Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Circulation At L.A. Times Has Now Fallen 325,000 Since Tribune Bought The Paper

The news is terrible. As circulation figures fall fairly generally for newspapers across the country, the L.A. Times once again has experienced one of the worst drops -- 8% daily and 6% Sunday in just the past six months, to 775,766.

Calling the declines "one of (the industry's) sharpest declines in recent history," New York Times writer Katherine D. Seelye this morning, writes, "The figures appear to be the steepest in any comparable six-month period in at least 15 years. They come after the sale of the Knight Ridder newspapers this year and in the midst of a possible sale of the Tribune Company, whose assets include 11 newspapers. The circulation losses also follow recent sour earnings reports, raising questions about why anyone would want to buy a newspaper now."

Jim Rainey is not as frank in the L.A. Times story. He must be on a very tight leash, because the new publisher sent by Chicago to the L.A. Times, David Hiller, issued yesterday one of the most clueless statements ever about the declines.

Hiller, whose apparent chief exploit in life was to become a friend and colleague of Bill Clinton persecutor Ken Starr, went all the way back to the first years of Tribune ownership, when Times circulation first dipped below a million daily, to come up with a lame excuse for what is happening. It was the same excuse Tribune used when the decline began.

Hiller said, "Our total paid numbers, which showed declines of 8% daily and 6% on Sunday, reflect our strategy for improving the quality of our circulation by reducing other paid circulation."

Ho Ho! If Hiller had been in charge of the Nazi invasion of the Soviet Union, he would have characterized Stalingrad as a German victory.

But his characterization of what he laughably called "solid and encouraging results," went on to cite the recent redesign of Section A of the Times as an example of the progress.

The redesign is quite simply a disaster, and if Hiller thinks otherwise, he should be examined for possible dementia.

Finally, he concludes in his message to the staff, "Thanks for all of your efforts on these fronts. They really show."

Those last three words would have been more accurate had they read, "Declines really stink."

Other newspapers, of course, also lost circulation. The New York Times was down 3.5% after softening the news offerings of the paper. The New York Times-owned Boston Globe was down 6.7%, the Sacramento Bee 5.5%, the San Diego Union-Tribune 3.2%, the Orange County Register 3.8% and so forth. Only The New York Post, New York Daily News and St. Louis Post Dispatch showed circulation gains of the 23 large newspapers listed today in the New York Times.

The average circulation decline in all the nation's papers was 2.8%. But the former Times-Mirror papers so woefully neglected by the Tribune co. had a record worse than average. In addition to the L.A. Times' 8% decline, Newsday was down 5%, and I've read elsewhere the Baltimore Sun is down about 4.4%.

Today's articles report that reading of papers online is showing increases, but so far there isn't much money in that. There may be in the future, however. But Tribune Co. has prevented the L.A. Times web site from spending money on improvements.

Altogether, the latest news is alarming. When one of the LAT managing editors, Leo Wolinsky, said last spring that Times circulation might decline below 800,000 I hoped he would be wrong. But it turns out he wasn't.

And with Hiller in charge of the Times, circulation is bound to go even lower.

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