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growth while Times-Union slides

Democrat and Chronicle logs
growth while Times-Union slides

The newspaper industry in 1994 showed signs of vigor missing since the recession, and Gannett Rochester Newspapers were part of the trend, despite a continued drop in Times-Union circulation.
The Democrat and Chronicle’s weekday circulation climbed nearly 3 percent, from 136,391 to 140,377 readers, in the 52 weeks ended June 1994, according to recent figures from the Audit Bureau of Circulation. That growth earned it the ninth spot on Advertising Age magazine’s list of the country’s fastest-growing papers, according to ABC figures for six months ended March 1994.
Since June 1992–when Gannett merged the news staffs of the D&C, a morning paper, and the T-U, an after-noon daily–the D&C’s circulation rose 4 percent. Some of the gain is at the expense of the T-U, but most is new business from aggressive marketing and a focus on reaching readers outside of Monroe County, said Thomas Flynn, vice president/communications for the papers.
Nancy Woodhull of Nancy Woodhull & Associates Inc., a national consulting firm specializing in the media, said much of the D&C’s growth likely came at the expense of the afternoon paper.
More subscribers left the T-U in the last year than signed up with the D&C, weekday or weekend editions. The T-U lost more than 10 percent of its circulation in the year ended June 1994, dropping from 71,372 to 63,974.
Since the merger, circulation has dropped more than 18 percent.
A decline in single-copy sales helped push the numbers down, Flynn said. Sales of single copies have dropped roughly 15 percent since 1992 for the dailies combined, and more than 22 percent for the T-U alone.
The local economy had a hand in lowering the numbers, he said. In a period of corporate downsizing, fewer people picked up the paper on the way out of the office or the factory gates.
In addition, the T-U’s falling numbers follow a trend toward reading morning papers instead of afternoon editions, he said. But on a good note for advertisers, the percentage of people who read both the D&C and T-U has dropped into the single digits. Less duplication means advertisers buying both papers will reach a more varied audience.
Other trends are affecting Rochester’s papers, observers said. One is the growing popularity of community weeklies as readers seek more local news, said Jacqueline Farnan, assistant professor in communications/journalism at St. John Fisher College. Gannett has responded to the trend through regional editions and the Our Towns section, but its coverage of those regions often is not as sharply focused as that provided by community papers.
Despite such trends, a subscriber base of more than 60,000 makes the T-U a healthy paper, Flynn said. Gannett would not be spending $70 million on a printing and distribution center, slated to begin operating in September 1997, if it were not.
Industry watchers agreed the T-U is holding its own–at least for now.
The afternoon paper remains an attractive operation because of its respectable circulation figures, the combined reach for advertisers with the D&C and a separate editorial page, Woodhull said. It also plays to the local tradition of two papers.
“(Gannett’s) strategy seems to be, “Let’s just let nature take its course until the community is no longer purchasing (the T-U),”’ she said. “Do (they) need the bad publicity of people saying, “A-ha! I knew you would kill the Times-Union eventually.”’
“There’s no line in the sand,” Flynn said. “We always said the market will determine the fate of any product, including ours.”
Circulation for D&C weekend editions held steady last year, 212,218 for the Saturday paper and 257,910 for Sunday. The Saturday edition’s circulation rose roughly 1.5 percent since 1992, while Sunday’s circulation dropped by the same amount.
“We still enjoy numbers that are the envy of other markets,” Flynn said.
All editions in the Albany, Buffalo and Syracuse markets experienced circulation losses since 1992, according to the ABC’s Fas-Fax report for the six-month period ended September 1994. The Buffalo News sustained 2 percent to 3 percent losses in its daily and weekend editions. The Albany Times-Union saw a drop Monday through Saturday of almost 6 percent, or from 107,807 to 101,608, and a Sunday decline of almost 4 percent, or 170,672 to 164,815.
Like the afternoon paper here, circulation of the evening Herald-Journal in Syracuse fell from 88,865 to 80,950, or 8.5 percent, since 1992. The morning Post-Standard saw circulation fall more than 2 percent during the period, while the Herald-American/Post-Standard Sunday edition fell roughly 3.5 percent.
Industry watchers predict that newspaper bottom lines will hold their own, if not improve, in the coming year, according to Editor & Publisher. The key is advertising volume, which grew in 1994 by 8 percent. Forecasters expect another 7.5 percent increase this year.
Gannett Rochester Newspapers last year saw national advertising rise 9.2 percent, thanks in part to heavy political ads. Classified advertising, usually a strong area, increased 4 percent, and preprints were up 3.1 percent.
Only retail advertising declined, falling more than 8.2 percent, Flynn said, showing the effects of the McCurdy’s and B. Forman closings, and Paul’s Superstores buyout. Revenues from other retail advertisers were up.
To boost circulation figures, observers say, Gannett needs to better promote itself by creating excitement for upcoming stories, and it needs to better cater to readers’ interests and time constraints.
Attrition has decreased the size of the combined editorial staff since the merger. Flynn said the staff totals approximately 200, down approximately 15 employees since 1993.
The introduction of competition, analysts agreed, would do the most to push improvement.
“I wish we had a large metro paper run by a competing organization,” Farnan said. “We’d get more of a perspective, and I think that is the chief item that’s missing.”

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