US Newspapers Tighten Circulation Controls

26 October 2004

Executives at a number of major US newspaper companies are now personally vouching for reader numbers in a bid to restore confidence in the industry's circulation figures.

Following the scandal of 'sexing up' circulations at the Tribune company, Hollinger International and Belo earlier this year, Knight Ridder, McClatchy and EW Scripps bosses, among others, are signing their names to the circulation figures of their publications.

Department chiefs have also been closely questioned to asses the risk level of fraud on their particular newspapers.

The move comes in advance of the Audit Bureau of Circulations' release of March to September reader numbers for around 1,000 daily papers on November 1.

Since the scandal came to light the companies in question have paid millions of dollars in compensation to advertisers.

Among the less upstanding practices uncovered were the delivery of newspapers free to homes while claiming they were genuine sales and inducing distributors not to return unsold copies

But the industry is breathing a collective sigh of relief that these incidents appear to have been isolated, with no further revelations of malpractice.

Says Paul Ginochio, analyst at Deutsche Bank: "If I'm a chief executive of a public newspaper company, my window of opportunity to announce a circulation scandal has pretty much closed. It now looks like it was just a few bad apples."

Adds Gary B Pruitt, chairman of McClatchy: "All newspapers know that circulation departments are big, complex, far-flung operations. They require a great deal of vigilance and checking. That has increased since these stories broke concerning inflated numbers."

Data sourced from New York Times; additional content by WARC staff