Belo Lowers Inflated Circulation of ‘News’

DALLAS The Belo Corp. has launched an investigation of its flagship The Dallas Morning News and dismissed the newspaper’s top circulation executive after correcting inflated figures.

Belo’s other large papers, The Providence Journal in Providence, R.I., and The Press-Enterprise in Riverside, Calif., also face circulation reviews, but the media company said those publications do not use the same system as the Morning News and are not expected to show revisions.

Belo officials said they expect to reimburse advertisers who paid for circulation that was estimated 1.5 percent higher than the actual daily circulation and 5 percent higher on Sunday.

The new circulation figures mean that the News lost even more circulation than expected. The actual losses were 5 percent daily and 11.5 percent Sunday for the six months ending Sept. 30, 2004, Belo officials said.

“As the internal investigation proceeds, The Dallas Morning News, which is distributed exclusively by independent contractors, is making procedural changes necessary to ensure the collection and reporting of more accurate circulation data,” said Belo chairman Robert W. Decherd.

Belo officials said that they expect to let advertisers know how much they can expect to be reimbursed within seven business days. At that time, Belo will also disclose the impact on third-quarter earnings, the company said.

Barry Peckham, executive vice president for operations and the paper’s top circulation executive, resigned, Belo officials said. While the investigation is still in progress, Belo said it “had no reason to believe at present that this executive or any current executive … acted illegally.”

The Morning News circulation disclosure comes a month after the Chicago Sun-Times reduced its single-copy circulation figures by 23 percent after the paper’s parent said it had inflated the numbers for several years. The Chicago-based Tribune Co. said circulation figures had been inflated at Newsday, its New York tabloid, and Hoy, a Spanish-language daily in New York.