23 monthly subscription price for 7-day print delivery (only $13/month for Sunday print and weekday 'E-dition' electronic copies) or the $2 newsstand price against the potential hundreds in savings on consumer items they may already be buying.

As I have said in other entries here, I grew up with newspapers and that format will be my preferred medium for printed news until I am no longer able to physically pick one up.  While I do get some news through online locations and smartphone apps, they don't provide the intimacy that curling up with a broadsheet edition on my favorite recliner does.  I honestly tried to use my Nook Color to read copies of the New York Times and the Columbus Dispatch but it was excruciating slow to scroll through hundreds of pages to follow lengthy stories to their conclusions and those trial subscriptions were quickly terminated (magazines are a different story and will be covered at a later date).  In all of my research, I have found that the Adobe Reader-formatted editions of the Stars and Stripes, the United States Department of Defense's daily paper for overseas personnel, to be the closest I have come to replicating the traditional news-reading experience on a display device.

All in all, I am glad to see the Dayton paper succeeding in its goal of increasing readership and I will continue to do my part to help them sustain those figures.  A betting person, however, would have to wager on this recent news being just a one-time upward 'blip' instead of a sustained trend.

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