Lee Enterprises: More young people read our papers (!)

September 25, 2008

Lee Enterprises, publisher of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch and a bunch of smaller papers around the United States, has something curious to report: more young adults are reading the print versions of its newspapers.

Here are excerpts from a press release highlighting this most unusual trend, citing statistics gathered by Wilkerson & Associates:

  • Combined reach of Lee newspapers [including the St. Louis Post-Dispatch and dozens of other smaller papers around the United States] and their online sites over the course of a week grew from 66 percent of all adults in the markets in 2007 to 71 percent in 2008;
  • The printed newspapers alone reach 65 percent of all adults in 2008, compared with 61 percent during the six-month period a year ago;
  • Among ages 18-29, use of the printed newspaper increased from 48 percent in 2007 to 55 percent in 2008.

It’s like aliens abducted our children and replaced them with newspaper readers.

Here’s Lee’s explanation, as delivered by Suzanna Frank, the company’s vice president-audience:

Because of cross-promotion, users of our online sites have become more inclined to pick up a printed newspaper, where we provide greater context and perspective, as well as portability.

The catch, of course, is that paid circulation continues to fall at most U.S. newspapers, but Frank said that paid circulation “measures only copies sold, not the number of readers per copy. In a way, that’s like trying to measure television audiences by the number of TV sets sold.”

The question now is whether that will help in any way when it comes down to paying off some $1.2 billion in debt. Lee’s market cap is quite a bit smaller than it was when it bought newspaper publisher Pulitzer Inc for $1.4 billion a few years back. Today Lee’s market cap is just about $145 million or so. It’s going to take a lot of teenagers reading the paper to lighten that load.

In that vein, consider this item that we found through the Romenesko journalism blog on Thursday:

Dave Sinclair says he’s canceled his advertising in the St. Louis paper for the next four to five weeks because the paper is outsourcing advertising typesetting jobs to India. “It’s going to cost them $25,000 to $30,000,” says the dealer, who in TV commercials encourages the public to “buy American.”

UPDATE: Lee, like most newspaper publishers, isn’t putting out press releases that accentuate the negative unless forced to by U.S. securities laws. For that you have to rely on Romenesko, which posted the news that the Post-Dispatch has decimated its Washington bureau. Looks like the teenagers didn’t pull their weight this time.

No comments so far

We welcome comments that advance the story through relevant opinion, anecdotes, links and data. If you see a comment that you believe is irrelevant or inappropriate, you can flag it to our editors by using the report abuse links. Views expressed in the comments do not represent those of Reuters. For more information on our comment policy, see http://blogs.reuters.com/fulldisclosure/2010/09/27/toward-a-more-thoughtful-conversation-on-stories/