Correlation between circulation success and numbers of employees

October 17, 2003 • Newsroom Management • by

Neue Zürcher Zeitung, October 17, 2003

A US study on newspaper editorial staff
One news-editor for every 1,000 copies sold – states an American rule of thumb on newspaper staffing. In the light of this formula, media researchers Philip Meyer and Minjeong Kim from the University of North Carolina have examined the effects of cutbacks or increases in editorial staff on a newspaper's circulation (in: Newspaper Research Journal, Vol. 24, No. 3, summer 2003, 76-82).

The first result: The newspapers which reduced the size of their staff in the period 1995 to 2000, lost significantly more in circulation numbers than the rivals who had maintained a more robust staff-to-circulation ratio. Where the number of editors increased, circulation size did not rise, but its losses were clearly limited.

We are dealing with a chicken and egg problem, however. We cannot tell from these numbers whether a personnel reduction was the consequence of a decline in circulation or vice-versa. Therefore, the researchers went on to analyze whether the newspapers which were particularly well staffed with editors in 1995, according to the benchmark, also saw a rise in circulation over those years, compared to their rather under-staffed competitors. Sure enough, from this point of view, a good level of editorial staffing is shown to have a positive effect on circulation.

The researchers interpret their results with all required caution, referring to numerous intervening variables. Above all, more must of course be known about the quality and competence of the editors as well as about the leadership qualities of the paper’s management, in order to be able to make definitive statements. Nevertheless, in the opinion of the scientists, "all those analysts who see a newspaper as nothing more than a platform for delivering eyeballs to advertisers in the cheapest manner possible" should have second thoughts. They should reflect on what ultimately attracts those readers’ eyeballs to the platform. After all, the editorial staffing and thus the quality of the contents of a newspaper does influence commercial success.

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