Hold It! Stop the presses! The Johnson City Press publishes misleading circulation comparison numbers


Bill_OpinionLAYERSI noticed an ad prepared by the Johnson City Press in the most recent Sunday and last Tuesday’s editions comparing the Johnson City News & Neighbor circulation with their circulation. It was the first time the Johnson City Press has even acknowledged the Johnson City News & Neighbor’s existence in the community even though we will be starting our 18th year of publishing this April. Thanks guys for the publicity.

But hold it! You failed to compare apples to apples in your circulation ad. You compared our apples, our Wednesday circulation, with your barrel of apples, seven days of circulation. The comparison doesn’t make sense and is totally misleading, a masterpiece mistake.

The JC Press has committed a flagrant ‘contextomie.’ A ‘contextomie’ which sounds like something that gets on you, is described as: ‘stereotypically intentional if someone misinterprets the meaning and omits something essential to clarifying it, thinking it non-essential.’

Their numbers are as ambiguous as their ad copy and need just as much explanation. The ad says ‘Johnson City Press is 100% paid for by readers and members versus other local news sources.”

Remember Mark Twain’s quote: “There are three kinds of lies: lies, damned lies, and statistics.” It looks as though their claim of 100% paid circulation doesn’t wash when their circulation audit report is reviewed. They use so-called verified circulation numbers that include free samples (blue-bagged copies), elementary school educational copies, business/traveler copies, free requested copies (a second set of blue-bagged copies), and online viewers who don’t see the print ads.

The headline in the ad reads, “REACH JOHNSON CITY’S READERS NOT JUST THE PAVEMENT.” Yet they deliver their newspapers the same way we do. Depending on the neighborhoods, we deliver into newspaper receptacles under mailboxes, on porches, and in driveways. They do the same unless they plan on using drone delivery.

And what’s with the map showing southwest Virginia counties? The JC Press has no circulation to speak of north of Bobby Hicks Highway in Gray or just a smidgen at best. There’s that ‘contextomie’ rearing its ugly head again, completely misleading.

The JC Press is audited by The Alliance for Audited Media whose board includes newspaper publishers, ad agency companies and advertisers. The alliance over the past few years has made numerous changes and adjustments in auditing procedures to help keep daily newspaper circulation counts up. Many of the complicated adjustments may give ad buyers the impression they are buying fully paid circulation when they aren’t. Some subscriptions that cost as little as a penny are included in “paid subscriptions.”

Our circulation audit and readership survey is readily available on our website or from our sales staff for all to review. I’m not aware if the JC Press audit has ever been available for review. All advertisers should demand to see it.

Daily newspapers love to sell the notion that if a newspaper is free people don’t read it. Nothing could be further from the truth. People love FREE. Why do readers have to pay for a subscription costing $154.20 per year for national or local news when they can get good and accurate local news FREE?

Radio news is free. Local TV news is free. The only news you have to pay for is from the daily newspaper.

Most of our circulation of the News & Neighbor is free. It is full of local news, great photography and extremely accurate reporting. Our paid subscriber edition is $20 per year and subscribers get two more pages of local news and features. Our numerous national awards for news, photography and editorial writing stand as a testimony that our peers consider our newspaper one of the best in the nation.

According to their verified circulation audits going back to 2007, The Johnson City Press has lost 3,003 daily home delivery and mailed copy subscribers or a 19% decline within the same zip codes the News & Neighbor covers. Street sales have declined from 3,009 papers sold daily in 2007 to 1,320 per day in 2013 or a loss of 56%! On the other hand the News & Neighbor has continued to deliver the same number of papers to the same or new households for the past 17 years. Shows readers do like getting their local news FREE.

Our circulation auditing company, Circulation Verification Council in St. Louis, audits our paper annually and utilizes an extensive readership survey. When you compare our 30,780 circulation numbers apples to apples, the News & Neighbor is home delivered into 17,748 more households in zip codes 37601; 37604; 37615; 37659 and 37686 in about a 15-mile radius. It is the core and most valuable market for Johnson City and Washington County businesses. Even when you add the JC Press’s free copies, digital, grammar school, motel travelers, and sample copies of 3,738, the Johnson City News & Neighbor still delivers 14,010 more prime customer households.

I’ve been in the newspaper business 41 years and a publisher since 1981 in many different markets in the U.S. A few of those years were spent in major markets competing against very large daily newspapers like the Nashville Tennessean, Chattanooga Free Press and Times, Rapid City Journal, and Bismarck Tribune. I’ve always enjoyed it. Competition made our papers better. It kept us on our toes.

But in every case the daily newspaper tried to stifle our competition. It goes back years to the daily being the monopoly media in each town. They can’t stand competition, especially from a smaller newspaper. I’m amazed every time this happens. All media have a place in the community. I don’t know a business that doesn’t have extensive competition. But daily newspapers see a looming threat from smaller publications.

Daily newspapers are facing the biggest crisis in their history: loss of readers, declining circulation and profits. On the other hand community weekly newspapers like the Johnson City News & Neighbor continue to have high readership and, nationally, have outpaced dailies in circulation.

The Johnson City Press, Kingsport Times-News and their associated local weekly papers are owned by Sandusky Newspapers. The Times-News and the Press have laid off a large number of employees over the past two years. Since the papers are not locally owned I would say that much of the profits go to Sandusky, Ohio, Hilton Head, S.C., or Sarasota, Fla.

There are a number of wonderful people who work at the JC Press, some of whom I hired in the 1970’s when I worked there. And as a career newspaperman, it is sad to see daily newspapers decline.

All media are valuable to a community but they must compete fairly and ethically. When the Jones family sold to Sandusky newspapers in 2002 I received a call from an attorney with the Federal Trade Commission. He was required to contact all competing media to see if any objected to the sale to the owner of the nearby Kingsport Times-News (a Sandusky owned newspaper) since the purchase was over $50 million and might create a monopoly. I told him I did not have a problem unless they started using unfair trade practices or started violating the Sherman Anti-Trust Act by combining markets by discounting ad rates to certain customers to eliminate competition.

Our newspaper’s goal from day one is putting our communities’ best foot forward. We publish wonderful feature stories about the good things and people who make our community better, the good news. We publish accurate news reporting and thoughtful editorials written by long-standing residents who care deeply about our community. And we tell it like it is when we talk about advertising and circulation.

Please feel free to contact me directly about how the Johnson City News & Neighbor can help you grow your business in Johnson City and Washington County in the most efficient, cost-effective way.

-Bill Derby, Publisher

(423) 979-1300




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