October 27, 2008

JT endorses... flu-shot choice for New Jersey;
U.S. newspaper circulation drops again (go figger)

With just one week to go before this critical presidential election, I eagerly open the local newspaper each morning.

Surely, I say to myself, surely today they will have endorsed a candidate in one of the major races -- a presidential pick, perhaps, or maybe their choice in the 1st District Congressional race. Hell, I'd even settle for some guidance in the 63rd Assembly District: Robin Vos who opposes the KRM rail link the Journal Times supports, or Linda Flashinski who agrees with the newspaper?

I am, of course, biased in favor of newspapers endorsing candidates. Having spent almost 40 years on the editorial side, I've written many of those endorsements, working hard to be fair and fact-based, struggling sometimes with choosing the Lesser of Two Evils. (Funny story: I once endorsed a candidate as the LoTE, and -- despite getting our influential imprimatur -- he was none-too-pleased about it.)

Why do newspapers endorse? Well, the theory goes that the newspaper staff has had better access to the candidates than you, the average... um, Joe; that our Editorial Board has sat down and grilled everyone seeking a particular position; had our questions answered; followed the race closely; taken time to reflect and perhaps debate it intelligently among ourselves. In pre-cable TV days, this was certainly the case; now, with 24-hour saturation, maybe not so much...except for the actual sitting down with the candidates part.

In any case, the theory went, the newspaper was merely offering guidance, a suggestion based on this preferred access and focus. Editorials used to be called leadership; now they're called partisanship by everyone who disagrees with an endorsement, a headline, even mere coverage of this story ($150,000 wardrobe?) or that (ACORN organizer!). There's no absolute requirement for making an endorsement, but the argument was made this way to me by one of my first publishers: "The voters have to choose among these candidates, so why shouldn't we do so as well?" It's a more compelling argument than can be made for printing the Daily Horoscope, certainly.

Every year, a few more newspapers cop-out entirely, refusing to make any endorsements at all, or simply endorse in just a few races (almost everyone supports local schools). When they don't endorse, they often go to great lengths to explain (justify? rationalize?) that decision. For example, on Sunday the Ann Arbor News announced its non-endorsement in the presidential race this way: "When we look at (John McCain and Barack Obama) we see two seriously flawed candidates... We find ourselves unable to work up sufficient enthusiasm to endorse either one." After 820 words, they conclude: "Our political endorsements aren't really meant to tell people how to vote, but rather to add to the public discussion on important issues. In this race, some will surely see this lack of endorsement as a cop-out or a lack of courage. So be it. For us, it's simply a reflection of reality."

So I open the local paper and look for their endorsement. At the top of the page they list the members of the Editorial Board: the publisher, the circulation manager and six reporters and editors. There's no shortage of letters to the editor on the page, earnestly picking sides, but so far the Journal Times' editorial page is a non-player, sitting above the fray. The Sunday a week before an election is often the time for a major endorsement -- you want to wait until close to the election in case someone makes a significant stumble late in the campaign -- but the Journal Times chose to fill its editorial space with an essay explaining that the "Reality of election fraud usually falls short of hype." It concludes with this gem of a mixed metaphor: "Stopping campaigns from encroaching on voter registration will ensure at least one borderline continues to shine brightly."

Today's editorial, just seven days before the election, is no more relevant: "New Jersey's flu-shot mandate goes too far," the JT says, arguing that "parents know the needs of their children better than a one-size fits all policy from the state capital." Is this even an issue in Wisconsin? Our state has no such flu shot mandate, the editorial makes clear. Perhaps there's a New Jersey newspaper thundering for (or against) KRM even as we speak...

But there's still time. I'll eagerly turn to the Editorial page for the next week, to see if the JT's editorial board can find its way to endorse ... anybody. Then -- as I would have anyway (and I hope you would , too) -- I'll vote how I damn please.

Update: I'll update this post daily until the election with the subject of each day's Journal Times editorial, just in case they decide to actually take a stand on something substantive. (And then I'll take credit for shaming them into it.)
  • Tuesday, Oct. 27: The Journal Times endorses civilized behavior, and opposes hair-pulling.
  • Wednesday, Oct. 28: The Journal Times endorses patience as a bailout mechanism, opposes stimulus checks.
  • Thursday, Oct. 29: The Journal Times endorses riding the train, based on a story about increases in use of Amtrak's Hiawatha that were reported on Oct. 13.
  • Friday, Oct. 30: Wooee! Paul Ryan, Marge Krupp and Joe Kexel are actually mentioned in a JT editorial... but only to say there is "high interest" in their race. No choosing here! Readers, you're on your own.
  • Sunday, Nov. 2: Nope. Nothing about the election except an endorsement of budget cuts afterwards, to reduce the tax levies of local and state governments. Not that anyone opposes that, but it's like coming out for apple pie at a time when -- IMHO -- the real contest is the election in just two days.
For those keeping tabs nationally, the score right now is 184 to 82, with Obama ahead of McCain in the newspaper presidential endorsement sweepstakes.

Newspaper circulation declines... again

Meanwhile, since we're on the topic of newspapers: The Audit Bureau of Circulations released its semi-annual report on newspaper readership today -- and the news ain't good, again.

ABC's tally for the six months that ended Sept. 30 shows an average 4.6% decline in daily circulation, and a 4.8% drop on Sunday for the 507 newspapers reporting. Last year the decline was 2.6% daily and 4.6% Sunday.
  • The Journal Times did much better than the average, losing only 0.8% daily, to 28,039, and 1.7% on Sunday, to 29,947.
  • Kenosha News daily circulation was down 2.5% to 23,928; Sunday dropped 2.9% to 26,374.
  • The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel was off 3.9% daily to 212,156, and down 3.8% Sunday to 375,857.
  • The Chicago Tribune lost 5.7% daily, to 516,032, and 7.7% Sunday, 864,845.
  • The Boston Globe dropped 10.1% daily, the Newark Star Ledger (which just cut an incredible 40% of its newsroom employees) fell 10.4% daily and 14.6% on Sunday. And the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, flagship of Lee Enterprises which owns the Journal Times, was off 9.1% daily -- but up 0.8% Sunday.
Top 25 dailies

Top 25 Sundays


  1. I guess I can't blame the JT for not having the courage to endorse. Just read some of the wingnut hate blogs they allow on their website. I think they are afraid of making an endorsement. I think they are afraid of losing hard copy readers.

    It takes courage to make an endorsement when you are a failing paper with some just plain bad reporters.

    Really, I don't see how they could endorse McCain. But with these really crazed wingnuts, one has to be more careful these days, hair is scarce for some heads.

  2. I liked the spin that the Journal-Sentinel played on its 3.9% decline in Monday-Friday circulation. 'Online readership at JSOnline.com, the Journal Sentinel's Internet site, rose about 10.6% to an average of 394,901 unique visitors monthly in southeast Wisconsin, up from 357,150, the Audit Bureau of Circulations reported.'

    Perhaps the airline industry could use the same logic by explaining the declining numbers of travelers, but THE NUMBER OF WEB HITS ARE UP!

    What pays the bills - paid subscriptions, advertisements or web hits?

  3. FYI: More web hits means they can charge more for online ads.

  4. Yes and no, Anon, 1:55.
    Newspaper revenues mostly come from print advertising (2/3) and circulation (1/3). So far -- industrywide -- online produces less than 10% of total newspaper revenues, and it's much less at smaller newspapers. Not to mention that much of their online revenues are add-ons to print advertising.

    Here's why: Locally, the print medium is the big dog, usually the only one in a market. Online, they're just one of millions ... which is why newspapers planning to drop print and offer their products exclusively online are doomed.

    Bottom line: Online will not save the traditionally print news media.

  5. "(Funny story: I once endorsed a candidate as the LoTE, and -- despite getting our influential imprimatur -- he was none-too-pleased about it.)"

    With respect no one cares any more what the dead tree media thinks any more. With Blogs- Goggle- Web Pages I can find any information I want from Movie times to store coupons and never touch a dead tree anything.
    Nor do I have to go to say their Web site.
    No, no, never do I have to give money or time to the wing nuts at the J-T. Oh hear the news about the Christian Science Monitor? Dead dead dead on line only my guess is that the J-T will follow in a year or two.

  6. I have decided to vote twice this week - one at the polls the second with my wallet. I've decided to finally cancel my subscripton to the consistently biased Journal Times.

    Every day the paper gets a little lighter - both in size and news content. Even local news is difficult to obtain. This will be a trifecta - the J-T, the Journal Sentinel and Wall Street Journal. The WSJ is for pure cost - the cost is now $350 per year. On line access is a fracion of the print cost.

    I need to start saving as much as possible in the coming months - the new taxes will drain my wallet both from the local, regional and particularly the federal level.