Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Conflict of Numbers

This morning's business section carries an in-house ad that urges readers to write a letter to the editor and "share your thoughts with 80,000 of your friends and neighbors." It's a bit of boosterism spun from a deliberately misleading number.

Since the entire population of Charlotte County is about 150,000 and DeSoto's is a fifth of that (we're not counting cows), the 80,000 number suggests that every second or third person is strolling around with a paid-for copy of one of the Suns under his/her arm.

Well, that doesn't sound right to Old Word Wolf. The nice folks at The Lakeland Ledger were happy to look up some current reports on file at Audit Bureau Circulations, a company that maintains a proprietary database of newspaper data. Here's what ABC says about the Charlotte Sun:
-- For the six-month period ending Sept. 30 2008 compared to the same period the prior year, ABC reports the Sun's 2008 Sunday circulation fell to 43,331 from 46,490.
-- The paper's average Monday through Friday circulation in 2008 declined to 37,241 from 38,115 the year before.
-- Saturday circulation in 2008 shrank to 31,204, downfrom 32,513 the same period a year earlier.

The figures for the first six months of 2009 are not posted yet, but Old World Wolf will be very, very impressed to hear that Charlotte Sun circulation has more than doubled to 80,000.

Of course, the ad creates wiggle room: "Friends and neighbors" probably isn't the same as paid circulation. The publishers may well be calculating a pass-along readership, freebies, or even Web traffic. The problem is, the president of Sun Coast Media Group last Sunday claimed his newspaper's growing circulation figures had reached "record levels." The numbers don't tell the same story.

Now, OWW doesn't want to see any newspaper's circulation decline; there is no joy in watching a vernable institution that's so closely tied to the workings of democracy wither away. But there is no room for misleading readers. If circulation is so good, where have all the reporters, photojournalists, and real editors gone?

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