The latest circulation figures for the Alabama Media Group newspapers show a fairly precipitous decline in their print circulation figures over the past six months, but all three are still claiming overall circulation growth since the end of March.

According to the Alliance for Audited Media Newspaper Snapshot released Sept. 30, the Press-Register, Huntsville Times and Birmingham News have all seen print circulation declines in the 11-percent-to-15-percent range since their numbers were last produced March 31. However, two of the three papers were able to report overall increases in Sunday circulation by counting large increases in “branded editions.”

By AAM standards, branded editions are print and digital editions of a newspaper that run under a name different than that of the AAM membership holder. In Alabama Media Group’s case, much of what it is counting as branded circulation appears to be its “Yes: Your Essential Shopper” product, which is made up of pre-printed advertising with a page or two of canned lifestyle editorial copy. Yes is supposed to be an opt-in product, meaning consumers ask for it to be delivered to their homes.

And while it might be debatable as to whether such products — along with digital replicas of the newspaper — ought to be counted with total circulation, the AAM numbers clearly show a steep decline in print numbers over the past six months. The end of September also marked one year since the three papers reduced production to just three days a week.

For the Press-Register, Sunday print circulation was listed at 78,643, down just over 12,000 from the end of March when it was listed at 90,740. The 13 percent decrease was mirrored across the Wednesday and Friday publications as well, which fell from 62,522 and 64,270 respectively to 54,414 and 56,666. Somewhere in the neighborhood of 10,000 papers in the P-R’s circulation are attributable to The Mississippi Press, which serves the Jackson County, Miss. area.

For total average circulation, though, the P-R is still claiming a 7 percent increase over the past six months in Sunday circulation and a whopping 22 percent increase over the same time last year — pegging that total at 113,760. This is achieved by the inclusion of almost 30,000 in branded editions in the total, as well as about another 5,500 digital editions.

Huntsville and Birmingham have also seen similar declines in circulation over the past six months. The Huntsville Times, according to the AAM Snapshot, has dropped from 61,994 for its Sunday circulation, to 54,570 — a loss of 7,374, or 12 percent. Its Wednesday edition print circulation has dropped 10 percent to 36,218 and Friday has declined 11 percent 37,011.

Overall, though, The Times is still claiming an 8 percent circulation increase since the end of March, landing at 68,502, with 12,235 of that coming as branded circulation and about 1,700 from digital versions.

Birmingham’s print falloff was significant as well, and The News reported an overall circulation decline even with branded and digital editions included. According to the Snapshot, Sunday print circulation landed at 125,816 at the end of September — a decrease of 17,611, or 12 percent, since the end of March. Even with 28,384 in branded editions and another 4,900 in digital included, The News ended up at 159,134, down from 167,528 at the end of March.

Wednesdays in The Iron City fared the worst for print, with a 15 percent decrease to 88,304. Fridays fell 13 percent to 84,606. Both weekdays were also off significantly even with digital included, falling from 106,592 to 93,071 on Wednesdays and from 100,064 to 89,482.

Questions sent to AMG President Matt Sharp regarding the inclusion of Yes in total newspaper circulation numbers and also the company’s feelings about the latest AAM numbers were not answered prior to deadline.

Schnauzer muzzled

For the past several years a blogger known as “The Legal Schnauzer” has been chewing up a variety of foes across Alabama’s web community. His targets have been varied, but are mainly right wing politicos, and the schnauzer can get downright nasty at times.

Most recently the schnauzer — Roger Shuler in actuality — has used his relatively popular blog to make some amazingly outlandish claims against Republican heavy hitters like Rob Riley, son of the ex-gov., and Attorney General Luther Strange. His claims have been salacious, claiming affairs by both men, naming names of alleged lovers and even accusing Riley of misusing GOP money in order to silence his paramour and get her an abortion.

Unfortunately for the schnauzer, he hasn’t produced any actual evidence any of this is true and is now being sued for libel by Riley and one of the women he targeted. But Shuler ignored a summons to go to court, even throwing court papers and cursing at law enforcement officials, according to published reports, which landed him in the slammer without bond.

What makes this case especially strange, is that Circuit Court Judge Claud Neilson has granted Riley an injunction that essentially has the state committing what’s called “prior restraint” by barring Shuler from writing any more about Riley. With that move the judge transformed the highly unlikable and mentally questionable Shuler into a journalistic cause celeb.

The American Civil Liberties Union has filed a friend of court brief arguing against the injunction and various media from around the country and world have taken notice of what’s going down in ol’ Alabama. After all, the U.S. Supreme Court has routinely rejected the legality of prior restraint — essentially banning someone from writing or saying something defamatory before it is said or published.

It gets even trickier in that Neilson has held Shuler without bond and sealed the court records, leading many to wonder if the judge has a reasonable handle on several articles of the Bill of Rights.

And though I personally believe even a dirty dog like Shuler must have his freedom of speech protected, his case is one that could present new angles to those who might push for boundaries on social media.

Before the Internet, publication or broadcast to a large group of people wasn’t easy or cheap, making lawsuits a fairly lethal threat to those who might otherwise flagrantly libel others purposefully. But the web makes someone like Shuler essentially “judgment proof.” Even if he is sued out of his Milkbones by Riley and others, the schnauzer would still have the means to yap. All he needs is a computer connection or a smart phone.

People like Shuler, through their irresponsible and poisonous use of the web, may actually aid those who would curb press freedoms and essentially muzzle them.

Victory for Victory’s Voices

Former WALA-TV journalist Rod Odom and his wife Margie Odom recently received Black Essence Awards for their television show “Victory’s Voices.”

The Odoms are ministers on staff at the New Shiloh Missionary Baptist Church and have made a splash with their show, which airs each Monday night at 9 on Port City 6. They received Essence Awards for recognition of Oustanding Service in Ministry, and also one for Odom’s turn as master of ceremonies at the awards ceremony in South Bend, Ind. Oct. 5.

Odom spent seven years with WALA TV-10, and has also been news director at KDKO radio in Denver. He has also taught broadcast journalism at LeFlore High School and Bishop State Community College and served as a bureau chief for KLTV in Tyler, Tex., and an anchor/reporter/producer for WXVT-TV in Greenville, Miss. He holds a BA in journalism from Alabama State University and a Master’s Degree from Northwestern’s Medill School of Journalism in Chicago.

“I consider myself still a reporter, but now I am reporting the Good News, the gospel of Jesus Christ,” Odom said.

Congratulations to the Odoms.