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Audit Bureau Chief Downplays Circulation Scandals

'A Matter of Ice Cubes Rather Than Icebergs' AAF Gathering Told

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NASHVILLE ( -- Circulation scandals that have rocked the newspaper and magazine industry "appear to be a matter of ice cubes rather than icebergs," the head of the Audit Bureau of Circulations told the American Advertising Federation today.

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Speaking in a panel discussion at the Gaylord Opryland Resort here, Michael Lavery, the ABC's president and managing director, said that based on 12 months of investigation following disclosure of phony circulation numbers at the Chicago Sun-Times, Newsday, Hoy and the Dallas Morning News, the problems experienced do not seem endemic to the industry.

But still worrisome
Mr. Lavery said the problems were still worrisome, and though they resulted in new procedures for auditing, those problems have also fueled a demand for a higher auditing standards for circulation numbers.

"It is now apparent that we have gone from [getting] a reasonable assurance [of circulation numbers] to getting an absolute assurance," he said. "We are moving to close the expectation gap."

He noted that media company boards, having seen rival companies hurt by false accounting disclosures and questioned by regulators, are also much more aware of the importance of reporting real circulation numbers.

Automatic notification
As part of new procedures ABC now automatically notifies newspaper boards and audit committees of circulation discrepancies. In one instance last year a newspaper board responded by notifying a state attorney general. He declined to disclose the newspaper.

Mr. Lavery said ABC is seeing a number of changes in circulation auditing; is getting more requests for circulation information on individual issues of magazines; and is receiving new requests to audit circulation of freestanding inserts in magazines.

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