Dissembling at best...

The Cape Cod Times loses a quarter of its circulation in last decade
Dropped 16,014 copies while population increased 35,628

Cape Cod population (from the Cape Cod Times website)
1970; 96,656   1980: 147,925  1990:  186,605  2000:  222,230
Cape Cod Times circulation (from Editor & Publisher Yearbooks)
1976; 33,469   1987:  52,499    1996:     62,246  2006:     46,232

The reason the Cape Cod Times story buried in the Business section on Saturday was so disturbing to a lifelong newspaperman like myself is because this self-proclaimed "newspaper of record" is dissembling at best, if not outright misinforming their readers and advertisers at worse.

The Saturday story gave the impression that while revenues may have dropped, the newspaper's circulation was on the rise.

The reverse is the truth. 

To quote their own words, "Company figures show daily circulation inched up from 41,964 in March 2006 to 42,260 last month, though Sunday circulation dipped slightly, from 47,004 to 46,232." 

Staggering loss of Market Share

 At its high point fifteen or twenty years ago, the local daily newspaper dominated communications here with around 67,000 circulation on Sunday, often just under 70,000 on summer Sundays. Their circulation today is a third less while the county's population has grown by over 35,000. 

But simple math, if the population goes up by a quarter while circulation goes down a third, the newspaper is now reaching half of the same market they were reaching a few years ago.  And the reasons are simple.

  • Cape Cod Times is not a locally-owned newspaper.  The Dow Jones company, which owns the Wall Street Journal and seven other Ottaway dailies as well, is a publicly traded stock answering to share holders not Cape Codders.
  • To satisfy the stock market's demand for profits, Dow Jones has forced local publishers to decimate their newsrooms.  Journalists are the media's biggest labor expense, but the news coverage they create is why we all buy newspapers.  For a quarter century publisher was Scott Himstead protected the newsroom from corporate pressure. When he retired in 1996, Ottaway sent John Wilcox here from the Joplin MO Globe to "corporatize the Times". He left a few years later and turned the Dow Jones bottom-line dogma over to General Manager Peter Meyer who had expected to follow Himstead years earlier.
  • The Times has been on the wrong side of major issues ever since, especially after Bill Breisky retired as editor 12 years ago.  This newspaper had always reflected the liberal attitude of its Cape Cod readership, but it became a reflection of Dow Jones' more conservative views. The sad tale of one such issue as it impinges on the newspaper is the main subject of the new book "Cape Wind" which will hit the bookstores Monday to the considerable embarrassment of the Times.  Instead of leading the fight for renewable, lower cost energy for it readers and in doing so become the newspaper of record for any other media looking for information about America's launch into offshore wind power, the newspaper has blatantly echoed the humbug of the publisher's rich neighbors in Osterville, the seasonal trophy home owners who raised $18 million to stop the wind farm from interfering with their private lake.

Inertia, indifference and drift 

If there was one newspaper which was in a position to resist what's happened to the rest of the newspaper industry since the advent of the web's and other new media, it one like the Times in a wealthy, retirement area whose population was skyrocketing as fast as The Cape's has for decades.

It took a combination of inertia, indifference and drift for the Times management to miss this opportunity. It took a surrender to the demands of corporate headquarters despite Cape Cod Times position as the fastest growing and most profitable of the entire Dow Jones-Ottaway empire.

The story in Saturday's Times went on to state, "Times publisher Peter Meyer said he doesn’t see the cuts as a sign of long term weakness at his paper.   'It’s just an adjustment in our course," he said. "And I feel very positive about our future.  '"

Good luck, Peter, but don't bet your $1.2 million house in Osterville on it. 

See the original Cape Cod Times story here.

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