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For newspapers in the U.S. it's not exactly the best of times, but it may not be the worst either.

It's been that way since the six months ended March 31, 1993, the last time a majority of newspapers reported circulation growth to the Audit Bureau of Circulations.

Among the top 25 dailies publishing today, 72% reported circulation declines for the six months ended Sept. 30. Of those, papers with Sunday editions were nearly as badly off-63% reported their Sunday circulations were down, as compared with the same period a year ago.

Among those on the upside, USA Today led in Monday-Friday circulation, up 3.9%. The Arizona Republic was next, up 3% daily.

Newsday suffered the steepest decline of the top 25 dailies-for the second consecutive reporting period-down 8.5%, followed by the Chicago Sun-Times, down 5.7%. In Sunday circulation, Newsday and the Sun-Times again had the largest losses, down 10% and 7%, respectively.

The Detroit Free Press, which ranked as the tenth-largest daily for the previous reporting period, didn't file a publisher's statement due to a strike, which began July 13.

There are economic reasons for the drops at many papers, including continuing spikes in prices for paper as well as publishers' pruning of marginal subscribers.

But not everyone is surprised by the trend to lowered circulations. "If you factor in circulation price increases in a period of dramatically accelerated newsprint cost increases, I don't think you'll be surprised that circulation is shrinking," said John Reedy, analyst at Smith Barney, New York. "Really, the smaller circulation is by request of the newspaper industry: We don't want to carry unprofitable circulation.

"We might have expected this period to have shown better results when you think that last year circulation was depressed due to the baseball strike, but with increases in newsstand prices and the reeling-in of outlying circulation, I don't think these results are surprising," he said.

The Houston Chronicle, which outperformed all comers with a 32.4% increase weekdays and a 22.3% increase on Sundays, did so at the expense of the Houston Post, which was shuttered in April.

But the Houston market wasn't the only bad one for dailies in the last six months. New York Newsday stopped its presses in July.

And the rumor mill is still churning about both the San Francisco and Atlanta markets, where the idea of two-paper towns is being challenged.

"Like all publishers, we are concerned about the trend for the afternoon papers," said Dennis Berry, until last week publisher of the Atlanta Journal & Constitution. "But we have formulated no plans to close [the Journal] down at this point."

Mr. Berry left to become president-CEO of Manheim Auctions, an auto auction company that, like the papers, is owned by Cox Communications.



Top newspapers by circulation

Figures are for the six months ended Sept. 30, 1995, compared with the same period last year. Rank is based on Monday-Friday circulation, except where noted. When papers report separate Monday-Thursday and Friday circulations, the figures are weighted averages of the two. In some

cases, Sunday papers have different names.


Rank Newspaper Circulation Change circulation Change

1 Wall Street Journal 1,763,140 -1.0% None -

2 USA Today* 1,523,610 3.9% 1,936,250 2.2%

3 New York Times 1,081,541 -2.9% 1,667,780 -3.1%

4 Los Angeles Times 1,012,189 -4.7% 1,410,121 -3.3%

5 Washington Post 793,660 -2.1% 1,128,197 -1.2%

6 Daily News 738,091 -2.0% 979,076 1.6%

7 Chicago Tribune 684,366 0.9% 1,083,963 0.3%

8 Newsday 634,627 -8.5% 702,031 -10.0%

9 Houston Chronicle** 541,478 32.4% 743,689 22.3%

10 Dallas Morning News*** 524,640 1.7% 800,147 0.4%

11 Boston Globe 498,853 -1.5% 793,672 -2.1%

12 San Francisco Chronicle 489,238 -4.0% 646,187 -5.0%

13 Chicago Sun-Times 488,405 -5.7% 462,803 -7.0%

14 Philadelphia Inquirer 469,398 -2.0% 906,747 -2.6%

15 Newark Star-Ledger 436,634 -4.2% 645,767 -5.8%

16 New York Post 413,705 2.1% N/A -

17 Cleveland Plain Dealer** 396,773 0.5% 533,615 -1.9%

18 Minneapolis-St. Paul Star Tribune** 389,865 -4.3% 688,337 -0.5%

20 Arizona Republic (A, B) 372,962 3.0% 559,116 -1.1%

19 Miami Herald** 368,480 -3.1% 487,507 -2.5%

21 Orange County Register** 349,874 -0.3% 412,439 -1.4%

22 Portland Oregonian 333,654 -0.3% 441,086 -0.3%

23 Rocky Mountain News** 331,044 -4.0% 436,079 -2.5%

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