Who's counting? Stats blur Strib's redesign story

Early this week, Rake media writer Brian Lambert published an e-mail sent to City Pages' "letters" address by Monica Moses, Executive Director of Product Innovation at the Star Tribune and the manager of the paper's redesign, seeking to "correct some of the biggest leaps of logic in City Pages' recent coverage of the Star Tribune sale."

While the subject line read "NOT FOR PUBLICATION," Moses' note to CP editor Steve Perry wasn't private: she cc'd eight others on the communique, from columnists and reporters like Doug Grow and Rochelle Olson to former editor Anders Gyllenhaal. The tone of the several-email exchange bordered on downright snotty, generating a heated comment thread at the Rake's online property, MNSpeak, and a follow-up post by Lambert.

But while the back-and-forth banter has drawn attention, little has been said about Moses' mathematics.

Calling it "tiresome" to correct what she says are factual errors in City Pages' coverage, Moses explains to Perry why her words weren't meant for public consumption:
[Y]our publication has not proven itself to be honorable in accepting criticism and looking at facts that don't fit a preconceived, predictable, cynical, narrow portrait of the Star Tribune. Your motives are not pure. You can't be trusted to do the right thing with the information.
Perry's response: "I've always heard that you were a first-rate suck-up."

Perhaps Moses' sensitivity comes from her role overseeing the paper's cover-to-cover redesign, launched October 2005 (above, the Star Tribune, before and after). Some tie readership trends to the new look, and, in sharing hopes for what ownership by Avista Capital Partners might mean, an unnamed Strib reporter gave City Pages this stinging assessment of Moses' project: "There's some hope that they'll reverse the dumbing-down trend from the redesign. Maybe they'll recognize the need for depth and investigative reporting and stop the comic-book aspect of what our newspaper has become."

In one of the emails to Perry, Moses, who said she couldn't go on record because she's not an official Strib spokesperson, backed up the readership statistics she supplied Perry with confident assurance: "I have absolute faith in my argument."

One such statistic she offered:

Readership increased 2.3 percentage points, or 6 percent in the six months following the redesign, according to Scarborough Research.
Not understanding readership calculations, nor how 2.3 percent equals 6 percent, I e-mailed Moses, and she replied with this clarification: "2.3 is the number of percentage POINTS. On a 30-some original readership rating, the gain of 2.3 points amounts to 6 percent."

OK, but a statement in her official Star Tribune bio states something else altogether:
In the six months after the remake, readership rose 4.4 percentage points, according to Scarborough research -- the first such increase in six years.
Asked about this, her reply, which seems to arrive not from absolute certainty (but, perhaps, absolute faith), was: "I think 4.4 refers to daily and 2.3 refers to Sunday."

A few hours later, Moses emailed again, providing text "from our archives citing Scarborough research." The May 9, 2006 Strib article she included does little to clarify her conflicting statistics. According to the Audit Bureau of Circulations, the article states, in the six months ended March 2006 daily circulation fell 2.9% and Sunday circulation fell 7.4% (the piece also mentions growth of Pioneer Press circulation by 6 and 3.6 percent for daily and Sunday editions for the same timespan).

The story did, as Moses says, reference a 4.4% increase in readership, but that figure only applied to adult readers of the weekday version. Its source? Not Scarborough Research--which isn't mentioned at all--but Ben Taylor, Star Tribune senior vice president for marketing and communications.

[Cross-posted at Minnesota Monitor.]

No comments: