The St. Petersburg Times bucked the erosion on a national level of newspaper readership, growing its Sunday circulation by nearly 4,000 during the past six months, the only paper among the 25 largest in the country to do so.
While a number of major dailies shed subscribers at substantial rates in the last six months, the Times widened its gap as the state's largest paper and the largest paper in the Southeast.
The Times' Sunday circulation rose about 1 percent to 417,807 in the six-month period, according to the Audit Bureau of Circulations report. Daily circulation at the Times fell just over 1 percent to 278,888. Although the Wall Street Journal was the only major paper to grow daily circulation, the St. Petersburg Times' drop was the smallest in the country.
Daily circulation at the Times' regional rival, the Tampa Tribune, fell 18 percent to 159,813 and Sunday circulation dropped 9 percent to 259,917. The Atlanta Journal-Constitution lost about 65,000 Sunday subscribers, or 14 percent.
In the key category of individual paid daily circulation, the Times added 5,900 Sunday subscribers and lost 3,600 daily subscribers. In the same category, the Tribune lost about 43,000 Sunday subscribers and lost 39,000 daily subscribers.
"We mean to be the newspaper for all of Tampa Bay and these latest figures would suggest we are making very strong headway," Paul Tash, Times chairman, CEO and editor, said.
"The future is always tough to predict, but I like very much where the current trend lines are taking us."
Tash said the circulation report only tells part of the story, since it doesn't include the impact of the paper's Web site, tampabay.com, or its free daily alternative paper, tbt*, which has a circulation of 80,000 Monday through Thursday and 111,500 on Friday.
In a statement, Tribune publisher and president Denise Palmer said her paper "continues as Hillsborough and east Pasco's No. 1 choice of newspapers as measured by readership and circulation. We provide readers and advertisers with a local newspaper that they clearly value more than our competitor's."
The Tampa Tribune is owned by Media General, which also owns Channel 8 and tbo.com.
Among other Florida papers, the Miami Herald (down 16 percent daily) and Palm Beach Post (down 14 percent daily) suffered the steepest dropoffs after the Tribune.
Average daily circulation nationally fell 8.7 percent. That's a slight improvement over the previous six months, in which circulation fell 10.6 percent. Sunday circulation for all papers fell 6.5 percent on average.
The report said year-to-year comparable data was not available for papers such as the Denver Post, which inherited the subscriber file of the now defunct Rocky Mountain News.
Some of the country's largest papers that saw the steepest circulation drops, such as the Boston Globe and Dallas Morning News, have raised subscription rates to offset advertising revenue lost during the recession.
Among smaller papers: The Naples Daily News increased circulation 22 percent to 77,565 in the six-month period ending March 31, making it the top daily gainer in the country.
Jeff Harrington can be reached at email@example.com or (727) 893-8242.