26 Oct 2006

Straits Times gloating in a one-horse race

You know what they say, a pat on the back is only a foot away from a kick in the arse. And Seah Chiang Nee (LittleSpeck.com) delivers the boot:

Informed media watchers in Singapore couldn’t help but chuckle when they came across this recent headline: “Straits Times keeps No 1 spot, drawing 1.35m readers.”

I’m not sure why it bothered to proclaim this victory considering the newspaper is running in a one-horse race. It’s the only national English-language broadsheet on sale here, competing against itself.

It’s tantamount to SBS Transit claiming to be Singapore’s best bus operator. I doubt it will get any message of congratulations from the public.

(With due respect to it’s staff, TODAY is no editorial competitor. It is neither national nor provide full coverage and is competitive to the ST only in advertising.)

The second caveat to its claim lies in its purported rise of 30,000 readers to 1.35m compared to 1.32 in 2005 (quoting the latest Nielsen Media Index survey).

“It retained top spot as the favourite daily in Singapore,” it declared, obviously regarding TODAY, Business Times, Lianhe Zaobao, Berita Harian, Tamil Musasu, etc as competitors.

To the newspaper, this increase “is very good” compared with the rest of the declining world outside.

"Readership is falling in many newspapers round the world because news is available free on the Internet, on TV and on radio, “ says the ST editor.

"We face the same challenges in Singapore, and to be able to gain new readers in such a difficult environment is very encouraging."

Audited circulation, please!

Generally, readership surveys have limited worth, useful in determining the reach of the newspaper and detailing – for advertisers - readership profiles.

In other words, they show what age groups are avid readers and what they read to help advertisers plan their campaigns.

Some are actually wary about readership surveys, preferring to know the audited circulation figures - or actual sales figures (net of complementary copies) as the minimum requirement.

Conducted over one issue of over a period of say three months, these surveys are purportedly done on thousands of households. Figures are always higher than circulation data.

This is because several family members or office workers (in ST’s case 3.5 readers) share the same copy.

I have also noticed that in recent years, when circulation figures had shown stagnation or declines, the Straits Times had increasingly been emphasising on “readership” rather than “audited circulation.”

(Actually a truly transparent media would offer both because they complement each other.)

Many advertising firms in a non-monopoly environment (where they had a wider adv choice) would insist on detailed audited circulation information rather than merely “readership” surveys as the primary data source.

“Readership” surveys, if professionally carried out, are useful too, but recognisably would always have an element of error or distortion, less accurate than actual circulations.

When newspapers hike prices or during a serious economic downturn, it is possible for sales to drop but readership to go up as sharing becomes more prevalent.

This means that the number of readers may go up from say, 3.5 to 3.7 per copy. That doesn’t result in a better bottom line.

Besides readership often rises during general elections, wars or other major developments of special interest to Singaporeans – faster than audited circulation.

To be fair, The Straits Times do publish circulation figures except – as in the case of the recent gloating report – it doesn’t emphasise them. Understandable so when advertising costs depend mostly on a newspaper's circulation.

With sales trending downwards (it could be worse if not for its near-monopoly and a huge population jump in Singapore), the management probably felt it wiser not to play up ‘circulation’ figures.

How do we know ‘circulation’ had dropped? See for yourself: -

Daily ST average circulation:
1998 = 391,612 (population: 3,490,356)
2004 = 380,197
2005 = 386,167
June 16, 2006 = 381,934 (when population had risen to 4,492,150).

4 comments:

Anonymous said...

did the author mention he was an ex-employee? that he previously predicted cirulation would drop because of internet? the propaganda game is played by all for all kinds of reasons

the whole point of these circulation figures is to get advertising; dismissing Today as competitor because it is only for advertising, is ridiculous

the real beef with ST is content: it is quite OK in news coverage, but poor in commentary; it is meant to be a PR organ of Singapore Inc and scope for covering alternative views is limited

Anonymous said...

How can the ST be ok in news coverage if it's biased in how it chooses what to cover, what angle to cover it from, and its choice of words. Have you forgotten its selection of election rally photos. That was no commentary.

Anonymous said...

elections only happen once every few years you know; also not a lot of "news" with these rallies, on either side; they repeat messages heard many times already; the last election was specially boring

Disgusted said...

I stop buying the Straits Times many years ago.

So, did many of my friends and colleagues.
(even if they buy them, they throw away the Classified ads, etc.. as it is too bulky.....). Just observe yr friends who buy the Saturday Straits Times papers. Most of the time, you will notice the Classified Ads Section, etc,, is untouched and kept aside for the 'recycling' people).

Furthermore, the many useless and patronising articles by some ST reporters put us off completely.
You will know who they are by just going through the articles.

Do you notice that some of these journalists are just practising their English language prowess just like students who work on the General Papers; and getting their fat pay in the process.

For what ? To waste our time reading them ?

Complete waste of time !!!!!

WHY SHOULD WE SPEND OUR PRECIOUS TIME READING SUCH ARTICLES.

....WHICH ARE FRANKLY TOO SHALLOW, WITH HIDDEN OR OVERT AGENDAS, AND NOT REALLY BALANCED AND THOUGHT PROVOKING.

Do you notice that some of these reporters are ONLY good at 'talking' AFTER the fact (eg AFTER certain govt policies are implemented).

VERY RARELY do they give ALTERNATIVE views for the country's (not necessarily the govt's) benefit.

If that is the case, they are of NO use to the country.

eg, EM3 Streaming (now with the welcome change by the Education Ministry, the 'scribes' (reporters)are singing a different tune), Bus-Fare hikes, High Medical Costs; Sportsmen not allowed to continue training during NS days (they need not skip completely NS trg just like it was in the 70s and 80s with SAFSA); the problems of the Aged,the Handicapped, the mentally challenged and their needs; the problems faced by pensioners; the suicide rates; the high depression rate of students; the limitations of MediShield and why other Insurance schemes are more popular; the overdependence of Means Test used by the hospitals and its overwhelming paperwork; the rising income gap; the monopoly of the Telecom companies with no real competition; the high costs of Telecoms calls compared to China and India; the $10 Million EZ-link UNclaimed PUBLIC money that could have been channelled to Charitable causes ?; the 'half-hearted'/inadequate measures to encourage green cars with insufficient rebates - that will otherwise also HELP reduce our oil import bills and reduce our dependency on oil; part of the maid levy to be used as insurance, relief fund, etc,.... for the maids or in the event of accidents, tragedies befalling them; handicapped accessibility to bldgs and for transport/MRT (BELATEDLY retrofitted over the years at millions of dollars in cost - that could have been saved if these were included at the construction/design stage)......
are all issues FIRST brought up by the citizens in one form or another over the years.

Yet, do you find or remember any of these reporters taking the initiative to discuss these BEFORE the above (as examples) policies are reversed and changed for the better of the country ?

They ONLY write with gusto AFTER the policies/changes are implemented; and then they all appear to INSULT the intelligence of the readers (citizens) by their writings, as if the people were all in darkness of ignorance till the light is shone by these reporters or by the politicians. (who rehashed previous feedback from the public to appear as their own ideas).

I am happier with just TODAY and reading world news from the Internet.

The INTERNET IS NOW THE MAINSTREAM SOURCE OF NEWS, not our newspapers --- at least for many people these days.