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Newspapers: Less Liked Than Airlines?

Posted by: Jon Fine on May 19, 2009

I posted here on Friday about a shred of good news for newspaper companies. Consumers appear to be willing to pay for their papers—that is, the paper version of the newspaper. Or, at least, they’re doing so in numbers sufficient to make most companies’ circulation revenues increase in the first few months of ‘09.

So people are, like, ‘yay, newspapers,’ right? Not according to data just released by the American Customer Satisfaction Index.

The American Customer Satisfaction Index--ACSI from here on down--tracks customer satisfaction across a wide range of industries and has done so since 1994. Each quarter it surveys consumers to come up with what they call a “satisfaction index” by assigning scores to key business sectors, and in many cases companies within these sectors, on a scale of 1 to 100.

The first quarter ’09 Satisfaction Index data is out and can be seen in its entirety here. How did newspapers do?

Not good. In fact, really not good. In the first quarter of '09, newspaper customers’ satisfaction rating was 63. To put this in some perspective, those surveyed expressed a greater deal of satisfaction with airlines (airlines!) which scored 64. And cell phone providers (cell phone providers?) which score a 69.

(The most-satisfactory segment, per the survey? Full-service restaurants, which notched an ACSI rating of 84. Comfort food and comfort rituals for uncomfortable times.)

That’s bad enough, but what’s worse is how badly newspapers’ ACSI score has slipped since the surveys began plumbing consumer sentiment. It’s off 12.5% since the survey's debut in 1994.

This marks the steepest “satisfaction” drop of any industry in this quarter's survey.

Anyone want to hazard a guess why newspapers' scores have dropped so far?

Reader Comments

Monica Gagnier

May 19, 2009 8:27 PM

Jon -- I'm not sure the dissatisfaction is with content. It could be because of circulation problems. Every time I try to turn off my local Gannett-owned paper in Poughkeepsie, N.Y., when I go away for an extended period of time, they keep charging me for the paper. Luckily, the delivery person lives next door to me and he stops the paper when I ask him to. That still leaves the fight over the bill with the circulation department.

I expect the same thing to happen with the LA Times when I leave California at the end of the month. Once you turn on a newspaper subscription, it's almost impossible to turn it off, even though papers promise to accommodate part-time residents.

Matthew Terenzio

May 19, 2009 8:40 PM

The circulation numbers increasing are likely due to changes in the way ABC (Audit Bureau of Circulation) counts circulation.


May 19, 2009 8:54 PM

This is totally misleading. They are really only down 1.6 percent from last year. Fixed line telephone service is down 1.4 percent and 11 percent since the survey debut in 1994. While cable and satellite is down 1.6 percent like newspapers.


May 20, 2009 9:07 AM

bias and bs. Half of the cover of the nytimes is celebrity trash or product, and the other half is full of headlines about news, say torture, that wsa pretty clear years ago. Oh, maybe those media endorsements of an invasion to find something that didn't exist? Sure, that's the CIA's job, but isn't the media also supposed to gather and report real information?

I can get just as good of content from a blog. And that is why newspapers will fail, unless they learn to actually provide real content.


May 20, 2009 10:18 AM

What are the complaints with newspapers specifically? Delivery? Inky fingers? Too little hard news? Too much? Why are people dissatisfied?


May 20, 2009 10:22 AM

That's easy.They have dumbed down the content, moved deadlines way up, jobbed out their printing, fired as many as half their reporters, photographers and editors -- generally the highest paid, meaning the most experienced -- ceased to be the surrogate for the reader, seriously diluted its watchdog role, offshored circulation complaints, and stops, and starts, meaning you have a devil of a time even getting a bill for your subscription, compounded that by having the offshore contractor call and badger you to pay a bill you haven't even received, and won't, dropped or seriously curtailed training for advertising and circulation sales,routed all incoming calls to goofy menus -- including, of all things, calls into the newsroom, gotten sucked up in some really lousy corporate culture, and ... well, you get the picture. Many of us always thought that the only people who could kill newspapers would be the owners and publishers. I wish we had not been right.

phil b

May 20, 2009 10:31 AM

Let's see...dumb down the content, cut way back on local news coverage, run more and more fuzzy 'lifestyle' pieces that don't mean a thing, and above all cut, cut, cut when it comes to the newsroom and number of pages.

Better yet, stop delivering the paper and force readers to go to the internet (hoping they visit YOUR site, not someone else's).

Sheesh. It's "How to ruin a business" 101. Losers.

Jon Fine

May 20, 2009 10:31 AM

Thanks for the comments, all.

Monica: would most people need to cancel their subscriptions if they were actually, uhm, satisfied with their paper?

Matthew: I'm not quoting Audit Bureau of Circulation figures. I'm quoting from earnings reports of publicly traded companies. See my previous blog post here:

Aldo: Nothing misleading at all. Newspapers' "satisfaction index" score is indeed down 12.5% since the ACSI started surveying, and are currently matching their previous lowest score.

Tim Barrus

May 20, 2009 10:42 AM

My favorite past time has been to watch the book review sections get the axe. I never thought I would see the day when the grand poobahs of literature would be in the unemployment lines with the little people (who must be told what to read). The New York Critic's Circle on food stamps. Oh, poor them. Poetic justice.

Kevin Morgan

May 20, 2009 11:00 AM

The newspapers failed in their role as watchdog. 8 years of the Bush administration walking all over the truth with the entire established newspaper industry echoing lies that lead us into war and economic collapse is bound to have a price.

Calvin Cooper

May 20, 2009 11:00 AM

Are the reporters not to blame as well? There are lots of lazy ones out there. Let's face it, there's definitely enough blame to go around.


May 20, 2009 11:22 AM

lol do you really wonder why? You can't have a financial mess, corruption on a level that unprecedented, 2 wars and torture going unnoticed if your journalistic integrity is intact! People are dissatisfied because they know they are being lied to, manipulated an controlled by these rags!!!


May 20, 2009 11:52 AM

I agree with sharecropper and Phil B. I'm in Detroit. I get a "paper" 3 days a week and after 30 years of subscribing I'm considering dropping it.

They've gotten rid of so many local features/writers, the front page is nothing but short blurbs, with the actual story found inside (they're trying to avoid jump pages), it's a festival of stupid graphics...and it's not even a paper really, it's more of a pamphlet

They even cut back comics, which IMO is the only thing that you can't get from their free website. The E-paper is a joke. Didn't work this morning...AGAIN.

Print a decent paper 4-5 times a week. Charge the same or a bit more.


May 20, 2009 12:27 PM

If the news papers fleshed out the content of the news you saw the night before on tv they might be worth it. They are not constrained by the 24 hr electronic news cycle and should give them the advantage of time to check out a story more fully. Would be a real boon for democracy to be able to read real journalism.


May 20, 2009 12:54 PM

This is a RIDICULOUS waste of time and news space. People really equate missing a paper delivery or not being credited for 40 cents with being stuck overnight at O'Hare or sitting on the tarmac for 3 hours with one dirty bathroom to share. REALLY? If so, this civilization has already ended.

Col. Algernon Hawthorne

May 20, 2009 1:13 PM

All of you have your heads in the sand!!
Majority of people dispise newspapers and the media in general because their whores of the left; it really is that simple. Report the news and be honest, if not, you will fail.


May 20, 2009 1:37 PM

Charges of bias have always been there. I think the biggest change is papers charging people more for a product that is delivering less and less. It's an industry that doesn't appear to hold itself to the high standards it holds other institutions to.

Kevin Schulman

May 20, 2009 2:08 PM

The main reason is that the survey is not just among subscribers of a newspaper - the criteria to qualify is much "looser" so ACSI is merely a reflection of the downward trend in circulation for all the obvious and well documented reasons - e.g. lifestyle, internet, more choices, etc...

In other words, the circ numbers you cite are apples and this sampling is oranges. If you only surveyed subscribers each year you'd actually see cust sat numbers go up since the only ones really left are the satisfied.

Kevin Schulman

May 20, 2009 2:14 PM

One somewhat related thought is the biggest mistake newspaper (or magazine execs) can make is to mistake falling circulation numbers for true demand for their product.

This confuses delivery channel (i.e. paper) and a specific, niche (and dying) product (i.e. the current paper version of product) with the actual product, news and information and presumably some editorial ability to provide what we want.


May 20, 2009 4:24 PM

Let's see.... the content. Journalists are still running around blaming everything else for the downfall of newspapers and have yet to realize how they've contributed.
I'd give anything to read a story that I knew wasn't biased in some way. Newspapers also forgot how to tell stories and how to write about things that people actually care about.
I worked for a fairly decent sized newspaper and nary a person on staff thought it was a good idea to respond to readers.
The fact is journalism needs to evolve. Newspapers need to die and then be re-birthed.


May 20, 2009 4:54 PM

The "survey" is from some rinky-dink college department; it's not a scientific poll; the "findings" obviously reflect little more than chronic customer dissatisfaction with home delivery for many newspapers. And the same outfit's survey on airlines was just as invalid. Let's please start looking at methadology and source before publicizing surveys

the dude

May 20, 2009 5:01 PM


You are a hick.

Have a nice day.


May 20, 2009 11:33 PM

Entropy is the problem. What evolves eventual devolves. I wouldn't doubt that the last Sumerian scribes decried the death of clay tablets when writing on sheep skins became popular.

Sam H

May 21, 2009 12:46 AM

Hey Bb,

Are you serious? You really think what the idiot Dems are whining about is torture? You truly are an idiot.

And, do you really want to stand by your assinine assertion that the Battle of Iraq was "an invasion to find something that didn't exist"? How moronic a statement is that? What happened to the WMDs Bb? Oh, right, they never existed. One thing is sure...Mr. Hussein does not have WMD now.

How do you liberal idiots like the zero that is Mr. Obama adopting every single one of Mr. Bush's anti-terror measures? How does it feel to know you were misled by a scheming, lying politician whom you voted for simply to assuage your teenage guilt and angst?

How does it feel to live in an adult's body with the mind of a child?

Mr. Obama is a socialist fool and a liar.

Good luck to you Bb...methinks you will need it.

Sleep well moron.


May 21, 2009 7:32 AM

No one can control what happens in a survey: not even those who assemble it. Customer satisfaction is an elusive target and it changes very dynamically from market to market.
Newspapers are also changing daily: more are online now than ever, many are becoming weeklies or bi-weekly, and some are disappearing altogether.
One aspect of the business has not changed. There is a critical need for newspapers in local markets to keep consumers informed and hold governing bodies accountable for their actions.
The large chain newspaper companies need to bring their shared resources to bear in a manner that will help them cover their local areas more intently than ever. Newspapers need to get back to more in-the-trenches reporting, on issues their readers care about. They need to host community events such as public forum discussions on relevant social issues.
Newspapers perform a vital role in our communities: that's where the battle is.
Newspapers have a long tradition of investigative journalism, activism, and integrity: that's something you don't always find in a web broswer, a mobile phone or a blog posted by Anonymous from an undisclosed location.

Jon Fine

May 21, 2009 9:19 AM

Thanks for the plentiful and spirited comments, but, please, don't make me play Dad here: let's stay away from the ad hominem and personal attacks on each other.

CT Moore

May 21, 2009 9:50 AM

Well, if I was cutting costs, I might start with customer service too.


May 21, 2009 3:47 PM

Lindsay's comment is bang-on. Journalists have completely lost touch with what the majority of people want to read. As comedian Derek Edwards put it, why is a story about three people killed in a Chinese earthquake on the front page of my local newspaper? I bet it didn't make the front page in China!

Journalists (and I am one, so I can say this) need to pull their heads out of their asses and start asking real people -- NOT other journalists! -- what they want out of newspapers. I guarantee they'll be shocked by what they hear.

Go Time

May 21, 2009 7:51 PM

Everyday newspapers are being defined by outside sources. Think advertisers don't care? Think again. The idea that advertisers will be excited about products the community doesn't enjoy is nothing short of a reach. NOW is the time for newspapers to grab the tools to fix the problem. I have this neighbor who has been beating me over the head that our paper doesn't have any more content. Our paper's getting thinner and she wants to cancel. I quickly started working on a project that's so rich with local content and marketing it will blow her mind and probably everyone on here when we get it finished. That's basically what newspapers have to do. Address the issues and comeback with a hardcore delivery that puts all of those questions to bed. This is not an issue that will go away or fix itself. It's not something that newspapers can ignore. It's go time people. You have the power to change their mind, whether or not you choose to do so is up to you.

Art M.

May 22, 2009 11:24 AM

I don't recall who first wrote this comment, but "some people use statistics the way drunks use lamp posts -- more for support than illumination."

Jon, with all due respect, if newspaper companies are reporting an increase in revenues on '09, could it be because they suffered so much in '08, so by comparison the situation has improved?
Or, is the increase in revenue due to online revenues, not print?

Newspapers are losing money or folding all over the country -- Boston, Tuscon, Detroit, Miami, Denver, San Francisco, et. al. The NYT is gasping for air, and living on Carlos' money. Ask Sam Zell what he thinks of his decision to buy the Tribune Co.

Newspapers are fading on the horizon because they've become a pile of ads and trivia. Note the comparison with network news! Both have suffered major credibility problems in recent decades. Remember when we tuned in to hear avuncular Walter Cronkite tell us, "And that's the way it is. . ."?

Why the increasing dissatisfaction with newspapers?

Could it be because . . .

-Journalists seem to prefer being commentators, not reporters?

-Editors prefer stories that are interesting rather than ones that are important? (Are there readers who really want to know how much Britney Spears spent on clothes last month? OK, I know the answer!)

-Sportwriters are wise-guys with a small IQs and large egos? (Shirley Povich, where are you?)

-Editorial writers have an agenda rather than objectivity?

-Gen Y prefers to get their daily news fix online?

-People who are "green" see newspapers as a terrible waste of trees?

Whatever dissatisfaction people have with newspapers may not be due to inky fingers, billing problems, or wet newspapers in your driveway. The cause of the pain may be the product itself.

Fred M.

May 24, 2009 7:52 PM

Dear Art. M, et al:

I keep hearing about this terrible media "bias" and lack of objectivity. Frankly, as a reporter, I'm not seeing it.

Do you have any actual examples to bolster your claims?

In fact, most readers who get me on the phone to tell me that the media has failed to be objective and is biased to the left then follow up their argument with a demand that we report the news with a rightward twist. They argue for news that's supposedly more "fair and balanced" ... like Rush Limbaugh and Bill O'Reilly!

Readers don't want balance. They want their personal bias reflected in what they read. And that's what the conservative commentators like Limbaugh and O'Reilly offer them.

There are plenty of weak newspapers out there that write overly long articles about the weather... as in, yesterday's weather.

But to all you who say, "I don't need the newspaper. I've got blogs and the Internet," I say two words: wake up. Where do you think the bloggers and Internet aggregation sites, Yahoo and Google included, get their content from? They're pulling from the AP and other sources, which are rewriting the content initially found in newspapers!

With perhaps one exception, I've never heard of a blogger sitting through a City Council meeting and giving a detailed analysis of a budget change the next day. That would be news to me!

Damien Collier

May 25, 2009 1:46 PM

As a newspaper reporter, I at first argued with readers complaints of deficient news coverage. After a few years of editors demanding that I write fluff to promote real estate and auto advertisers, after having a retired NSA analyst cum business editor complain that my compilation of 10 year real estate trends during the real estate crash hurt the feelings of the entire news staff and after having economic trend data deleted from servers while I was using it for a deadline story involving an unpopular ethnic group I realized the industry itself was corrupt. If I as a reporter can't trust my own work, pre-edit and especially post-edit, how could I expect readers to trust it? My work as doing more harm than good and I left the industry at great personal cost.

Art M.

May 26, 2009 6:19 PM

Fred M., thanks for your comments, and allow me to respond.

1. Isn't putting Limbaugh and O'Reilly in the same pot sugggest a lack of objectivity? No one claims Rush, Hannity, or Beck are fair and balanced. They're idealogues for the right. O'Reilly is anti-BS, and he attacks absurdity on both sides of the aisle.

2. When Pelosi first accused the CIA of lying, and Panetta responded, the press went after her. Now she wants the issue behind her, so the story has disappeared.

3. Coverage of Obama's visit to Notre Dame was all about Obama and the protesters. Have you seen stories or editorials praising the ND community for its outstanding behavior and dignity in handling the situation?

4. Those who are in favor of keeping Gitmo open are portrayed as Cheney type nazis who favor torture. Most people are misinformed about waterboarding, and how often it was used. Do we hear about what good may have come from enchanced interrogation techniques, and the fact that there have been no terrorist attacks since 9/11?

5. The Senate handed Obama a stunning defeat (90-6?) over funding to close Gitmo. Obama and Holder didn't think the issue through, so why has the press barely criticized them for it?

6. Have you seen stories about the potential harm that might come from mixing terrorists with current US prisoners? Bin Laden must be praying that we put his people in San Quentin, Leavenworth, Joliet, etc., -- his recruits get trained, and the US pays for it!!! And after they get out, we'll give them medical care, social security benefits, and pay their legal fees.

7. NEWSWEEK used to be a balanced news source. Under Jon Meacham, it's an Obama cheering section and liberal journal. Is it any wonder circulation is crumbling?

8. Coverage of the Obama/Netanyahu meeting was fluff. And why hasn't the press written about American Jewish reaction to Obama's position on Israel?

9. Why wasn't there stronger criticism of the NYT reporter who asked Obama what "enchanted" him most about being president? Press conferences are now 1960s style love-ins!

10. Over recent months, bankers have been reviled, and so has Bush, for the economic situation we're in, but Congress gets a free pass. Why hasn't the press gone after the people who allowed the lax regulatory environment?

I agree with your opinion on blogs. They are to journalism what McDonalds is to fine dining.

Lastly, I'd never say, "I don't need a newspaper." More than ever, we need quality journalism. It's just harder to find.

Thanks again, Fred.

jason brown

July 8, 2009 11:52 PM


Damien Collier may not be a real name, but his comments ring true.

Journalists are no more in charge of content than readers are. That control lies in the hands of big corporates.

Invisible hands of the free markets recognise only direct profit, not indirect benefit.

This is something big corporates understand better than anyone here, other than Damien.


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