Who's on First? An Ad Sets 2 Papers Feuding

Times Staff Writer

USA Today, the four-color newspaper owned by Gannett Co. of Washington, tangled with the Wall Street Journal on Monday over bragging rights to the title of the most widely read newspaper in the country.

USA Today, which bills itself as "the Nation's Newspaper," tried to buy an ad in the Journal and the New York Times proclaiming that based on a recent market research survey, it had more readers than any other American newspaper.

"Simmons says we're No. 1," said the ad, referring to Simmons Market Research Bureau, a company that sells market research data about readership demographics to newspapers. Readership, which estimates how many people read each copy of the newspaper, is different from circulation, which counts how many copies are actually sold.

According to a new Simmons report, the ad said, USA Today now has 4.8 million readers, a gain of 14.3% in the last year. In the meantime, the ad goes on, the Wall Street Journal now has less than 4.1 million readers, a loss in the last year of 16.7%.

The New York Times saw fit to print the advertisement. But the Wall Street Journal, which bills itself in its own advertisements as the "Daily Diary of the American Dream," did not.

USA Today then issued a press release: "The Wall Street Journal has refused to run a full-page ad reporting the fact that USA Today has become the No. 1 newspaper in the nation . . ."

Journal spokesman Lawrence Armour said his paper refused to run the ad because "the primary purpose of the ad is to denigrate the Wall Street Journal, and, that being the case, there is no need for us to help by participating."

Armour also said the implication that USA Today is somehow the No. 1 newspaper in the country "is based on highly dubious research."

Armour said the Journal does not use readership estimates in its marketing, only straight circulation numbers. In circulation, as measured by the Audit Bureau of Circulations, the Journal exceeds USA Today by 817,000--1,985,559 vs. 1,268,222.

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