Monday, June 28, 2004

Are Newspapers Stealing Your Money?

Back when The Houston Post was a going concern, there was low talk in the newsroom about how the crosstown rival No. 1 newspaper Houston Chronicle might be cheating on its circulation figures.

It was all hush-hush. And, frankly, it was so long ago, that my recollections are hazy, but if memory serves, The Post even had one of its reporters look into the allegation. There was talk about bundles of Chron newspapers being thrown away in Dumpsters, but nothing ever came out about it, at least publicly. Maybe it was all just idle newspaper gossip, given the competition between the two newspapers.

But now some major newspapers such as the Chicago Sun-Times, Newsday and Hoy have admitted that, yes, they have lied about how many papers they sell. This follows revelations from the magazine industry that the now-defunct Rosie magazine and other publications in the stable of Gruner & Jahr have been lying about sales.

Why is this imortant to the Average Joe?

Because circulation figures determine how much advertisers pay to place their ads. They recoup their advertising costs, one way or another, by pricing their goods and services accordingly. If advertisers are paying inflated advertising fees, then you are paying too much for certain goods and services.

Many questions now surround the Audit Bureau of Circulation, which supposedly verifies that newspaper circulation figures are accurate. "It is a totally and preposterously antiquated system," the general manager of magazine publisher Wenner Media told The New York Times in a story today.

Where does this leave The Houston Chronicle? Was all the low talk in the newsroom of the now-dead Houston Post just idle gossip or was there something to it?

The answer may lie in a lawsuit.

The Chronicle, one of only a few major circulation newspapers in the country to report their circulation figures were up (by a miniscule margin) during the last reporting period, is being sued by a group of its own distributors who say they were required to accept far more newspapers than they ever sold.

The Chronicle has denied it's done anything wrong. Will it settle the lawsuit out of court in order to keep a lid on anything embarrassing? Will The Chronicle report on this?

If the newspaper is lying about its circulation, all its chastizing about the Enrons of the world will be laughable.

More on the circulation scandal from The Miami Herald
Heads Roll @ Magazine Shop
Sun-Times Fibbers Quit
More on Circulation Scandal
Newsday Firing Related to Flap

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