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Good and Bad News for Big Newspapers


When the camera pulls back from the recent circulation declines at the country's dozen largest newspapers, the wider view reveals more dramatic comparisons to the numbers of five years ago.

USA Today's circulation of nearly 1.5 million in the six months ending Sept. 30 was down almost 2% compared to the same period in 1993. But since 1989, it has showed a handsome gain of 10.59%.

The picture at the Detroit Free Press was bad and worse--circulation was down 2.07%, to 544,606, compared to the same period last year, and down 13.6% since 1989.

Ditto the San Francisco Chronicle, which was off 6.38%, to 509,548, and down 9.47% compared to five years ago.

The Washington Post, whose circulation of 810,675 reflected a negligible slip of .22%, is riding a nearly 5% circulation gain since 1989.

Only three of the dozen leading newspapers, the New York Times in addition to USA Today and the Post, showed circulation increases over figures posted in 1989.

In the highly competitive New York market, the Times dropped 2.32% in the April-to-September period, to 1.11 million, but its circulation was up 4.37% over the same six-month period in 1989.

The New York Post, which ranks 18th in circulation nationwide, was the only paper among the top 20 to gain in the past year. Its reported circulation of 405,318 was up 2.7%, but that same number was down 20.1% since 1989.

The Los Angeles Times reported a circulation of slightly more than 1 million, off 2.5% compared to the same six months last year and down 4.1% compared to the same period five years ago, due to the closure of the San Diego edition and planned cuts in national and state circulation outside the primary market area.

The illuminating five-year comparisons, based on figures submitted by the papers to the Audit Bureau of Circulation, come from Media Industry Newsletter, a weekly publication of Phillips Business Information Inc.

"What (the decline) says to me is that there are more media to compete with, including interactive media, and higher newsstand prices also are a factor," says Steven Cohn, the New York-based editor of the newsletter.

"Of course, the trend over the past 10 years or so is simply that people are far less dependent on newspapers than they once were."

At the same time, newspaper revenues have been rebounding from a recessionary slump. John Morton, a newspaper analyst with Lynch, Jones & Ryan, says newspapers pulled in nearly half of all local ad revenue last year--more than TV and the other leading media combined.


Big Books: Two hefty new volumes of film lit are out. Pauline Kael's "For Keeps: 30 Years at the Movies" (Dutton) gathers in a 1,291-page collection the best of the veteran film critic's reviews in the New Yorker ("Some of the readers seemed . . . to enjoy hating me") and other outlets.

New from Knopf is an updated third edition of David Thomson's "A Biographical Dictionary of Film," which the British critic first wrote in the early '70s.

An intellectual's selection, his new 834-page edition includes respectful entries about Jennifer Jason Leigh and director Steven ("sex, lies and videotape") Soderbergh, but nothing on other young faces such as Wesley Snipes and the late River Phoenix.


On the Racks: In this week's issue of the New Yorker (Nov. 21), Fredric Dannen, author of the 1990 bestseller "Hit Men," a revealing portrait of the record industry, goes inside the mighty Warner Music Group and sorts out the boardroom warfare beyond what has been reported in the business pages of recent weeks.

The thrust of O.J. Simpson's defense strategy "will be to plant seeds of reasonable doubt in the jurors' minds at every opportunity." So says Simpson defense team attorney Johnnie L. Cochran Jr., profiled in the December-January issue of Vibe magazine. "If black people want to be with the prosecution after all the evidence is in, OK," Cochran says.

"But I don't think that will happen, because if you are African American, you don't necessarily accept the official version."

* Paul D. Colford is a columnist for Newsday. His column is published Fridays.

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