Full of it on and off the page

Jennifer Saba writes in Editor and Publisher: It’s been an embarrassing week for newspapers, especially for those in circulation departments at Newsday in Melville, N.Y. and at the Chicago Sun-Times. Both papers admitted, after markets closed for the day, to puffing circulation figures….

The ABC audit revealed the problems at Newsday and Hoy back in February, John Payne, senior vice president of communications for Audit Bureau of Circulations, told E&P. ABC plans to release its findings in July, though the Tribune Co., which owns Newsday and Hoy, essentially pre-empted ABC by announcing the overstated figures yesterday. “It’s very unusual to talk about an audit that has not been released,” Payne commented. Newsday had inflated its circulation figures for the period ending September 2003 by approximately 40,000 daily copies and 60,000 Sunday copies, while Hoy jacked up its numbers by 15,000 and 4,000 respectively….

Troubled by last week’s circulation scandals at Hollinger International’s Chicago Sun-Times and the Tribune Co.’s Newsday and Hoy, Merrill Lynch’s Lauren Rich Fine released a report today calling into question the reliability of circulation figures for the entire industry. “Our biggest fear,” the report said, “is that these two announcements may not be isolated incidents.”

As ever, I fail to be surprised by the reality that you cannot believe in the accuracy of anything printed in a newspaper. I spoke to an executive in the gold producing business a few days ago; he lamented that every single time he speaks to a reporter, they get something wrong in the subsequent story. I reminded him that the same is no doubt true of every other story in the paper – whatever you’re reading almost surely contains something false, the challenge is to determine precisely which part.