Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Here We Go Again With Sherm

Circulation figures in newspapers are tricky business. As I reported on Monday, the Review-Journal was one of a few publications that enjoyed an apparent increase during a reporting period that saw disastrous declines.

I was willing to consider the prospect that the R-J bump was due to a rise in interest following the Sun's Pulitzer. That made some sense. Otherwise, what had changed? The coverage has been curtailed, sections have been folded into one another and the product overall contains less value.

Then the R-J's own chief told Editor & Publisher that, in fact, there was no gain at all, that the increase was due to new accounting rules that permit the inclusion of the 20,000 subscribers who receive the R-J's electronic edition. That's a surprisingly high number, but let's take them at their word. And this is their word from that story:

Steve Coffeen, director of corporate circulation for Stephens Media, which owns the Review-Journal, says the paper's print circulation is actually down seven percent daily and four percent on Sunday.

"I would say all of it is based on the electronic edition," Coffeen said of the increase. "We have about 20,000 electronic subscribers who were not allowed to be included before because of pricing rules. We didn't change anything, they changed the rules."

How, then, could it be that the publisher, Sherman Frederick, is out there bragging about a circulation increase when his own people are admitting to a decrease?

From Chuck Muth's e-mail missive Nevada News & Views today:

That Was No Joke - Las Vegas Review-Journal publisher Sherman Frederick also spoke briefly at the Keystone dinner and assured everyone in attendance that Sen. Harry Reid’s remark back in August that he hoped the conservative paper would go out of business was definitely not a joke; that it was intended and received as a serious threat. Frederick also noted that the RJ’s circulation has increased since the brouhaha erupted while other papers are losing subscribers.

Oh, dear. Not only is Frederick misrepresenting the circulation change again but he's pretending that there's an increase that was caused by the paper's conservative positions and his personal jihad against Sen. Harry Reid.

So, if the circulation actually FELL 7 percent, can we just as reasonably conclude that people are cancelling their subscriptions because Sherm has been hatin' on Harry? Yes, that's an absurd notion -- there are too many broader factors driving newspaper circulation fluctuations to pin it in any way on any particular article or situation -- but it wasn't too absurd for this guy to claim in the reverse!

As I've documented here, this is not the first time Sherm Frederick has played fast and loose with circulation figures to fit his ego or political purposes. In an April 6, 2008 column, he wrote, "Because of readers such as you, the Las Vegas Review-Journal will be one of the few metropolitan newspapers in the country to post a nice gain in paid circulation this year."

Trouble was, he was writing for a Sunday audience that had shrunk 2 percent. The weekday circulation was up 1.2 percent, true, but in whose reasonable mind is that a "nice gain"? And the paper was still down 7.2 percent at that point from its 2006 figures, so bragging required an amount of hubris that I can barely fathom.

I like the paper and especially like the two-in-one part of what I get on my driveway every day. I wish more people read it and were better informed. But I find it incredibly sad that its publisher knew the reason for the apparent increase, knew that it was actually a decrease and still chose to stand before his ideological brethren and lie.

It's sad, but it's not, sadly, surprising.


J.T. said...

I am so tired of Sherman Frederick complaining about this "threat" from Harry Reid and saying that this "ugly bullying... won't be tolerated". It just seems so obvious to me that Reid was joking. It's almost embarrassing that the publisher of a major Nevada newspaper would so spectacularly misinterpret a comment by our most prominent politician. To me, it shows that Frederick doesn't understand Reid at all.

Michael said...

Definitely very concerning statements by Sherman to 'spin' the facts of circulation. Nice job in calling it out.

atdnext said...

Heh. The only reason why I ever buy The R-J is to read The Sun. This confirms it. Not only is The R-J sorely lacking in real reporting, but Shermy is really ruining whatever is left of their reputation by continuing this jihad with Harry Reid over nothing.