Newspaper readership? Far above what a State Rep quoted trying to get public notices changed

From the time he introduced House Bill 195 on January 7, at 12:35 p.m., State Representative Jerry Miller kept saying 15 percent of Kentuckians read newspapers. That was his way of saying newspapers are faltering and the prime reason the legislature should consider moving all public notices to government websites.

He kept using that figure, even picking up some government agency groups quoting that percentage. Rep. Miller said it came from a Pew Center Study but didn’t quantify what newspapers or frequencies the study examined.

Yes, newspaper circulation is down over a few years ago. No, there are no fewer papers in Kentucky in 2020 than there were a few years ago. Yes, while circulation might be down, readership is up.

The most recent statewide survey we have shows 2.8 people read each copy of a newspaper. Wife gets the paper out of the mailbox, reads it; husband reads it; other relatives follow suit when they visit or when one family is finished and passes it on.

That gave reason to check out what the readership really is. Simple to do: Add up the total print circulation of weekly newspapers, add in the print circulation of daily newspapers. Multiply by the 2.8 readership per copy.

So what did we find?

Weekly newspaper circulation is 349,221 and it’s been noted previously that figure is up over the previous year. Not much but enough to show overall weeklies are not losing print circulation.

Daily circulation is 267,936.

That’s 617,157 total print circulation, using the Statements of Ownership filed last October by Kentucky newspapers. What it does not include is the number of Kentuckians who select reading their newspaper online through an e-edition. When we can add those numbers in, perhaps Rep. Miller will see how far off base his number is. And whatever that online readership total is, it’s far and above the number of people who go to a local government website. Even website where all notices published in newspapers are available — at no cost to anyone — has numbers well above government website access.

With the average readership of 2.8 persons per copy that’s 1.7 million readership.

Last population figure for Kentucky that I found was 4.468 million.

Earlier this week, Al Cross had a student intern at UK, Max Morris, do research on what the household penetration for newspapers is per county. While the report is not finished, it shows much more than what Rep. Miller and other governments were quoting. The map is below and Max will continue gathering circulations and updating the map to show household penetration. In the case of a county with two newspapers, the map shows the penetration of the higher circulation newspaper with a + sign after it.

Al Cross, director of the Institute for Rural Journalism and Community Issues at UK, notes: …”we calculate household penetration by adding the in-county subscriptions to the non-mail circulation (which may not be entirely within the county, but is surely overwhelmingly so) and dividing that sum by the number of occupied housing units in the county.”

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