In effect, the newspaper industry is now cooking its books by mutual agreement
Using the increasing complexity of the digital world as an excuse for all this is also hogwash, by the way. For big-picture metrics, there are already standbys that work just fine — paid weekday and Sunday circ for a print edition, paid subscribers to a paywall, monthly unique visitors or pageviews for a free website, downloads from an app store for a native mobile app, and so on. It would also work just fine to publish these metrics side-by-side for any given individual organization, recognizing that its several publishing channels each work differently, and then let the advertisers judge for themselves.
The real problem isn’t that these methods are inadequate. It’s just that the publishers don’t like what those measures are telling them right now, so they’re choosing to pave over them instead.