Great news! Every newspaper in Australia is doing much better than all of its rivals! Journalism is saved! At least that would be the impression readers would get from every organisation’s coverage of Enhanced Media Metrics Australia (EMMA) figures out yesterday morning.

Let’s start with The Australian. A report said:

The Australian’s newspaper readership surged over the three months to January, outpacing the country’s other major mastheads.”

This is a very specific claim, though the headline (“The Australian leads the way in readership gains”) played it more loosely. The EMMA figures are released monthly, but the Oz chose to give readers a quarterly figure. And not just any figure, but that referring to its print readership.

The weekday editions of the Oz averaged 472,000 readers, according to this morning’s EMMA report. In the October report, it averaged 445,000, so the difference is, as the Oz says, 6.1%.

Why average things over three months when the report comes out every month? In December, the Oz’s print readership averaged 454,000. That shows the figure is going up 3.96% over a month, but that’s not as a eye-catching as 6.1%.

There’s a reason why the Oz has focused on its print readership — its total readership hasn’t moved much at all.

The total audience report (counting print and online) for January shows The Australian went from 2.953 million to 2.982 million monthly readers over the past year — a rise of just under 1%. It’s worse over the quarter, during which the Oz’s actually recorded a 1.32% fall. The Oz leading the way on readership gains? Not so much.

This cherrypicking of stats helps to knock down rivals as well boost your own team. The Australian said The Australian Financial Review‘s readership was up 5.5%, but the Fin’s own report said 15%. The difference lies in the time scale and medium– the Fin’s figure is a total audience yearly figure while the Oz’s is a three-month print-only figure.

Fairfax’s metro mastheads emphasised total audience figures over a year. The Sydney Morning Herald went from 4.948 million readers a year ago to 5.313 million, up 7.37%. Surprisingly, and to its credit, the Herald could have actually gotten a better figure if it went month-by-month — its December total readership was 4.862 million, meaning its readership rose 9.28% in a month.

The SMH described its result as “a record 1.2 million lead over its nearest rival as the most widely read publication in Australia”.

But unlike the Nielsen online readership figures, EMMA only considers only the readership of publications that are in print. This means the SMH’s main rival in the online stakes, news.com.au, isn’t counted. Nielsen online news rankings do count news.com.au — News Corp’s free news website — and those calculations put it quite a bit ahead of the SMH as the country’s most popular news website. In the December figures, news.com.au fell 10.68% compared to the previous month, but still had nearly 500,000 unique readers more than smh.com.au. (Nielsen and EMMA use different methodologies).

News Corp is at something of a disadvantage in the EMMA figures. Its push for scale (as opposed to subscriptions) in online is done through free news.com.au, while its newspaper websites are solidly paywalled. Fairfax’s porous paywalls mean its print and digital readership ambitions are added up on the same mastheads.

Peter Fray

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