New ranking combines print-digital reach of metro papers, reveals surprising winners

Which American newspaper reaches the most readers in its market if print and online audiences are combined?

That seems a fundamental question in an era of hybrid print/digital business models. But in preparing the annual State of the News Media report released last Monday, my colleagues at the Project for Excellence in Journalism and I could not find a ready answer.

At our request, Scarborough Research came up quickly with a Top 20 ranking, shown in the chart below.

There is one important qualifier. Scarborough’s methodology measures local markets only. So The Wall Street Journal and USA Today are excluded entirely, and the extensive national audience for The New York Times’ and Washington Post’s websites does not figure in the calculation.

That said, the winner, somewhat to my surprise, is the New York Daily News at 4,562,458. That is just 70,000 more than the second-place Los Angeles Times and about 450,000 more than The New York Times in its own metro market.

Scarborough’s measure combines people who say they have read the print paper at least once in the last week with those who say they have visited the website at least once in the last week. The total is adjusted to back out duplication.

Naturally this produces a much higher figure than the standard paid circulation totals, which measure the average number of papers or paid digital editions sold daily and Sunday.

The online portion of the total would yield lower numbers than the usual unique monthly visitors measure. Besides being weekly rather than monthly, it would exclude the large number of out-of-market, so-called “drive-by” visitors who land at a paper’s site via search or a link.

Still, the ranking is not radically different from one using just paid circulation. The most recent of those was compiled by the Audit Bureau of Circulations for a six-month period ending September 30, 2010.

Several papers whose paid totals no longer put them in the Top 20 in paid circulation move onto this new list by virtue of their well-trafficked websites, notably the Atlanta Journal-Constitution (12th) and the Boston Globe (14th).

The list includes several groups of papers with common ownership and common market geography. Those are MediaNews’s clusters in the San Francisco Bay and Los Angeles area and the Chicago Sun-Times group, including its suburban papers. Also, in these figures the Philadelphia Inquirer and Daily News are treated as two editions of the same newspaper for purposes of audience measurement.

The Newspaper Association of America has been releasing a list for several years of the top combined audience gainers by percentage year-to-year after each six-month ABC period.

That list is a mix of mid-sized and large papers. It clearly has an agenda of showing that newspaper audiences, when digital is factored in, are not necessarily sinking, as suggested by 15 consecutive reporting periods of paid circulation losses.

The Scarborough ranking tells a different story, though, with losers outnumbering gainers compared to 2009 totals.

If a common measure of total reach for national papers were available, The New York Times would almost certainly be the leader.

Its online media kit claims an unduplicated print/digital reach in the U.S. of 22.4 million. USA Today, also in an online media kit, claims a combined reach of 5.9 million. I could not find a total reach figure on The Wall Street Journal’s site; it emphasizes paid circulation, in which the Journal is the industry leader, and the additional number of paid subscribers to its Europe and Asia editions.

As noted in a Biz Blog post earlier this month, online metrics are in some flux with both advertising and media trade groups launching a project to better define standards for totals that currently vary greatly by vendor.

However, the new Scarborough figures ought to provide a useful base to gauge what is happening to newspaper organizations’ audiences as the print to digital transition proceeds in future years.

CORRECTION: The chart that originally appeared in this story did not include figures for all of the properties in the Chicago Sun-Times Group. The new figures place the Sun-Times Group sixth on the list, up from 13th.

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  • Poynter

    Richard, we got the figures from Scarborough and have published them with analysis here:

  • Poynter

    Rich, we got the figures from Scarborough and have published them with analysis here:

  • Anonymous

    Thanks to all for the continuing discussion. Scarborough has provided a similar data set and rankings for percentage reach in DMA’s. I expect to be posting that with some commentary in the next couple of days.

  • GaryMeo

    We at Scarborough are very enthusiastic about the amount of interest in this article! I thought I’d answer some of your questions, and feel free to email me directly ( or post with more. First, we agree that looking at percent coverage in addition to total audience provides an interesting angle. We’ve provided this data to Poynter and hope they’ll use it. Second, we employ procedures to minimize overstatement of major media brands by respondents, including rotating the order of newspapers and websites as they are asked during an interview. We’re a single-source survey, so we know from the same respondent if they read in print, online or both – which is how we remove duplication. Finally, in this article, we are looking at in-market readers within the DMA, but Scarborough covers other geographies too, such as NDM, Metros, counties and even zip codes. Hope this answers some of your questions and feel free to contact me with more.

  • Kim Fox

    Is there any data like this on international papers?

  • custom research papers

    i think it should not vary greatly. maybe just a little, slightly.. but at the same time everything depends on so many different thing that we can never say for sure

  • Anonymous

    Small papers should be included because they can use the data in their presentations to advertisers for national accounts on sales calls as one example of the usefulness of this % coverage ranking. Most papers only buy Scarborough data for their market instead of all 75 markets in the U.S. It would be enlightening for a small paper to say to Target or Home Depot that one ad in the Stamford Advocate in print and on their website will reach 68%(just using this % as an example) of all adults in their market compared to that same ad(in print and online) in the Miami Herald which would reach 48%(% is just used as an example) of the adults in the Miami market. Target or Home Depot will now know to use the Advocate as a primary ad buy in their schedule and supplement with radio/tv/etc.

  • Adam Popescu

    NY Daily, LA Times, NY Times, NY Post. . . Wa Wa Waaa?

  • Anonymous

    Scarborough can breakout % of market reached either by a newspaper’s primary market area(defined by the newspaper themselves – sometimes stated as their ndm – newspaper defined market or pma and usually equal to their ABC circulation primary market area) or by designated market area(dma) or county(home county or counties).

    It would only be fair to include all markets and all newspapers large and small that Scarborough reports on to determine which papers reached the highest % of adults in their market.

  • John C Abell

    Does this also exclude apps?

  • Anonymous

    Agreed, it’s basically just a computation of which newspaper aggregates the highest total number. Percentage would be better, but percentage of exactly what, measured how, and when?

  • Rich Gordon

    As a practical matter, only papers serving a substantial portion of the “market” as Scarborough defines it would produce useful %reach numbers. I don’t recall how Scarborough defines “market,” but presumably it is something like DMA (broadcast markets) … which means data for papers as small as the Stamford Advocate in markets as large as theirs (I think Stamford is considered part of the NYCity DMA) won’t be very accurate/relevant. But any paper serving a substantial portion of their market, which will include midsize and large metros as well as some smaller papers serving smaller DMA’s, would be interesting …

  • Anonymous

    Rich and bridgetwi: Good suggestion, and I will see whether Scarborough can generate such a list. One question would be whether we should stick to mid-sized and large metros or include papers as small as the Greenwich Time and Stamford Advocate, numbers 1 and 3 on the NAA’s top gainer’s list. Your thoughts?

    Besides your point on recall, Rich, I wonder whether the “at least once in a week” construct favors tabloids like the New York Daily News and others on the list, who must have a higher proportion of single-copy sales and occasional readers. A seven-day subscriber would be counted just once.

    Andy: re L.A. Times. Yes that is interesting — though keep in mind that N.Y. Times targets a national audience with both print and digital. But yes, L.A. Times has a lead metro to metro.

  • bridgetwi

    % of total market is a much more interesting story. This is just a list of big markets. And the “dedup” seems very suspect. Won’t that vary greatly?

  • Andy Bechtel

    Interesting that the LA Times has overtaken the New York Times in total reach, even as the NYT writes about how its LA counterpart has gone into decline.

  • Rich Gordon

    I’d like to see this same table but instead of total reach (raw number of people), reach as a percentage of the total market (raw number of people using the product in the past week divided by the number of people in the market). Any chance you could get Scarborough to spit that out?

    I also would insert one caveat about this data: It is based on people’s *recall* of what media products they use. This will likely overstate actual reach, and is most likely to overstate this data for the best-known brands in the market.