First, video was expected to kill the radio star. It didn't. Then the Internet (and before that, TV) was expected to kill off newspapers. It may have done some damage, but newspapers aren't going down without a fight.

After years of mostly declining readership, the average daily circulation for newspapers appears to actually have risen. The Newspaper Association of America, based on data from the Audit Bureau of Circulations (ABC), has just reported that of 813 papers surveyed, average daily circulation is up by 0.02%. OK, that's not exactly earth-shattering, but any increase is good news in this tough environment.

For the curious among us, here are the top papers, according to average daily circulation, and their increase or decrease in the six months ended Sept. 30, 2003:

1) USA Today, circ. 2,246,996 (+0.07%)
2) The Wall Street Journal, circ. 2,091,062 (+16.1%*)
3) The New York Times, circ. 1,118,565 (+0.5%)
4) The Los Angeles Times, circ. 955,211 (-1.1%)
5) The Washington Post, circ. 732,872 (-1.9%)
6) The New York Daily News, circ. 729,124 (+2.1%)
7) The New York Post, circ. 652,426 (+10.6%)
8) The Chicago Tribune, circ. 613,509 (flat)
9) Newsday (Long Island, N.Y.), circ. 580,069 (+0.2%)
10) The Houston Chronicle, circ. 553,018 (+0.2%)

*The Wall Street Journal's big gain is due to its counting of nearly 300,000 online subscribers. Removing those readers leaves circulation basically flat.

Unfortunately, the news isn't all good. Many papers, including some of the above, have lost readers. And the average Sunday circulation, based on data from 648 newspapers, is down by 0.04%.

What's an investor to do? If you're interested in a newspaper company, you might start by looking for one with increasing numbers. Also, look for newspaper-publishing companies that have other operations that are more profitable and/or growing more quickly. One good example is The Washington Post Co. (NYSE:WPO), which is making the most of its purchase of education company Kaplan, known for its test-preparation services. The Washington Post Co. also owns some television stations, other newspapers, a cable company, and Newsweek magazine.

More newspaper-publishing companies you might investigate include Gannett (NYSE:GCI), The New York Times Co. (NYSE:NYT), Tribune Co. (NYSE:TRB), and Dow Jones & Co. (NYSE:DJ).

If you wish you could read Motley Fool content in your local newspaper, maybe you can. Here's a list of newspapers that carry our nationally syndicated content. If your paper isn't among them, consider giving the business editor a jingle and inviting him or her to look into carrying us.

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