- The Washington Times - Wednesday, May 18, 2005

The Washington Times celebrated its 23rd anniversary yesterday with cake and champagne served to its employees at a midafternoon assembly, as its executives announced a substantial gain in audited circulation in the face of a national trend of declining U.S. newspaper numbers.

For the six-month period ending March 31, the newspaper’s daily circulation from Monday through Friday climbed to 103,017 — an increase of nearly 3 percent over the similar period last year, according to Fas-Fax, the Audit Bureau of Circulations (ABC) report of publishers’ estimates.

“We’re scoring important exclusive after exclusive,” says Wesley Pruden, editor in chief of The Times. “I think Washington, official and otherwise, is realizing that The Times is the lively newspaper in town, packing a terrific punch as the indispensable source of news, and we’re enormously pleased that this is so. Newspapers, like humans, can suffer hardening of the arteries, and we’re determined not to let that happen to us as we approach the completion of our first quarter of a century as an important part of the life of the nation.”

Many U.S. newspapers, in fact, have struggled in recent years to hold readers. The Washington Post, for example, reported losing 20,682 subscribers, a 2.7 percent decline in its weekday circulation, from 772,553 to 751,871 compared to the first six months of 2004.

“I think we have enormous potential to grow,? says Richard Amberg Jr., vice president and general manager of The Times. “We’re looking at a strategic plan that will provide a more focused effort to expand our circulation and expand our advertising, which will lead to an even brighter and bolder future.”

About 77 percent of adults in the top 50 U.S. markets, which includes Washington, read a newspaper each week, compared to 78.6 percent in spring 2004, according to the Newspaper Association of America’s Newspaper Audience Measurement Index.

By the NAA account, only about a third of U.S. daily newspapers reported circulation gains. The New York Times daily weekday circulation inched upward to 1,680,582 in the first six months of this year, a gain of 0.2 percent from the like period last year. Daily circulation at USA Today, owned by Gannett Co. in McLean, stood at 2,281,830, holding steady from the previous year.

John Murray, the NAA’s director of circulation marketing, says there is more competition than ever for consumers’ time and people can get their news from other places, such as radio, television and Internet sources. Most of the widely read Internet sites are those of newspapers (including that of The Times at www.washingtontimes.com).

The decline in telemarketing has also played a role in the drop of circulation. Even before the national do-not-call list went into effect in October 2003, telephone marketing was becoming a less-effective way of getting new subscribers, Mr. Murray says.

Last year, about 31 percent of all new subscriptions came from telemarketing, compared to about 40 percent in 2003.

Art Farber, director of circulation at The Washington Times, says the government’s do-not-call list has measurably hurt efforts to get more subscribers. About 65 percent of the telephone numbers in the Washington market is on the list, and telemarketers cannot call those phone numbers.

“It’s difficult to grow circulation,” he said. “But [our circulation] has been going up slowly and most newspapers are going down quickly.”