- Associated Press - Tuesday, April 19, 2011

MCLEAN, VA. (AP) - USA Today said Tuesday that its average daily circulation rose for the first time in more than two years, as the newspaper sold more digital editions to schools and benefited from an increase in business travel.

The gain during the six months through March is just a tenth of 1 percent _ a rise of 2,477 copies from a year ago to 1.83 million daily. But it is an encouraging sign for Gannett Co.’s flagship newspaper. Reversing circulation and revenue declines were goals that Publisher Dave Hunke set in his bid to revive the nation’s second-largest newspaper.

Brad Jones, the newspaper’s senior vice president of circulation, said in an interview that besides increases in digital copies, USA Today got a boost from more business travel and higher hotel-occupancy rates during the period. Unlike other newspapers, which typically get much of their circulation from subscriptions, USA Today depends on single-copy sales to travelers and bulk sales at hotels.

The newspaper declined to give a breakdown between digital and print copies, although an official tally from the Audit Bureau of Circulations is due May 3. In the six-month period a year ago, the company sold just 17,991 electronic editions, compared with about 1.81 million print copies.

“We are fighting hard,” Jones said, after a memo detailing the gain was distributed to newsroom staff Tuesday. “We are hopeful that this is the beginning of a trend and will put us back on a path of growth.”

Circulation is still down 20 percent from 2.28 million in the same period four years ago. And despite the gain from a year ago, circulation for the latest period is 1,495 below that for the six months ending in September.

The top-selling newspaper, The Wall Street Journal, and the third-largest newspaper, The New York Times, both declined Tuesday to disclose circulation figures ahead of the May 3 release.

Newspapers are trying to cope with readers and advertisers migrating to the Internet and away from traditional printed editions. USA Today, created nearly 30 years ago to appeal to a TV-watching generation, is now tailoring content to fit onto smartphones and tablet computers.