DeadspunWritten by Michael Miller | Editor in Chief Emeritus | email@example.com
Circulation is the lifeblood of the newspaper industry. The Internet and digital distribution have dramatically increased the reach of publications, but counting the number of printed copies remains a major part of setting advertising rates and empirically measuring market penetration.
I do not play any tangible role in the circulation of Toledo Free Press (my job is to make and package the pizza, not deliver it), but my email address is the recipient of the flood of delivery requests and thank-yous and the drip of do-not-deliver requests. When such requests arrive, I forward them to Toledo Free Press President and Publisher Tom Pounds, who runs the circulation department.
During our eight-year history, we have dealt with circulation threats both external (saboteurs from competitors who tamper with delivered papers) and internal (from prosecuted ex-employees looking to pocket money from falsifying delivery route reports).
While I do not directly impact circulation, my livelihood (and the livelihoods of the dozens of Toledo Free Press employees) hinges on it. So when those numbers are called into question, it is serious business.
At 10:58 a.m. Feb. 22, Blade sports reporter Ryan Autullo posted on his Twitter account, @AutulloBlade: “At a coffee shop, and @ToledoFreePress just delivered their Sunday paper ‘the largest circulation in town’ two days before Sunday.”
It’s disturbing that a high-profile, professional reporter like Autullo could pack so much inaccuracy and misdirection in fewer than 140 characters. First, Toledo Free Press has never claimed to have the “largest circulation in town.” We have the largest circulation in the county.
It’s also odd that Autullo fails to understand the simple process by which a weekly publication dates its covers. Toledo Free Press is designed to reach readers on Sunday, so it is dated for Sunday. Delivery starts early to ensure the more than 86,000 copies reach their destinations on time. If you subscribe to any magazine, from TIME to Entertainment Weekly, you have probably noticed that the cover date is always a week or more ahead. That’s the system.
Most disturbingly, Autullo is mocking Toledo Free Press’ circulation statement, even though he must know something about the auditing process that allows newspapers to make such statements. Toledo Free Press is audited by the Circulation Verification Council. In Lucas County, Toledo Free Press delivers 76,341 Sunday copies. The Blade is audited by Alliance for Audited Media. In Lucas County, The Blade delivers 70,590 Sunday copies. These are facts, not opinion, and a high-profile, professional reporter such as Autullo — whose work involves stats and scores and numbers — should have some elemental grasp of the unassailable nature of math. Toledo Free Press is Lucas County’s largest circulated newspaper (You should also know that our number was updated for 2012; The Blade’s most recently released audit is apparently from 2011).
Autullo’s tweet was brought to my attention but as it was more confused than pointed, it did not warrant a direct response. Toledo Free Press retweeted his message without comment, to allow our followers to see the unwarranted aspersion for themselves.
I have no way of knowing Autullo’s motives for taking a swipe at us, but he certainly deserves compassion for having some tough days recently. On Feb. 12, the website Deadspin beat him to the public with the story behind the resignation of University of Toledo track coach Kevin Hadsell. In a clumsy and defensive attempt to salvage some dignity, Blade Managing Editor Dave Murray took a shot at Deadspin’s credibility — “The difference between the coverage of this story by The Blade and Deadspin is that [Blade reporter Ryan] Autullo is a professional journalist who has named sources and you can believe what he reports,” Murray posted on the story’s Facebook comments section. That resulted in an Internet frenzy from new media journalists who said Deadspin editors described Murray as “archaic,” “tin-eared” and an “***hole.”
Just hours after Autullo took his misinformed shot at Toledo Free Press, karma does what it does best. Deadspin updated its Hadsell story, describing The Blade as “the unofficial publicity arm of the University of Toledo” and reported, “For an idea of how The Blade has framed the story, here’s a tweet from reporter Ryan Autullo: ‘Hadsell tweet: We’ve learned he boozed, had relationships with coeds, and was great at his job. #mostguyswouldkillforthat’.”
One does not have to be a journalism school graduate or high-profile journalist to understand how inappropriate it is for a reporter who is covering such a controversial and upsetting story to publicly express his admiration for the person he is supposed to objectively write about. Autullo has the right to glorify a man trusted with students who reportedly indulged in drinking and sexual relationships with those students, but stating that opinion undermines any trust in his reporting choices — both what he includes and what he leaves out.
Toledo Free Press, capitalizing on karma’s gift, tweeted a link to Deadspin’s update, with the hashtags #coffee and #coverdate.
Autullo responded: “Almost as inane as TFP’s outlandish circulation claims.”
We will probably never know why Autullo chose to wade into an 16-month-old multimillion dollar lawsuit, exposing himself and his employer to legal ramifications with such an easily disprovable statement. With one tweet, he went from jabbing to engaging in actionable disparagement.
His comments questioning Toledo Free Press’ audited circulation numbers open a number of unpleasant legal questions. On what basis does he say our circulation numbers are “outlandish”? With whom at The Blade has he discussed the topic, and what other falsehoods are the parties engaged in regarding Toledo Free Press?
Why, in addition to calling into question the veracity of Toledo Free Press, is he attacking and disparaging the methodology and data of the Circulation Verification Council (CVC)? CVC audits thousands of publications with combined circulations above 50 million; Autullo, as a high-profile, professional journalist, has publicly disparaged CVC and cast doubt on its work. I can’t imagine CVC president and CEO Tim Bingaman will react to that attack with good humor.
Autullo may also have violated his employer’s “Internet & Email Acceptable Use Policy,” which reads, “You must refrain from making any false or defamatory statements in any Internet forum or from committing any other acts which could expose this Company to liability.” But that’s a matter for Autullo’s employer to discuss with him.
Circulation is the lifeblood of the newspaper industry. When someone attempts to poison that blood with toxic disparagement, a swift and definitive response is warranted. There is enough bad blood between Toledo Free Press and The Blade without uninformed tweeters making matters worse.
Michael S. Miller is editor in chief of Toledo Free Press and Toledo Free Press Star. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.