DAILIES SEE SMALL GAINS FOR 2ND 6-MONTH PERIOD: 19 OF TOP 25 NEWSPAPERS SEE CIRCULATION RISE IN ABC REPORT

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Newspaper circulation isn't exactly bounding up sharply, but its rise for the second straight six-month period is being received with sighs of relief, new hopes for the future and dreams of presidential scandals to come.

"Our circulation people have voted to give Clinton four terms," said USA Today President-Publisher Tom Curley, who attributes a third of the 3.2% circulation growth his newspaper saw in the first quarter to interest in breaking news about the White House.

Including USA Today, 19 of the nation's 25 top newspapers reported gains in daily circulation, several substantial, according to Audit Bureau of Circulations data for the six months ended March 31.

UP LESS THAN 1% OVERALL

The Newspaper Association of America said the latest figures show overall circulation for U.S. newspapers is growing less than 1% for daily, while declining less than 1% for Sunday.

"It's a second dose of good news after some years of not so good news," said John Sturm, NAA president-CEO. "Hopefully, it's a trend."

The audit bureau report compares circulation in the six-month periods, so publishers last week noted that this year's first-quarter period included a lot of breaking news and also included some special situations.

In Phoenix, where the afternoon paper, The Phoenix Gazette, ceased publishing in January, the morning daily, The Arizona Republic, picked up 10.9% in circulation.

The Republic said its current circulation is 4.5% more than that of the two papers' combined circulation a year ago. It attributes the gain to both market growth and the effect of the additional editorial and ad zoning the demise of the Gazette allowed.

After the Gazette was folded, the sister-Republic turned some pre-printed zoned local news sections into sections that could be updated on normal daily newspaper deadlines.

MORE INTENSE LOCAL COVERAGE

In Detroit, the Detroit Free Press attributed its 4.4% growth in daily circulation to beefed up coverage of local news that included special sections or features tailored to certain areas.

The Los Angeles Times, The Philadelphia Inquirer and The (Cleveland) Plain Dealer all reported daily circulation growth of 2.5% or more.

The Inquirer attributed its gains in part to its recent micro-marketing moves, in which the paper focused both its community activities and marketing on smaller neighborhood activities, such as high-school football games, restaurant menus and community events.

The Los Angeles Times attributed its gains to editorial improvements, a big push for a newspapers-in-the-classroom program and an integrated marketing effort that combined new advertising with a coordinated push for subscriptions and sales through retailers and coffee shops.

In a statement Times Publisher Mark Willes attributed the growth to both "journalistic enhancements . . . and total integration of all aspects of the business."

MORE PROMOTION

Mr. Sturm said more newspapers were promoting circulation during the period, and others suggested that with paper prices finally more predictable, publishers may have returned to marketing.

While most newspapers were up, The Wall Street Journal -- the nation's biggest newspaper -- reported a circulation decline of 0.9%.

The newspaper said it considers circulation "flat," and that it's more focused on the quality of circulation than in gains.

The Washington Post also reported that both daily and weekly circulation fell 1.1%.

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