Foreign news and conjuring with the circulation figures

Even though news graphics often provide newspaper readers with more vivid versions of news events than  mere words can sometimes offer, enthusiasm sometimes takes the place of accuracy, or consistency, as in the case of the Chilean mine story, which broke in the papers generally on 23rd August, a fortnight after the shaft collapse which buried 33 miners alive.

All the newspapers agreed on many basic details, with one exception: where
exactly did the collapse take place that entombed the miners?

The Irish Daily Star’s  and Irish Daily Mail’s graphic indicated plainly
that the collapse had taken place in a part of the winding mine galleries
leading 4.5 kilometres down to the level at which the men had been working.

The Irish Daily Mirror and the Irish Sun plumped – with dramatic graphics
– for a version that showed the collapse as having taken place in a vertical
lift shaft.

But whereas these versions indicated that the rescue shaft would be drilled from an underground point above the point in the lift shaft where the blockage had supposedly taken place, the other two newspapers indicated that the rescue shaft would be drilled all the way from the surface.

They can’t all be right. But the problem in this case lies with the news agencies rather than with the newspapers themselves.

In the good old days, newspapers would indicate to their readers which news
agency or agencies had supplied their foreign material. They should do it
again.
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Which is the only newspaper that puts bad news about itself on its front
page and bad news about its rivals on an inside page?

The Irish Times, that’s who.

When the Audit Bureau of Circulations (ABC) report details were published in the newspapers on 20th August, the Irish Times, presumably in accordance with a long-standing editorial policy, published its fall in circulation at the very top of the front page, banishing the not-quite-so-bad news about its main competitor, the Irish Independent (a 3.3% fall compared with the Irish Times 7.6% decline) to page 2 of its Business News supplement.

That same article, however, carried the information that 91.9% of Irish Times
copies were ‘actively purchased’ (i.e. excluding bulk sales and discounts),
compared with 87.1% of the Irish Independent?s circulation total. Also included was the information that, compared to the immediately preceding six months, the Irish Times fall in circulation had been only 1.1%, compared to the Irish Independent?s 3.3%.

Readers unfamiliar with the basis on which these figures are compiled and
(usually) compared would have been unaware of the fact that the normal basis for comparison is with the same period in the preceding year, not the most recent preceding period, given that the figures are compiled on a six-monthly basis.

All in all, readers would need to have purchased all the newspapers on 20th
August, and on the following Sunday,  to get the full flavour of the way
in which the same statistics ? which, by any standards, represent serious
problems for all the newspapers concerned ? can be presented as if they were
Olympic victories.

A better league table can be created by looking at the percentage fall in
circulation for each title, rather than gross circulation figures, although
ideally this should also be corrected to allow for discounted and bulk sales.
On the basis of gross figures, the table runs as follows (all percentages
represent circulation losses): Sunday Tribune (-17.2%), Sunday Business Post(-14.1%), Evening Echo (7.9%), Irish Times (-7.6%), Irish Examiner (-7.3%), Evening Herald (-5.0%), Irish Independent (-4.8%), Sunday Times (-4.2%), and Sunday World (-3.7%).

In this league table, the stellar performance was that of the Irish Farmers’s Journal, bucking the trend at only -1.4%.

A discreet veil was drawn for the most part over the details of the performance of the Sun, the Mirror and the Star, for which (despite the fact that they are all members of National Newspapers of Ireland) separate ABC figures are published, although the Irish Times noted that their circulations had all declined.

And the Irish Examiner, in a very modest three-paragraph story on page 17
on 20th August, shyly concealed its loss in circulation behind the proud boast that only 0.3% of this circulation was made up of bulk or discounted sales.

Undeterred, the Irish Independent headlined: “Robust ‘Irish Independent’
outperforms its rivals”; all that was missing was the exclamation mark, which
might have been justified by the dutifully reported fact that the gap between
the Irish Independent and ‘the second biggest national daily broadsheet’
(now what could that possibly be?) was “now 1,438 copies wider than it was
a year ago.”

The same article trumpeted the Star’s lead over the Sun, and the category-leading performance, despite the admitted circulation losses of the Independent’s stable mates the Sunday Independent and the Sunday World.

No  modesty, false or otherwise, at the Sunday World itself, which blazoned
its status as ‘the nation’s biggest Sunday paper’, with ne’er a mention of the fact that it was slightly less big than in the same period last year.

As Christine Keeler once famously remarked, ‘They would say that, wouldn’t
they?’

By far the more interesting figures, however, were to be found in the JNRS
Readership figures, published some time previously, and available on the
JNRS website. These figures, which included the tabloids, actually showed
increases in readership by adults aged 15+ in the case of many titles, although the number of people regularly reading a newspaper in the Republic fell by 10,000.

The suspicion that this figure indicates a fall in multiuple purchases (and
therefore in multiple readership) is born out by the figures: whereas the
Irish Times readership fell by 5,000, that of the Irish Independent increased
by almost exactly the ssame amount. The direst news was for the Evening |herald, with a readership decline of 61,000, the largest fall registered for any daily or weekly newspaper.

The Irish Times had some interesting company: the Irish Examiner (-6,000),
The Star (-26,000), the Sunday Independent  (-11,000), and the Sunday World (-40,000). An unusual trio bucked the trend: the Sunday Times (+51,000), the Sunday Business Post (+31,000), and the Irish Farmers’ Journal (+19,000).

While the Sunday Independent proudly declared that its 992,000 readership
was a ‘staggering’ figure, readers were left in ignorance of the fact that it was slightly less staggering than the previous comparable figures. If they had read the Irish Times, of course, they would have been better informed of this fact, and of the latter newspaper’s high profile among upper social class readers and Dublin residents. Horses for courses, and all that.
While one swallow, or even a handful of swallows, does not make a summer, there may be straws in the wind. One is the success of the Irish Farmers’ Journal, a potent indication of the more positive future for niche publications.

The other is the improved readership figures of some supplements, which plainly reflect wide variations on readership on different days of the week, and which is manifest to some degree in increased readership of the supplements even of those papers whose overall readership has declined.

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