No One Reads The [Globe/Herald] Reports The [Herald/Globe]

How can two papers report almost the exact opposite news on the same day?

We had to do a double-take at The Globe’s and The Herald’s dueling headlines about circulation figures today:

The Herald: “Herald Sees Readership Spike”

The Globe: “Boston Globe circulation rises nearly 12 percent, Boston Herald falls nearly 15 percent.”

Specifically The Herald reports a 15 percent rise in print readership while The Globe reports The Herald saw a 14.9 percent drop in circulation. Wait, what? 

It is almost a parody of the dueling daily newspapers that on the same day, they each report their own readership is on the rise and their competitor’s is sinking. It’s actually not the first time the papers have drawn opposite conclusions about their circulation trends, as Northeastern’s Dan Kennedy notes on his blog. One reason for the discrepancy is that the papers are citing different reports. The Globe is using a report from the Audit Bureau of Circulations, at least some of which you can find here. The Herald is working with a Scarborough Research report, which is private.

Another reason is that The Globe is counting anyone who pays to read the paper, either in print or online. Reporter Chris Reidy notes that The Globe’s print readership is declining, but all this is buoyed by expanding paying online readers. “While print circulation for the Globe declined nine percent for the daily and six percent for Sunday, they were offset by gains in digital subscriptions,” he writes. Because The Herald doesn’t charge online readers, The Globe gets to ignore them in its summary of their circulation.

The Herald’s report notes that The Globe’s print circulation is declining but doesn’t make any mention of the overall rise in total subscriptions. Meanwhile, the tabloid leaves it a little more unclear how they count their own readership. ABC’s report, cited by The Globe, found that The Herald’s circulation was down 14.9 percent compared to a year ago to 96,860. The Herald reports that “print readership” is up 15 percent to “nearly a half million.” Edit: John Carroll at “It’s Good to Live in a Two Daily Town” thinks this might be based on the assumption that five people read every copy of the Herald that’s distributed. If that is how they get that number, it would be a very high assumption.

It’s sort of unnerving that even with a story that is based exclusively on numbers, The Herald and The Globe take exact opposite angles. As Adam Gaffin at Universal Hub puts it: “Lies, damned lies, and newspaper circulation figures.” But it is a good lesson in media savvy for the rest of us. Even cold, hard statistics are subject to a friendly framing from your daily newspapers.