SLO Tribune’s wildly varied circulation numbers

May 21, 2019

Joe Tarica

For a journalism contest, the San Luis Obispo Tribune’s circulation was less than 15,000. For advertisers, the Tribune’s readership is more than 122,000. [Cal Coast Times]

On its website, the Tribune is reporting 27,408 in daily circulation and readership of 68,520 which means the newspaper is saying an average of two and a half people read each day’s edition. But the newspaper’s media kit, used to give advertisers an idea of how many people their Tribune advertising will reach, puts daily readership at 122,220.

It’s an important question for businesses considering where to spend their advertising dollars: How many copies does the Tribune actually sell and how many people read the paper and the online editions?

As a way to prop up a wheezing industry’s declining advertising revenues, some publishers promote their publication’s estimated readership instead of actual circulation numbers. Circulation refers to the number of copies distributed in print and online subscribers while readership is a multiplication of that number based on an assumption that additional people read each publication, usually reported as two to five readers per copy.

The Tribune’s fortunes have waned over the years. Access to news on the Internet and public choices for other news sources, most notably Facebook, have reduced the numbers of readers of newspapers across the United States, including the Tribune. Online sources, including LexisNexis, put the Tribune’s circulation at between 38,000 to 40,000 copies a day from the mid-1990s to the early 2000s.

In its yearly report to the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission filed in March, McClatchy, the Tribune’s parent company, reported the Tribune’s average daily circulation in 2018 as 17,709.

The Tribune’s circulation number appears to have ranged down even lower as the newspaper entered a journalism competition run by the California Newspaper Association. The Tribune editorial staff entered the under-15,000 circulation division and won that category’s first place award for general excellence.

When asked to clarify the Tribune’s circulation, Editor Joe Tarica said their current circulation falls under 15,000. With a reported readership of 122,220 and Tarica’s number, the Tribune would have to have each newspaper read by slightly more than eight people.

The Alliance for Audited Media (AAM) is the company that’s supposed to keep the newspapers honest about circulation. Four times a year, the Tribune provides AAM a detailed circulation report that includes the average number of printed copies purchased, the number of printed copies given away, and the number of online paid subscribers. And, about every two years, AAM conducts an audit to confirm the publisher’s reports are accurate. The Tribune’s last audited report, which covered a 24 month period ending in Sept. 30, 2016, verified a total daily circulation of 25,718, including printed papers and online subscribers.

In the Tribune’s latest quarterly report to AAM, for the first quarter of 2019, the Tribune reported a total daily circulation of 16,267, which included 11,123 printed papers and 5,144 digital subscribers.

In response to questions about the Tribune’s different readership and circulation numbers, Tarica said variances in the numbers are because of the dates the numbers were pulled and different products included in the numbers. He refused to specify what publication dates and products where used to develop the Tribune’s varied circulation reports.

“Readership and circulation are different numbers, and there are many products that fall under different reports,” Tarica said. “Variances in numbers can occur based on the time frame pulled or the type of products included in the reports.”

Tarica also said that the Tribune was entered in the correct category for the CNPA contest.


“Readership” is inflated due to the huge number of parakeet owners using the trib as a birdcage liner.


I used to write The Tribune a $12-$15,000 check per month for advertising. Many years ago it became clear that due to the significant drop in their readership those advertising dollars would have more impact and be put to much better use elsewhere. We cancelled our longtime subscription and rarely if ever view it online. It’s a bit sad to watch their desperate attempts to remain relevant, but much of their undoing is self inflicted.

Niles Q

The Tribune fudged its circulation for the CNPA Awards? It’s self congratulations might not be deserved? Leave it to CCN to crap in their Cornflakes!


It could be that a large number of people are reading the Tribune on-line. But I seriously doubt it…


I think they probably have a lot of online traffic. But they are manipulating the number of paid readers, which means they are willing to lie to the public for money.


So the Tribune sells 11,000 papers a day, but tells their advertisers they are selling 122,000 a day. Isn’t that fraud.

Looked up the awards, the California Newspaper Publishers Association only gives awards to paid members and for 2018, the association gave out over 900 awards. So does that mean as long as you pay them for membership, you are almost guaranteed an award?

Matt Fountain won an award for questioning if Justin Fareed was incorrectly reporting his financial income because Fareed helped at the family ranch but didn’t show income from that. Pick at the honesty of politicians you don’t support while you deceive the public about readership. Fountain also won an award for his follow up reporting on the death in the jail, when he did not of the ethics to credit the reporters who exposed the wrongdoing.


Every time I hear a story about how people aren’t watching/reading/listening to News Product it gives me a small shot of hope.

As a nation, we have been nothing more than guinea pigs and lab rats in the largest study of propaganda and coercion ever foisted. Whether the topic is China, Russia, Measles, Trump, Guns, Drugs, Climate or Sportsball, the “story” is always crafted to fit a narrative and that narrative is never something that benefits us.

We should all stop consuming News Product! With a bit of diligence we can still triangulate the “truth” but if we rely on something like the Tribune, coupled with the LA Times, we’ll be hopelessly misinformed. Toss Fox News or CNN into our breakfast and our IQ’s go down 20%……<—-made up fact but you get the point.

Collective memory is about 2 weeks old for most folks, but if you start with WMD in Iraq and move forward to today, looking at every "big" and "breaking" story, you'll easily discover a tapestry of lies, all breathlessly reported by the media.

Case in point: Al Gore said the ice cap would be melted by 2013! Oprah said AIDS would infect 20% of heterosexuals and kill them by 1990!

There are hundreds more examples, each of which launched a government department, new taxes, wars and a raft of legislation…..all based on falsehood or massive exaggeration of goofy theories.

Just don't watch it or read it. Find 4 or 5 independent/non-CIA sources that don't report the same way and draw some conclusions based on critical thinking.


Just part of the “fake news” club that is getting more and more identified. Cry me a lazy river because they are nearing the falls and will go over and eventually drown.


It is going away…. and readership declined for many reasons, overt partisan bias, the failure to investigate and the woeful partisan endorsements at election time. For example, Harmon’s racist expressions against “white men” were never given the serious scrutiny that racist discourse is due. They are just intellectually dishonest. They flew against Cunningham, one of the States more rare and thoughtful members of the Assembly because of his party affiliation. They failed to endorse a qualified African American woman (Stewart, who won ) for SLO City Council while expressing support for “diversity”. As a journalism enterprise, they are a failure.

George Garrigues

This is very sad.


It is sad The Tribune lies, Also concerning is the number of people who look to them to be their news source while discounting other sources.