Mar 14, 2023 - News

Des Moines Register's declining circulation

Illustration of a crumbling newspaper

Illustration: Annelise Capossela/Axios

The Des Moines Register has lost nearly 70% of its Sunday circulation since 2018, according to a recent column in journalism outlet Nieman Lab.

Why it matters: At a time when we're bombarded with more misinformation than ever, reputable reporting from news outlets like the Register is even more crucial.

Driving the news: Every major local paper under Gannett, the Register's parent company, experienced a decline in its Sunday circulation since 2019, per Nieman Lab.

  • On average, Gannett's major local newspapers lost at least 52% of their Sunday circulation during that time period.
  • The Register's Sunday circulation declined from 129,462 in 2018 to just 39,773 in 2022, according to the Alliance for Audited Media.

Of note: Direct year-to-year circulation comparison is difficult, according to AAM, since Gannett may voluntarily choose to report different sets of numbers.

  • For example, in 2018 the Register shared print circulation, affiliated publications, readership data and website activity. But in 2022, it only shared print circulation.

Flashback: In 2019, Gatehouse and Gannett merged to create the country's largest newspaper chain.

  • But since then, the company has been fraught with furloughs and high turnover, going from a total of 27,600 employees in 2018 to just 11,200 remaining at the end of 2022.

What they're saying: "A recent Nieman Lab article utilizes Alliance for Audited Media (AAM) data to inaccurately depict Gannett's circulation and subscriber figures. We have requested a correction," the Gannett spokesperson tells Axios.

  • AAM data is used to help advertisers understand publisher reach in specific markets, the spokesperson said, not to infer readership or paid circulation.
  • Gannett declined to share the Register’s circulation numbers.
  • A Nieman Lab spokesperson declined to speak on the record.

What's next: The Iowa Legislature is considering eliminating public notice requirements in newspapers — another financial blow that could hurt the Register.

  • Statewide government actions must be published for the public to see. Those are typically placed in local newspapers, which are paid to share the notices.

💭 Our thought bubble: We need investment in thoughtful journalism from reputable outlets like the Register more than ever right now.


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