Circulation Decline Continues for Daily Newspapers

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Paid circulation is down for 18 of the nation's 20 largest papers, according to the latest figures. The drop is part of a decline that shows little sign of letting up.

STEVE INSKEEP, host:

Here's another sign of trouble for daily newspapers: paid circulation is down at 18 of the nation's 20 largest papers. This is part of a continuing decline that shows little sign of letting up. NPR's David Folkenflik reports.

DAVID FOLKENFLIK reporting:

John Kimball has a name for the twice-yearly release of newspaper circulation figures.

Mr. JOHN KIMBALL (Chief Marketing Officer, Newspaper Association of America): The flogging of ourselves.

FOLKENFLIK: Kimball's the chief marketing officer at the Newspaper Association of America, and industry group. But he says figures aren't as bad as they sound.

Mr. KIMBALL: It really is a measure of how many people purchased the newspaper today, how many units were sold. It doesn't say anything about how many people read them, how many people used them or the demographics of those people.

FOLKENFLIK: But the numbers do sound daunting. The San Francisco Chronicle lost more than 16 percent of its daily circulation compared to the same six-month period a year ago. At the Orlando Sentinel, it was about 11 percent while The Boston Globe dropped more than 8 percent. Davis Merritt was editor of The Wichita Eagle for 22 years. He's the author of a recent book highly critical of The Eagle's owner, Knight Ridder. Merritt says media companies like Knight Ridder are making deep cuts to keep profits high, and that's helping to drive readers away.

Mr. DAVIS MERRITT (Author): I think it's being accelerated by the fact of the cutbacks in staffing and news hall. There's less there than people are accustomed to getting.

FOLKENFLIK: But John Kimball says newspapers aren't getting enough credit from advertisers for the readers they're getting online and in niche publications such as commuter tabloids, suburban weeklies and Spanish language dailies. David Folkenflik, NPR News, Washington.

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