Connor-owned Paper Warned About Circ Stats
Wrong numbers: The Audit Bureau of Circulations has warned the Times Leader, a daily newspaper in Wilkes-Barre, Pa., to stop claiming its circulation is higher than it actually is. The Times Leader is owned by Richard Connor, who is also the majority owner of MaineToday Media, the parent company of the Portland Press Herald, Kennebec Journal, and Morning Sentinel.
According to an August 6 story in the rival Citizens’ Voice, the ABC found inaccuracies in promotional ads run by the Times Leader. The article, credited only to “Staff Report,” does not cite any of the content of the ads, but does quote from an email from Diane Szubrych, senior auditor at the bureau, that says ABC “will contact The Times Leader and ask them to cease using these ads immediately.”
The ads in question, one of which can be seen here, claim the Times Leader has a daily circulation of over 59,000, while the Citizens’ Voice has a mere 27,000. In fact, if both papers' most recent ABC figures are compared and branded editions for specific areas are included, the numbers have the Connor paper at slightly more than 53,000 and its cross-town rival at over 45,000.
The piece also quotes Scott Lynett, publisher of the Citizens’ Voice, as saying, “It is always disturbing when any business attempts to mislead the public. It is even more concerning when that business is a newspaper.
“It begs the question: If the Times Leader is willing to be deceptive about its own audit, what else are they willing to falsify?”
In a phone interview, Lynett said it was a member of his staff who complained to the ABC about the allegedly deceptive ads. He said that fact wasn’t mentioned in the story because, “We didn’t think it was relevant. We didn’t want to play up the story.”
He said the piece ran “deep inside the paper” on the business page.
It’s also not clear what the consequences of the ABC’s action will be. One former newspaper publisher said such inaccurate promotional ads are at odds with rules agreed to by all publications audited by the bureau. Violations, the former executive said, are considered to be “very serious.”
Kammi Altig, the communications manager for ABC, said the bureau has strict rules about using its circulation figures in publicity materials. Altig said in most cases, those numbers must be from the most recent audit available and if compared to another newspaper’s figures, must reflect “like data elements.” In other words, it must compare apples to apples.
“When you join ABC,” she said, “you do agree to abide by the rules set by the board of directors.” She said punishment for failing to do so is “conditional on the market and what else is going on there and how else [the board decides] it should be handled.”
Altig refused to release the full text of the email from Szubrych to the Citizens’ Voice, saying it was a “business communication with a subscriber.”
Even if ABC takes no action on the erroneous ads, the Citizens’ Voice may follow up. “We’re looking at it with our attorneys to see if there’s anything more we’re going to do,” Lynett said.
There have been no reports of Connor using promotional materials in Maine claiming exaggerated circulation, but he has repeatedly said in speeches and interviews that recent sharp declines in the number of papers his company has been selling each day, as reported by both ABC and the U.S. Postal Service, have eased and that new figures being released this fall will show gains.
Flying below the radar: Nice piece of publicity for the Great State of Maine Air Show in the August 7 Maine Sunday Telegram. A front-page story by staff writer Edward D. Murphy promotes the event, noting that ticket sales have been slow – only two thousand sold to date – and the organizer is concerned he won’t reach the 32,000 needed to break even.
What isn’t mentioned in the article is that one of the show’s sponsors in MaineToday Media, the owner of the Telegram. That information is noted on the show’s website and in advertising in the paper. But to leave it out of the story calls into question the editorial motive behind its prominent placement.
Who dat? Maine newspapers are continuing the shoddy practice of failing to fully identify people writing op-ed columns. Two recent examples:
On August 7, the Sunday Telegram ran a piece extolling the virtues of electric-utility deregulation and how that policy encourages renewable energy production. The author, Steve Ward, is identified only as a former state public advocate. Obviously, he must have been doing something since he left government service in 2007, but it seems to have been too much to ask an editor to note that information. If one of them had done so, they’d have had to admit Ward is the principal in Perkins Point Energy Consulting, a firm that provides “a variety of services for clients in the public policy, energy, utility and telecommunications areas,” according to his LinkedIn.com profile.
Maybe Ward’s business connections don’t slant his views, but without knowing about his current employment, there’s no way for readers to even suspect they might.
In the August 8 Bangor Daily News, George Wuerthner writes in praise of the job-creating aspects of a national park in northern Maine. Wuerthner’s tagline says he lives in both Richmond (no state listed) and Montana and is “a writer, photographer and ecologist who has led tours in Acadia National Park and Baxter State Park, in addition to Yellowstone National Park.”
A quick search online would show he’s also the chairman of the board of Restore: The North Woods, a group advocating for the park, and appears to live in Vermont. To leave out that information is inexcusable.
Thanks to all the tipsters who provided material for this posting. If you’d like to be one of them, email Al Diamon at firstname.lastname@example.org.