Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Poor circulation and dubious claims at the Post-Star; financial distress at Lee (guest essay)(updated)

Editor's note: This is the 3rd in a series. Also see Lee's Last Stand (Part 1) and Nearer My God to Thee: An Update on the Corporate Crisis at Lee Enterprises (Part 2).

by Mark Wilson

The latest Audit Bureau of Circulations report was released this week, covering newspaper circulation from October 1, 2010 through March 31, 2011. Coverage of this race of attrition is by Chris Churchill of the Albany Times-Union, not coincidentally the circulation leader in the greater Albany region.

Newspaper M-F (digital subscriptions incl'd)
Times-Union 66,835
Schenectady Daily Gazette 62,015
Post-Star 25,705
Troy Record 9,951
Saratogian 6,889

The figures for the Post-Star show a further decline in its readership, with a 4% loss Monday through Friday (25,705) and a 5.3% loss on Sundays (28,641).

Poststar.com still claims weekday circulation of 30,500 (18.6% inflation) and Sunday circulation of 32,000 (11.7% inflation). So much for reliability in journalism.

This current Audit Bureau report is the first to include detailed accounts of activity at each newspaper's website.

Meanwhile in Davenport, Iowa, the board of Lee Enterprises has scuttled its plan to float just over one billion dollars in junk bonds. The feeding frenzy that is the high-risk securities market these days simply wasn't interested. In a letter to investors at the Lee website, CEO Mary Junck explains that the company is working hard to find some way to refinance the corporate debt that will come due next April. Junck chipped in herself, buying 100,000 shares of the corporate stock (definitely a buyers' market there as the share value dipped below one dollar last week).

Unless something radically wonderful happens to the economy, the print newspaper industry, or readers news-gathering habits, Lee's strategy will most certainly turn to selling off various properties. The low-hanging fruit here would likely include its farthest-flung newspaper in Lihu'e, Hawai'i, and perhaps the New York properties, the Post-Star and the Auburn Citizen

Update (5/17/11): The Post-Star has updated it's "Advertise on our site" page, removing the false circulation claims. Though over on the employment web page, the Post-Star still calls itself a "twenty-nine-thousand circulation, daily newspaper" ... at least this exaggeration is directed at people looking to work at the paper, and not at potential advertisers. Progress.

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