A Tale of Two Cities
Jamey is travelling in Birmingham, Alabama -- my old city -- and writes of the marked differences between their paper and ours.
He asks after circulation figures, so here you go. Memphis' Sunday paper rates #55 and Birmingham's combined Sunday edition is #70. The Commercial Appeal claims 229,000 Sunday readers (which is down a bit from the 240,000 - 250,000 of a few years ago), while the combined Birmingham News / Post-Herald reports 185,000. You can also read more detailed circulation reports, though they aren't very current, on Memphis and Birmingham.
I lived in Birmingham in the early '80s and I remember the Post-Herald of that time as being a real third-rate paper. Then I moved to Memphis and saw how much worse it could get!
It's tough to tell, but I don't think the Commercial Appeal's efforts to re-invent itself are paying off. Like I said, circulation on Sundays used to be much higher than it is now. It's hard to get firm numbers, as papers use all kinds of fudge factors like "occupied household readers" and "pass-along readers" and bulk subscriptions to hotels, etc., to pad their numbers. I think that paid circulation is probably a good baseline, as it indicates the folks willing to pay money to get it, a sure marker of value, yes? Editor-in-Chief Chris Peck walks you through some of it. You can see he's employing some of this mind-fu and doing a little pep-talking and whistling past the graveyard as well.
I don't have the links in my bookmarks folder any more, but the Scripps annual corporate reports seem to back up the decline since the late 90s.