Some cities buck the national newspaper readership decline


It should come as no surprise that daily newspaper readership has fallen dramatically since the turn of the century. But what may be surprising is that that fall is very uneven, a June 11 Advertising Age report says.

Scarborough, which has been researching daily paper and online readership of newspapers since 2001, notes an almost 20 percent decline in readers over the past dozen years. In 2012, some 37.5 percent of adults surveyed nationwide claimed they read a print newspaper.

But that’s an average, and averages can be misleading. If you have your feet in the oven and your head in the freezer, you’re at a comfortable average temperature.

Newspaper readership in Pittsburgh, the city with the highest reported daily use (51 percent) is more than double the lowest, Atlanta’s (23 percent).

There’s also geographical clumping. Except for Honolulu, the cities with the highest readership are all in the United States as it existed on March 1, 1803, when Ohio become the seventeenth state of the union. And most, but not all, of the low-readership markets are in the old Confederacy.

There’s also numerical clumping; the top-readership cities’ totals are within a 4 percent spread and the bottom cities withing 3 percent of each other.

As you check out the breakdown of top and bottom markets below, please be aware of two things:

  1. Consumers being surveyed get things wrong or lie, mainly to keep from branding themselves as lowlifes. This lesson was brought home to me in the 1970s, when we ran two ads on successive weeks for Angostura Bitters. Both were price-off coupon, recipe ads. They were the same size and had the same layout. They ran in the same papers on the same day of the week in the same position. The only difference was the recipe; one was for meatloaf, while the other was for leftovers. The meatloaf ad drew ten times as many redemptions as the leftovers ad, and 20/20 hindsight suggested that it was because women didn’t want to admit, by handing in the coupon, that they served their families leftovers.
  2. The numbers for individual papers and website use don’t always add up to the total. This is probably because of rounding or duplicate (claimed) readership.

And now, the rankings:

  • Highest readership: Pittsburgh, PA – 51 percent total, 19 percent the Post-Gazette, 12 percent the Tribune-Review, 9 percent a newspaper’s website
  • #2 [tie]: Albany, NY –  49 percent total, 17 percent the Times-Union (the top local newspaper), 12 percent websites
  • #2 [tie]: Hartford/New Haven, CT – Also 49 percent total, with 17 percent for the Hartford Courant, 11 percent for websites and 5 percent for the New York Times
  • #4: Cleveland, OH – Just one percentage point behind with a 48 percent total. Even though 20 percent of adults claim to read the Plain Dealer, which is a comparatively respectable share, the paper’s cutting home delivery to three days a week. Ten percent of adult Clevelanders read a newspaper website daily.
  • #5 [tie]: Buffalo, NY – Just one percentage point behind Cleveland, with a 47 percent total.
  • #5 [tie]: Honolulu, HI – All the distractions of a seaside paradise notwithstanding, 47 of adults there say they still find time to read the daily paper or website.
  • #5 [tie] :New York, NYAlso 47 percent reported readership, but split between five more or less major dailies (the News, the Observer, the Sun, the Post and the Times), the Wall Street Journal, and Crain’s New York Business
  • #5 [tie]: Toledo, OH – Also 47 percent, almost ten percent above the national average
  • Lowest readership: Atlanta, GA – At 23 percent, less than half of Pittsburgh’s readership percentage; 13 percent read the Journal-Constitution and 11 percent go to websites daily.
  • Second-lowest [tie]: San Antonio, TX – Its 24 percent is also less than half of Pittsburgh’s percentage; 19 percent read the Express-News and 8 percent go to websites.
  • Second-lowest [tie]: Houston, TX – 24 percent total,18 percent read the Chronicle, 9 percent a newspaper website.
  • Fourth-lowest [tie]: Bakersfield, CA – 26 percent total, with 22 percent reading the Californian and 6 percent a website
  • Fourth-lowest [tie]: Las Vegas, NV – Also 26 percent, slightly more than half of Pittsburgh’s newspaper readership; 24 percent read the Review-Journal, 8 percent a website.

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