How Are Newspapers Reporting on Newspaper Circulation?

GRAPHSIESThere were two trends I noticed while compiling yesterday’s chart of the last two decades of newspaper circulation trends. I relied upon the New York Times for data, and one trend I found there was that, in general, over the last 16 years, reporting the actual number of newspapers circulated grew and then radically diminished. Instead, most often, the data given was year-over-year percentage changes, or other far less specific metrics. In today’s paper, Richard Perez-Pena nicely reports both percentages and actual numbers for 7 papers. But back in this story from April, actual numbers are only given for one paper-the Times itself. The other trend-well, it is largely a flat-line trend!-was the New York Times headlines themselves. Very rarely did media reporters attach themselves to a narrative such as the now-moot Denver newspaper battle, or the nearly-moot New York tabloid battle. Mostly, well….

So first, I wanted to look into the actual provision of numbers to the reader within reported stories because I got a sense at times that information was being obscured from the reader-as part of what I (anecdotally) see as a general trend of putting less “facty” information in newspapers. The amount of actual numbers given-as in “The Los Angeles Times, owned by Tribune, reported daily circulation fell 6.5 percent, to 907,997”-per article is then averaged for each year and in five-year increments.

Actual Citations

So! What we see is that there is radically less actual information about the real amount of newspapers sold in the last six years-the time of the real newspaper circulation crisis-than in the two previous five-year increments.

And, well. Here are all the headlines since 1994 that convey the twice-a-year reports on newspapers from the Audit Bureau of Circulations. Are you ready? You’re not ready. And I lied-it’s not really a flat trend. Reading through them in chronological order, it’s more like “meh bad same same same worser hey better worse worse OH GOD WORSE MUCH WORSE PANIC.”


8 of 10 Largest U.S. Papers Have Declines in Circulation
April 30, 1994

Large Newspapers Report New Falloffs in Circulation
November 1, 1994

Circulation Drop Continues At Most Large Newspapers
May 2, 1995

Circulation Drops at Many Large Papers
October 31, 1995

Big Newspapers Report Circulation Losses Are Slowing
April 30, 1996

Nation’s Newspapers Report Mixed Results on Circulation
November 1, 1996

Drops in Circulation Continue for Most Big Newspapers
May 6, 1997

Sunday Circulation Decreases At Many Big City Newspapers
November 4, 1997

Circulation Of Papers Rises Slightly, Audit Says
May 4, 1998

Paid Newspaper Circulation In U.S. Continues to Decline
November 3, 1998

Newspaper Industry Fails To Stem Circulation Drop
May 4, 1999

Denver Papers Log Big Gains In Circulation
November 11, 1999

Newspaper Circulation on the Rise
May 2, 2000

USA Today Widens Its Lead In Daily Circulation Figures
October 31, 2000

Newspaper Circulation [Short report]
May 1, 2001

Bulk Sales Bolster USA Today’s Lead in National Circulation
October 30, 2001

Some Big Papers Buck Trend of Circulation Drops
May 7, 2002

Tabloid War Is Tightening As Post Gains In New York
November 6, 2002

Post Gains on Daily News In a New York Paper War
May 6, 2003

Report Has Mixed News For Papers
November 4, 2003

Newspaper Circulation Continues Overall Decline
May 4, 2004

Newspaper Circulation Continues to Decline
November 2, 2004

Newspapers’ Circulation Still Going Down
May 3, 2005

Newspaper Daily Circulation Down 2.6%
November 8, 2005

U.S. Newspaper Circulation Fell 2.5% in Latest Period
May 9, 2006

Newspaper Circulation Falls Sharply
October 31, 2006

Newspaper Circulation in Steep Slide Across Nation
May 1, 2007

More Readers Trading Newspapers for Web Sites
November 6, 2007

Most Papers Again Report Big Declines In Circulation [AP story]
April 29, 2008

Newspaper Circulation Continues to Decline Rapidly
October 28, 2008

Fall in Newspaper Sales Accelerates to Pass 7%
April 28, 2009

U.S. Newspaper Circulation Falls 10%
October 27, 2009