DAILIES HOLD THEIR OWN AS CIRCULATION STABILIZES

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As daily newspapers regained stability, the nation's two largest dailies-The Wall Street Journal and USA Today-registered circulation gains of 1% and 3%, respectively, in the six months ended March 31, according to the Audit Bureau of Circulations.

Dailies in small and midsize markets also seem to be holding their own.

"Out beyond the urban centers, [papers] are flat to slightly up," said newly elected Newspaper Association of America Chairman John Curley, president-CEO of Gannett Co., the largest U.S. newspaper chain.

MORNING DAILIES GROW

Nationally, the NAA said that while total newspaper circulation may be down, circulation for morning dailies is at an all-time high, jumping 1% in 1995 to 43.1 million. That continues the trend that has reshaped the industry over the past decade and a half.

"We don't have any marginal circulation to trim," said Bill Martin, publisher of the Longview (Texas) News Journal, an a.m. daily where paid circulation was 29,610, up minutely from the same period a year ago. "We have an influx of people to the area and the economy is growing nicely."

The bureau's latest six-month figures also show that in big cities hit by newspaper closings last year, the surviving papers seem to be growing stronger.

Although 64% of the top 25 papers were still registering circulation declines, the rate of falloff seems to have slowed while the declines themselves are more calculated.

Many experts say the most recent drops resulted in large part from a conscious decision by big newspapers to trim circulation in marginal areas.

"Newspapers are redefining their markets to better serve their advertisers," said Leon Levitt, VP-circulation marketing at NAA. "The fringe circulation in a sense was ego circulation. It boosted the total number but it was not very valuable to advertisers."

He also said last year's 40% jump in the price of newsprint triggered a round of very aggressive single copy and subscription price hikes. That may have hurt circulation slightly, but it helped control paper consumption and ultimately the circulation numbers may have contributed to a higher revenue stream in the past six months, Mr. Levitt said.

BIG DROP AT `NEWSDAY'

Long Island, N.Y.-based Newsday, which closed its New York City edition, registered the steepest overall circulation decline among the top 25, dropping 17.1% to 555,203. The "lost" circulation in the Big Apple was partly picked up by the New York Daily News, which registered a 4.5% gain in daily circulation to 758,509 and the New York Post, up 2.5% to 418,255. The New York Times registered a 1.1% decline to 1,157,656.

Other cities where afternoon daily papers folded last year also found surviving morning papers much stronger: The Baltimore Sun was up 19.3% to 337,292; The Houston Chronicle was up 33.3% to 551,553.

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