The Words of the Emery Family

Circulation Hoax

Glenn Emery
August 11, 2001

Let us begin at the beginning.

When a newspaper or publication is launched, it is usually to great fanfare. A great deal of fuss is made to generate the buzz to get people interested to check out your product and -- hopefully! -- like what they see/read enough to come back for more. The Washington Times debuted to such fuss and fanfare, including a HUGE inaugural party at the Corcoran Galley costing a reported $50k.

Interest in the Washington Times was very high initially, with our initial press runs of (I think) 50,000+ being sold out. (Of course, tens of thousands of copies were comped, or given away. This is shrewd marketing.) Incidentally, the Washington Times did not yet have its own presses and had to utilize the News World's presses in New York and have the papers trucked down at great expense. Later it was found to be cheaper to pay the Washington Post to print our paper until we could get our own presses up and running.

Eventually, the Washington Times got two Goss Urbanite (kinda smallish) newspaper presses capable of cranking out 100,000+ copies of the Washington Times. (This is small potatoes. The Post had EIGHT giant presses at just ONE of its printing facilities. The Post owns entire forests in Canada to supply it with enough paper to print hundreds of thousand of copies of the daily paper and more than a million on Sunday.)

So the Washington Times eventually had its presses and was up and running Monday through Friday (no weekend edition).

The more papers a newspaper prints, the more money it loses. This is simple math. The cost of the paper at the newsstand (35 cents) is negligible vis-a-vis the actual cost of printing it (a dollar or more). Most papers like the Post make their revenue from advertising. Advertising in the Washington Times was (maybe still is) non-existent, as most of the "ads" that appear in its pages were comps or severely discounted.

Nonetheless, it was decided early on by the Unification Church leadership that a circulation of 100,000 daily papers (subscriptions and newsstands) would be a very respectable figure, despite the enormous cost in ink and newsprint. It would demonstrate that a significant portion of the population liked the paper (and by extension, liked the Unification Church, or at least didn't hate it, which is almost the same thing). So the goal of 100,000 circulation became the new mantra, not unlike chanting "one for two, three for five" on MFT.

After the initial hype wore off (basically, the next day), the task of building the circulation became everything. Anyone who participated in the Circulation Providence probably has some stories to tell. (I didn't sell ads or subscriptions. I was trying to get my byline in the paper. I didn't know what a byline was when I started, but I sure caught on quick.)

Anyhoo, every week seemed to bring glowing reports of HUGE circulation growth. It was phenomenal. It was as if the people of DC and the outlying suburbs had been STARVING for an alternative to the Post, especially a CONSERVATIVE alternative, and were scarfing up subscriptions left and right and buying up all the papers in the bright orange boxes each and every day. Let me tell you, WE WERE ON FIRE!

So, soon the official circulation figures climbed past 50,000 and then 60,000 and 70,000 and within six months or so of the paper's debut it reached the magical "providential" 100k. I don't recall there being a celebration per se, but it was a milestone that we all were extremely proud of. If ever there was a tangible sign (in my mind) of the KOHOE coming to fruition, the Washington Times was it.

Hold on! Can you see what's coming? Of course you can.

The numbers, sadly, were a hoax. Hundreds of thousands of copies of the Washington Times were discovered in Dumpsters and landfills, still bundled as they had been off the presses. The trucks were going straight from the Washington Times loading docks to the landfill. Is that sad or what? Drivers responsible for filling the orange boxes on the streets were instead surreptitiously depositing the previous day's unsold papers (virtually all of them) in Dumpsters.

It was a huge scandal, and the Post rightly smelled a news story and embarrassed the hell out of the Washington Times with front-page coverage. An audit revealed the circulation figures were completely cooked, the publisher Jim Whelan eventually lost his job (turned very negative toward the Unification Church as I recall, got cancer and died), and the real circulation figures were disclosed to be a mere fraction of the imaginary total.

Now, someone instructed the delivery people to do these things because they NEVER would have done them on their own. Somebody, acting on instructions from above, told these drivers to throw away any unsold papers rather than report them back to the circulation department. Hence, the false and deceitful practice was instituted of creating a foundation of substance where none existed.

The Washington Times recovered from the fiasco and kept turning out a not-too-bad paper on most days. The circulation stabilized at a figure considerably less than 100K, though I don't recall the officially audited figures. Whatever they were, they were puny by any standard.

Anybody know what the official circulation these days is? I'd be curious. Also, I wonder how many pages of paid ads it carries.

A newspaper is an extremely expensive item to produce. One can't help but wonder how long the Washington Times can be subsidized. Nobody's pockets are that deep.

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