Gannett Disputes NiemanLab Article On Circulation

Gannett, which receives massive publicity, some of it negative, has made a rare request for a correction.  

The newspaper chain has disputed reporting by NiemanLab. 

The offending article, an analysis by writer Josh Benton of Gannett’s current business standing, states that the company’s top nine local newspapers lost an average of 66.8% of their Sunday circulation from Q3 2018 to Q3 2022, based on Alliance for Audited Media filings. 

Benton adds that every Gannett paper “saw a circulation decline of at least 52%.” 

In contrast, the article reports 26.5% circulation rise in nine similar non-Gannett publications.  

Benton also reports a decline for USA Today from 2.6 million in Q3 2018 to 180,381. It adds that the earlier figure might have been inflated, and that a fairer comparison would be paid print circulation. This fell from 579,692 to 134,619 in 2022.  

In addition, Benton reports a circulation freefall at the Daily Advertiser of Lafayette, Louisiana.

The article also states that, in Q4 2022, “digital subscriptions at Gannett newspapers — all of them — brought in a total of $35.5 million. But the company spent more than that, $47.3 million, just on debt payments.”

It is not clear that these were the details objected to by Gannett.  

But Gannett provided this quote to Benton, which is included in the article: “Gannett continues to make tremendous progress on our strategic priorities which include a focus on increasing digital growth. We have an increasingly engaged digital audience with digital-only subscription revenue growing nearly 30% year-over-year.”  

It continues, “Digital-only subscriptions grew to over 2 million during the fourth quarter of 2022. Since the second quarter of 2022, paid digital-only subscriptions have outnumbered full access or print subscriptions.”

After the article appeared, Gannett responded, “A recent Nieman Lab article utilizes Alliance for Audited Media (AAM) data to inaccurately depict Gannett’s circulation and subscriber figures. We have requested a correction. 

“AAM data is used to help advertisers understand publisher reach in specific markets, not to infer readership or paid circulation.

“Further, the story narrative contradicts our mission. We remain dedicated to serving communities by delivering trusted local journalism as we continue to focus on our opportunities for digital growth while evolving our legacy print business.”  

Benton added this to the article: “A mea culpa. I originally referred in this section to ‘paying readers’ and ‘paid readership’ when quoting the circulation numbers Gannett (and other companies) file with the Alliance for Audited Media (AAM; formerly known as the Audit Bureau of Circulations, or ABC). I meant it to be an umbrella term bigger than 'subscribers,' since the numbers also included single-copy readers who don’t subscribe. But the vagaries of circulation reporting mean that the totals publishers report both exclude some paying readers and include some non-paying readers. (More about that later.) That’s my mistake.” 

Benton continued, “I’ve also updated the 2018 circulation number for the Detroit Free Press. The paper reported a ‘total combined average circulation’ that year of 933,926, which is the number I’d used before. But to get to that outsized total, the Freep counted not just the regular newspaper but also something called Yes! Your Essential Shopper, a weekly free shopper thrown on porches around the region. (Some consider this genre of publication more litter than newspaper, but advertisers appreciate their larger reach versus a paid daily.”

In his statement, Benton added, “Many metro newspapers have similar products — though in my experience most list them as separate publications for circulation-counting purposes, rather than lump them together with the main paper.) But between 2018 and 2022, the Free Press stopped counting Your Essential Shopper as part of its circulation, which increased the scale of the decline between those years. In order to make the comparison more parallel with the others, I’ve removed the shopper’s 716,455 copies from the Free Press total, bringing it down to 217,471. That change reduces the overall Gannett circulation carnage from 77% to 67%.”

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