September 12, 2006

Shephard on the Wisconsin State Journal's Ellen Foley

Jason Shephard has written an excellent piece on Madison's largest daily newspaper, the Wisconsin State Journal:
Ellen Foley missed the afternoon news meeting where her deputy editors debated story selection for the next day’s front page. But later, the Wisconsin State Journal editor saw the planned lead story and blurted out, “Who cares?”

The story, which ran earlier this summer, reported that several Madison high schools failed to meet new federal standards. Foley feared her paper’s readers -- starved for time and wanting relevant and engaging writing -- wouldn’t be pulled into the piece. So she directed an assistant editor to repackage it.

“I’m sure he was thinking, ‘Oh boy, the last thing I need tonight is the editor giving me tips on how to do my job,’” recalls Foley, who advised him anyway. She hammered home the importance of “creating context” in the story’s first six paragraphs. She also wanted breakout boxes to list the failing schools and explain the standards.
Jason dug up some interesting data on daily newspaper readership:
One is to shift emphasis from circulation data to readership stats.

“We know people are reading our paper,” says Phil Stoddard, Capital Newspapers’ circulation director. “They’re just not buying it.”

The State Journal points to studies that suggest its readership is at sky-high levels. “The numbers for Capital Newspapers are absolutely stellar,” boasts an internal memo from the company’s marketing director, Jon Friesch. “In Dane County, 83% of adults read the Sunday Wisconsin State Journal, and 79% read the daily or Saturday edition of The Capital Times or Wisconsin State Journal.”

But while these numbers come from an independent company, Scarborough Research, they may be misleading, since they include even casual readers. The 83% number, clarifies Friesch, measures respondents who have read the Sunday paper “in the last month”; the 79% number is respondents who have read either of the two dailies “in the past five days.” bold added

From 1985 to 2005, the State Journal’s daily circulation saw a 20% increase, from 76,903 to 92,081. Sunday circulation also rose, from 138,086 in 1985 to 150,616 last year. But over the last decade, the number has trended downward, from a 1994 high of 166,205. Single-copy Sunday sales have taken the biggest hit, says Stoddard, who calls the Sunday paper the company’s “bread and butter.”

One strategy employed by newspapers is to hike so-called soft circulation. For instance, residents of more than a dozen Madison apartment complexes are eligible for free and discounted subscriptions, with billing included in their monthly rent. Sunday shoppers at Sentry Hilldale are given a free State Journal. Oil-change customers at Valvoline can read a complimentary Cap Times or State Journal while their car is serviced. (Elsewhere in the country, advertisers have filed class-action lawsuits alleging that circulation numbers have been improperly inflated.)
Posted by James Zellmer at September 12, 2006 5:00 PM | Subscribe to this site via RSS:
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