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Florida newspapers tally their readership

Florida newspapers reported mixed circulation results in the latest figures reported by the industry's leading audit company.

The St. Petersburg Times averaged the most weekday copies in Florida between Sept. 30 and March 31, according to the Audit Bureau of Circulations, a Schaumberg, Ill., company that verifies circulation figures.

The Times overtook The Miami Herald in number of daily copies, as it did in the same period last year. Meanwhile, in the Tampa Bay area the Times increased its lead over the Tampa Tribune.

The Times' daily numbers increased nearly 1 percent for the Monday through Saturday papers, to 366,212 from 362,920. For Sunday copies, the newspaper's circulation rose just over half a percent to 462,550 from 459,499.

"The numbers reflect that we are producing a first-rate news report that is being effectively sold and delivered," said Paul Tash, executive editor of the Times. "This is still a very vigorous newspaper state, and that's one of the pleasures of being a journalist here."

The Miami Herald's Monday through Saturday weighted average dropped 2.4 percent to 353,348 from 362,184. Its Sunday circulation fell 2.1 percent to 482,149 from 492,235.

The paper changed how it counts its circulation last year, breaking out circulation for particular days of the week. This requires a weighted average to compare its circulation figures with traditional Monday through Saturday circulation.

Herald executives said they sold fewer papers due primarily to the newspaper's decision to sell its Spanish-language edition, El Nuevo Herald, as a free-standing publication. Previously it came with the Herald.

El Nuevo Herald circulates about 80,000 copies weekdays and 95,000 on Sundays, said Arden Dickey, vice president for circulation for both papers. El Nuevo Herald has gained some 21,000 in circulation since the move, and that has accounted for fewer sales of the Herald, he said.

Seasonal residents increase the Times' circulation in the winter months. The Herald has remained the largest Florida paper daily and Sunday for the period between March and September.

The Tampa Tribune continued to lose circulation in the reporting period. The paper pulled back its resources from two area counties, contributing to its loss of nearly 2 percent of daily circulation, to 249,760 copies from 254,329. Its Sunday numbers dropped more, to 342,571 from 356,359, a loss of nearly 4 percent.

The good news for the Tribune, said Reid Ashe, president and associate publisher, is that it sold more papers in its target area of Hillsborough County and east Pasco County. "That's encouraging, and we think we're moving in the right direction," he said. "It's what our advertisers want."

In reshaping itself from a widely distributed paper to one focused on Tampa and east Pasco, the Tribune has lost 15 percent of its Monday through Saturday sales compared with five years ago and 10 percent of its Sunday circulation. Both comparisons are for circulation between October and March, which, like the Times, are higher than in summer months.

Around the country, the nation's large papers fared somewhat better than smaller ones in the six-month period. Declining readership or flat circulation growth has hurt big papers for much of the '90s, but seven of the top 10 papers showed circulation gains, according to ABC.

USA Today, the Los Angeles Times, the New York Times and the Philadelphia Inquirer reported gains in daily and Sunday circulation, though the Wall Street Journal, the nation's largest paper, and the Washington Post had small losses.

"What we might be seeing is a return to the steady, very modest increases we saw before the circulation slide started in 1990," said John Morton, a newspaper industry analyst at Morton Research Inc.

The modest overall circulation gains contrast with the booming first-quarter profits that most big newspaper companies reported last month.

_ Information from Times wires was used in this report.

Mixed results for state's biggest newspapers

For each of Florida's largest newspapers that reported an increase in circulation between Sept. 30 and March 31 compared with the same period a year earlier, another reported a decrease. Daily circulation is counted Monday through Saturday.

Avg. daily Avg. daily Change from

circulation circulation previous year

9/30/97-3/31/98 9/30/96-3/31/97

St. Petersburg Times 366,212 362,920 +0.9%

Miami Herald 353,348+ 362,184 -2.4%

Fort Lauderdale Sun-

Sentinel 273,967 273,866 0.0%

Orlando Sentinel 267,737 264,498 +1.2%

Tampa Tribune 249,760 254,329 -1.8%

Palm Beach Post 187,943 188,403 -0.2%

Florida Times-Union 175,574 181,047 -3.0%

(Jacksonville)

Sarasota Herald-

Tribune 120,773 119,997 +0.7%

Daytona Beach News-

Journal 102,406 101,873 -1.0%

Sunday Sunday Change from

circulation circulation previous year

9/30/97-3/31/98 9/30/96-3/31/97

St. Petersburg Times 462,550 459,499 +0.7%

Miami Herald 482,149 492,235 -2.1%

Fort Lauderdale Sun-

Sentinel 391,657 390,899 +0.2%

Orlando Sentinel 391,617 389,037 +0.7%

Tampa Tribune 342,571 356,359 -3.9%

Palm Beach Post 238,334 240,864 -1.1%

Florida Times-Union 240,937 242,364 -0.6%

(Jacksonville)

Sarasota Herald-

Tribune 149,334 149,335 0.0%

Daytona Beach News-

Journal 123,005 120,739 +1.9%

+ Based on weighted average; the Miami Herald no longer reports daily circulation based on Monday-Saturday sales.

Source: Audit Bureau of Circulations

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