The Providence Journal’s revenue and circulation are far from what they once were. But don’t underestimate how many people still look to the local daily for news and information.
On an average week last year, 49% of adults in the Providence area – 608,727 in all – either read The Journal’s print edition, visited Projo.com, or did both, according to a Scarborough Research report obtained by WPRI.com. That was down from 54% of adults – 676,746 in all – in 2009, but it’s still a formidable audience.
The nation’s 20 most-read newspapers reached between 72% and 53% of adults in their metro areas on an average week last year, with the Rochester Democrat and Chronicle topping the list, according to Scarborough.
One worrying sign for The Journal: its five-point decline in total reach between 2009 and 2010 was larger than those experienced by many of the 20 top papers. That’s partly explained by its plunging print circulation, which last fall was down 10% compared with 2009 and 41% compared with 2000.
As Poynter’s Rick Edmonds points out, the loss of readers despite a boom in digital media also goes against “a standard line from individual papers and the Newspaper Association of America that total audience, when digital is included, is growing or stable – not declining, as paid circulation numbers alone would suggest.”
Gary Meo, Scarborough’s senior vice president of print and digital services, acknowledged that problem. “They’re growing their audiences online, so there are increases in audience online,” he told me. “But they’re not increasing fast enough to ameliorate the declines in print.”
Still, Melo said he finds it “pretty remarkable” that The Journal and other papers manage to reach half of their region’s adults in any given week given the amount of competition they face across the media landscape. He also noted that the Projo’s market area (like WPRI’s) stretches out to New Bedford, past its daily coverage zone.
I also asked “Newsonomics” author Ken Doctor what he made of The Journal’s 49% reach and five-point decline. In an e-mail, he described its print circulation drop as “breathtaking” and suggested Projo.com’s stale Web design doesn’t help, but he also questioned the metric’s modern relevancy:
Reach is increasingly an old-fashioned metric. Why do papers care about reach? For advertisers. And advertisers increasingly can target audience by geography, by gender, by time of day, by interest (clickstream, content type) and more. So, if I’m an advertiser and know only that someone has read a paper sometime within a given week, or visited at least one page on a website at least once in a given week, I don’t think that tells me much. I’m throwing darts, still, but the dartboard has gotten a bit smaller.
It’s a big question for publishers: What do they count, and what do they count that advertisers care about? The answers are changing everyday.
Another question: if the Projo does put much of its content behind a paywall this summer as expected, how many of those adults will stick with the paper – and pay money for the privilege?