I had an unexpected – and very pleasant – surprise Tuesday afternoon. I had a meeting scheduled with a friend who works on the web side of the Christian Science Monitor – when he arrived for our meeting, he had in tow Abraham McLaughlin, CSM’s Africa bureau chief and one of my favorite journalists. (One of the great things about being fans of journalists and academics rather than, say, atheletes or rock stars is that you sometimes get to have a cup of coffee with the people you root for. Meeting Abe is roughly as cool as meeting Bob Mould or Brett Farve.)
Our conversation covered all corners of the map, but one issue that particularly interested me was the disparity between CSM’s physical and virtual reach. It’s become a popular meme in the blogosphere that more people read the New York Times online than on paper. While that’s true, an order of magnitude more people read the Christian Science Monitor online than on paper. Digital Deliverance speculated a year ago that CSM had about 69,000 paper subscribers, and 1.7 million unique visitors per month to their website. In other words, by one count, roughly twenty-five times as many people read CSM online as on paper. (In case you haven’t been won over to CSM, you might want to read this article from the Newspaper Association of America which does an excellent job of summarizing just what’s so cool about this little paper.)
It’s hard to determine whether CSM has the largest disparity between online and offline readership because it’s very hard to get websites to divulge monthly viewership. But we can test another hypothesis – that CSM has the highest number of blog links per paper subscribers of any major US newspaper. Technorati lets us check total links from blogs, and the Audit Bureau of Circulation gives us the circulation of the 150 most widely read newspapers and the 100 most widely read daily papers in the US. CSM – with an estimated circulation of between 69,000 and 73,000 – has a smaller reach than the Sunday edition of the Green Bay Press Gazette. (Not to mention less than 2% of the Press Gazette’s coverage of the Packers.)
For instance, USA Today has the highest circulation of all US papers – 2,665,815. (It’s worth noting that circulation is a much smaller number than readership. The Audit Bureau estimates that 3.3 people read each copy of USA Today. Quickly scanning these readership numbers, I found a range of 2.4 readers per copy (the Detroit Free Press, the Hartford Courant) up to 4.4 readers per copy (the New York Times)). Technorati reported 17,800 links to URLs containing usatoday.com from 10,861 sources. This gives USA Today a link per thousand circulation (LpkC) score of 6.68.
By way of contrast, Christian Science Monitor, with 71,000 circulation (the midpoint of the estimates I could find) and 9,578 links from 4,636 sources has a LpkC score of 134.9, a score that’s more than double its nearest competitor, the New York Times with a score of 63.08.
I ran a quick set of numbers last night, considering the 20 highest circulation papers in the US, plus the 30th, 40th, etc., up to the New Hampshire Union Leader, the 150th highest circulation paper in the US. (Extrapolating from the data I have from the Audit Bureau, I’m estimating that Christian Science Monitor, with a circulation of 71,000, would rank 242nd in circulation amongst US newspapers.)
Technorati failed to give a useable response for several papers – this may have been a passing glitch, and I’m going to write a script tomorrow that lets me check these numbers automatically. For the 29 papers where I got a response from Technorati, the mean LpkC was 14.43. (Incidently, if anyone wants to come up with a pronounceable abbreviation, rather than “LpkC”, please go right ahead and post it in the comments…) But it’s substantially above the median – 3.26 and I end up seeing USA Today as the midpoint in my set between “bloggy” and “non-bloggy” newspapers.
The bloggiest newspapers I found were:
Christian Science Monitor – 134.90
New York Times – 63.08
Washington Post – 58.44
San Francisco Chronicle – 38.32
Boston Globe – 29.80
Seattle Post Intelligencer – 18.56
New York Post – 12.48
LA Times – 11.21
A couple of observations: A number of these papers – the NY Times, the Washington Post and the LA Times – are so-called “papers of record”. Their circulations include substantial readership out of their immediate geographic area, and they’re widely read internationally. It’s also interesting that some of the cities represented – Boston, San Francisco and Seattle, most notably – are deeply geeky cities, with large populations of technology workers who, I suspect, are more likely to blog than, say, the average steelworker. Finally, it’s worth noting that a couple of the papers included – the New York Post, the Boston Globe – are sometimes percieved as being ideologically-biased newspapers. It’s possible that conservative bloggers are seeking out the Post (and liberal bloggers the Globe) irrespective of their geography.
I’ve got a bit less certainty about the least bloggy newspapers – I used a sampling of low and medium circulation papers, rather than all papers, and I worry that, in one or two cases, I must be using the wrong URL to search for stories. (I don’t believe that only six links have been created to the Charleston Post and Courier since Technorati’s been tracking blog links. I suspect, instead, that Post and Courier stories get blogged under an URL other than charleston.net, the paper’s main URL.) But here’s the bottom 10 in my set:
Charleston Post and Courier – 0.06
New Hampshire Union Leader and Sunday News – 0.22
Middletown (NY) Times Herald-Record – 0.39
The Wall Street Journal – 0.40
Fort Myers News Press – 0.50
Atlanta Journal Constitution – 0.57
The Daily Oklahoman – 0.89
Canton Repository – 1.41
Newark Star-Ledger – 1.47
Investor’s Business Daily – 1.71
(Before anyone writes about the Charleston Post and Courier as the least bloggy paper in the nation, let me clarify. I considered only 32 of the 150 papers listed by the Audit Bureau of Circulation. As I said above, I suspect my data on Charleston may be off. And Technorati failed to give data on some of the papers considered. So there may well be a major paper less bloggy than Charleston that I haven’t found yet…)
Note the inclusion of the Wall Street Journal in this list. The Journal is notorious in the blogging community for hiding nearly all of its content behind a paid firewall. Despite the fact that it boasts the second-highest circulation of a US paper (2,106,774), it’s anemic in the blogosphere, with 910 links from 828 sources. Aside from the Journal and Investor’s Business Daily, the other papers on this list are regional newspapers without a national presence – whether or not the Canton Repository is a high-quality paper, even news junkies like me are largely unaware of it and unlikely to include it in our aggregators, unless we have an interest in events in Canton.
Two hypotheses I’d very much like to test: I suspect that many of the unbloggy newspapers don’t have RSS feeds (or have feeds that are hard to find, broken or badly implemented – i.e., a single feed for the entire paper.) And I suspect that inclusion or exclusion from Google News and Yahoo News has a tremendous impact on the “blogginess” of a newspaper.
With this data in hand, I’m pretty comfortable concluding that the Christian Science Monitor is uniquely influential in the blogosphere in proportion to its paper circulation. It’s also surprisingly influential in absolute blogosphere terms, ranking 7th in terms of total Technorati links, behind the New York Times, Washington Post, Boston Globe, San Francisco Chronicle, USA Today and LA Times. It beats the Seattle Post Intelligencer (462,940 circulation), New York Post (686,207) and Chicago Tribune (963,927) in terms of Technorati links, despite having roughly one-tenth the paper circulation.
Well, almost all newspapers view the shift of readers from print to bits as something of a crisis. Newspapers know how to sell local, print ads and are now trying to figure out how to sell online ads to both a local and national market. And they’re trying to figure out how they advertise – at all – in RSS feeds. Some, like the WSJ, are putting content behind paid firewalls, or, like the NY Times, charging for access to archives. None of these systems is working especially well, and most mainstream journalists will tell you that they fear for the future of their publications.
The Christian Science Monitor must be facing an even more dramatic scenario than regional newspapers, which are still seeing some revenue from classified ads. CSM maintains several foreign bureaus, an expense most newspapers – tragically – have cut. Despite support from the Christian Science church, the paper is facing extreme financial hardship.
My numbers suggest that CSM is giving the blogosphere something that it’s not finding in other major newspapers – hence, the disproportionate linkage to CSM stories. And CSM is clearly reaching far more online users than paper readers. Is there a way for the Monitor to embrace it’s unique status and become the “official paper of the blogosphere”? Or is the Monitor slated to become one of the first – and most tragic – casualties of the move from paper to bits?
(Before anyone says it: yes, I’m interested in testing this idea outside of US newspapers – I need a single, reliable source for circulation statistics, though, and I need to think about how whether language will effect my technorati searches. If you’ve got a good source, please let me know. And if you’re interested in trying the 118 US newspapers I didn’t investigate, knock yourself out, and let me know how it goes – it’s probably going to be June before I have time to run the full data set.)