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With circulation losses nibbling at New York tabloids, the papers have turned to a round of attack ads to defend their turf.

"That's the way it is in a war," said Fred Drasner, co-publisher and CEO of the Daily News, when asked about recent TV and print advertising directed against Newsday.

The News fired its latest salvo May 5 when it took a page ad in The New York Times to proclaim circulation "gains" while spoofing Newsday/New York Newsday ads and questioning that paper's market penetration and circulation.

The News ad, from Ally & Gargano, points to circulation gains for its Sunday paper and claims that the News in the "metro area" has three times the daily circulation of rival Newsday-a claim Newsday hotly disputes.

On May 9 Newsday returned fire. A page ad in the Times was accompanied by a picture of Pinocchio and the headline "Lies. More lies. Statistics." In that ad, created in-house, Newsday claimed its tabloid rival lopped off all the Nassau and Suffolk county circulation of Newsday and deliberately distorted the analysis of "metro area circulation."

The New York Post is avoiding the latest round of bashing.

"I don't believe those negative campaigns work," said John Ancona, VP-advertising at the Post.

Propaganda wars aside, the reality is that circulation figures for all three papers in the key Monday-to-Friday tally have been lackluster, according to figures from the Audit Bureau of Circulations.

"I think the circulation loss is more of a long-term trend," said Bob Zach, senior VP-media director at Chiat/Day.

According to ABC, for the six months ended March 31, the Monday-to-Friday circulation showed the News with 764,230, down 0.7%, followed by Newsday/New York Newsday at 720,352, down 5.5%, and the Post at 381,254, down 10.8%.

Mr. Drasner said the News made a "substantial profit last year and we'll make a substantial profit this year." Newsday Publisher-CEO Robert Johnson told staffers last year that the New York edition has lost between $8 million and $13 million annually since its inception 81/2 years ago.

While some observers have begun to question how much longer Times Mirror Co., the Los Angeles-based parent company, will invest in the Big Apple, Newsday executives said they are players for the long haul.

During the Daily News strike three years ago, Newsday's cityside circulation was estimated to have surged to 400,000. After the walkout was settled, most of the new readers evaporated.

Though Newsday does not break out its city-only circulation, it was estimated to have fallen to around 245,000 by Media Industry Newsletter-placing it a distant fourth in the five boroughs.

The Times holds the No. 1 spot with total daily circulation of 1,187,950, down 3.4% from a year ago. That means the News with a flat daily circulation picture, actually looks like it's doing the best job hanging onto readers.

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