Magazine article Editor & Publisher

Buffalo News Circ. Tumbles

Magazine article Editor & Publisher

Buffalo News Circ. Tumbles

Article excerpt

Nearby publisher says Audit Bureau of Circulations should have noticed inconsistencies years ago

Daily circulation of the Buffalo News plummeted to 237,229 from 262,095, a drop of 9.5%, the largest decline among any of the top 50 newspapers in the country, according to the Audit Bureau of Circulations' report for the six months ended Sept. 30, 1998. News Sunday circulation fell 4.2% to 332,428.

The steep fall at the highly profitable paper owned by Warren Buffett's Berkshire Hathaway investment firm comes six months after the paper ended an unofficial policy limiting reimbursement to distributors for unsold copies. The paper claimed to auditors that it allowed full returns while actually limiting distributors to a maximum credit of 5% of their draw. The cap on returns was instituted by former vice president and circulation director David Perona, who went to jail earlier this year after pleading guilty to theft. Perona, who recently got out of jail, says News top managers knew everything he was doing.

Publisher Stanford Lipsey, who had previously predicted a circulation skid of "a few thousand daily" (E&P Sept. 12, p. 30) due to the circulation scheme, refused to comment on the decline.

But Mark Francis, publisher of four modestly sized dailies around Buffalo owned by Community Newspaper Holdings Inc., says he questioned the Audit Bureau about News circulation seven years ago, to little effect.

"In my opinion, the News has been inflating its numbers for years and it became fairly common knowledge," he says. "I studied their ABC reports. To me, there were some questionable things going on."

In a 1991 letter to ABC, provided at E&P's request, Francis noted that breakout of News circulation by ZIP code didn't jive with Niagara County numbers reported elsewhere in the audit.

A year later, he noted that the News was reporting gains in Niagara County while distribution there declined. …

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