Unexpectedly Intriguing!
August 1, 2007

It would seem that the Washington Post's Richard Cohen is not alone among those in the journalism profession, or perhaps more accurately, those in the business of disseminating information through newspapers, when it comes to possessing an inability to process basic math calculations.

We base this observation on a recent post by Espresso Pundit's Greg Patterson, who notes the problems the Arizona Republic is having in selling newspapers:

The Republic is facing rising costs and has decided to raise rates in response. But they need to find a guy who passed junior high math and move him to the Marketing Department. Here's a copy of a letter that the Republic is sending to its subscribers.

...in order to keep up with rising production and distribution costs, effective your next billing cycle, your rate will increase from $10.95 to $11.92. This is only a .03 cent increase a month!

What? .03 cents? What the heck does that mean? It's obviously not literally true--that would be 3/100 of a penny. Do they mean "percent"? Clearly not. The 97 cent increase on a base of $10.95 is an increase of about 9%.

I guess that there are three types of people in this world: Those who can do math and those who can't.

But wait, there's more! There's a bunch of stuff going on here, and an individual working for an media organization who lacks math and/or proofreading skills is just the tip of the iceberg! Why is the Arizona Republic raising its prices in the first place? Greg Patterson continues:

What's really interesting about the letter is not the math error, it's the economic reality. Raising rates 9% is going to put further downward pressure on circulation. Newspapers are in a cycle that they can't control. It's getting more expensive to deliver a 4 pound piece of paper to 400,000 people over a 400 square mile area. The number of subscribers is decreasing while the distribution area gets broader, so the cost per unit is on the rise. The Republic can either eat that cost or try to pass it on.

The only possible response is a rear guard action, a fighting retreat. Cut production costs by using cheaper paper, and reducing coverage. Cut labor costs by using more wire stories and less experienced reporters. Additional layoffs and retirement incentives are next. The Republic currently employs about 2,600 people. It will be half that number in 10 years.

One would hope that in the shake up to come, the Republic will move a guy to the Marketing Department who can, you know, do math.

We predict that's the last thing that will happen at the Arizona Republic, because what the mere presence of an individual with horrible math and/or proofreading skills in the newspaper's marketing department tells us: the editors and publishers of the newspaper have already cut their labor costs by hiring those who are far less qualified and far less educated than what the jobs they've been hired to fill require.

That's not all. Since first noting the increasingly dire business environment in which the Arizona Republic finds itself in the post we've quoted above, Greg Patterson has also documented and confirmed that the newspaper will cut its costs by cutting service to the northern third of Arizona.

We believe that all three events taken together clearly indicate that the editors and publishers of the newspaper have embarked on an extreme cost-cutting and revenue-raising strategy in the face of severe pressures on the newspaper's finances. These things together are not casual changes in business strategy - they represent a major effort to prolong the survival of Arizona's leading newspaper.

We just don't know what they'll win by doing so, or what change they could enact that will be able to revive the newspaper business. We suspect that they don't either. And Greg Patterson, for one, would appear to not be willing to sit around and wait for them to produce the next generation newspaper.

Previously on Political Calculations

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