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The Wall Street Journal said last week that it has passed USA Today to become the #1 newspaper in the US by weekday circulation, though the USA Today – the longtime holder of this distinction – is still claiming it has the highest total print circulation.

The Journal recently told Ad Age that when the next Audit Bureau of Circulations report is released on Oct. 26, it is expected to show average paid circulation of 2.02 million copies over the last six months, an increase from the 2.01 million the same period in 2008, writes MarketingVOX.

USA Today’s circulation is expected to weigh in at 1.88 million, according to Editor & Publisher, a 17% drop from 2.3 million last year, caused in large part by its recent price hike and declining occupancy levels in hotels, where it distributes its paper free-of-charge to guests.

USA Today has apparently been bracing for the report. “We have been aware the statement coming out is the toughest one we have ever faced,” said David Hunke, the paper’s president and publisher, in an interview with Editor & Publisher. “The drop is particularly significant for USA Today, which – contrary to the rest of the industry – gets more of its revenue from circulation than advertising.”

The marketing industry, though, can expect both publications to continue to battle over how significant these changes are. USA Today is still maintaining that it has the largest overall print circulation and argues that the Wall Street Journal’s circulation numbers are artificially inflated because they include subscribers to its online edition. The Journal, for its part, labels USA Today’s hotel circulation as suspect, because there is no way to capture readership or advertising value.

The newspaper industry, of course, is going through one of the roughest periods in recent memory. This week, Boston Globe failed to draw high bids and The New York Times Co. decided to hang onto the newspaper, Media Buyer Planner reported.

HuffPo Passes WashPo in Online Visitors

In news that shows another seismic shift in the media landscape – this time online – the Huffington Post passed Washingtonpost.com in unique visitors in September, according to new data made available by Nielsen Online (via EditorandPublisher.com).

Additional data about online news sites from the rankings:

  • The Huffington Post was up 26% year-over-year with 9.4 million uniques while the audience at Washingtonpost.com dropped nearly 30% to 9.2 million. HuffPo was not far behind USAToday.com, which had 9.9 million uniques.
  • Yahoo News (42.6 million uniques), CNN (38.2 million uniques), MSNBC (36.5 million uniques), AOL News (25.7 million uniques), and NYTimes.com topped the September list, with Huff Post at #15 and Washingtonpost.com at #16.
  • NYTimes.com expanded its audience by 7% to 21.5 million uniques in September, after several months of losses. The Examiner group of newspapers had the highest rate of growth in September, up 373% to 6.4 million uniques.

Nielsen warned, however, that year-over-year comparisons for these news sites should be viewed with caution. Since June, the company expanded its panel by eight times its previous number. Additionally, news events can often alter site audiences during a particular time period. Nielsen said this trending could affect some sites and should only be used directionally.

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