MARY TO THE DEFENSE: Mary Berner, the Association of Magazine Media president and chief executive officer, has taken some criticism from journalists since her group did away with publicizing advertising page numbers, circulation and newsstand sales. The latest — a lengthy blog post by Bob Sacks called “Truth in Advertising” on — prompted a response from Berner.

At issue was the MPA’s new in-house index to measure the success of a magazine, called MPA 360. The metric takes stock of consumer demand in print, Web, video and social media. Using third-party data, the MPA looks at Nielsen-like MRI data to assess digital edition downloads for print; everything else is measure through unique visits or social media likes/followers.

This comes at a time when print advertising and newsstand sales are struggling, which has left many skeptical journalist types to view Berner’s new data as a cover up of sorts. In his post, Sacks all but calls MPA’s omission of print-centric data just that.

“I thought I would try and discuss the industry’s understandable wish to camouflage the continuous array of bad stats and sublimate them with always positive web-only engagement data,” he wrote. “Here’s a question. What does a ‘like’ mean to your business? Does it mean anything at all? The fact that it is now more important to track ‘likes’ on Facebook, pictures on Instagram, and conversations on Google+ rather than to face the nuts and bolts realities of our publishing businesses’ main revenue streams still seems a bit unusual….Leaving out print data deludes no one, while it sends out a defensive note of great corporate discomfort with that part of our business, which is, in fact, still the most profitable part of the industry.”

Berner fired back on Sacks’ blog that “using social media activity as a proxy for brand vitality or claiming any insight based on this kind of data is silly at best, and misleading at worst.”

She argued that Sacks has “conflated” MPA360 and MIN, which published ad pages in its weekly newsletter, but now tracks social media data such as followers and likes in a section called “boxscores.” But the link between MIN and MPA might not be as oblique as Berner has suggested.

When MPA stopped reporting ad pages, MIN editor in chief Steve Cohn sent out an e-mail to reporters saying: “It comes after pressure from the MPA to members to withhold them from us after all the bad news. We will begin new, multiplatform boxscores with the MPA on Sept. 29.”

Berner glossed over that part, and addressed Sacks’ call to action that publishers “should be building and tracking the public’s interest on our own sites.”

But that technology doesn’t seem to exist yet or publications don’t have the money to put into it now. For that, perhaps the MPA is taking a step forward, but still, for many, it is overshadowed by the omission of ad page and circulation data.

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