updated 4/28/2008 11:59:09 AM ET 2008-04-28T15:59:09

Circulation fell sharply at most top U.S. newspapers in the latest reporting period, an industry group said Monday, with the exception of the two largest national dailies, USA Today and The Wall Street Journal.

Those papers eked out gains of under 1 percent, while The New York Times, the No. 3 paper after Gannett Co.'s USA Today and News Corp.'s Journal, fell 3.9 percent in the six months ending in March, according to the Audit Bureau of Circulations.

Newspaper circulation has been on a declining trend since the 1980s but the pace of declines has picked up in recent years as reader habits change and more readers go online for news, information and entertainment.

National newspapers like USA Today and the Journal have tended to hold their ground better, as have smaller-market dailies where competition from other media like the Internet isn't usually as intense.

Metropolitan dailies have suffered the worst declines, a trend that continued in the most recent reporting period, with the Dallas Morning News reporting a 10.6 percent drop to 368,313.

The Dallas paper's corporate owner A.H. Belo Corp., newly spun out of broadcasting company Belo Corp., said as part of its earnings statement Monday that the company was culling back on less valuable circulation such as copies distributed through third parties.

Other metro dailies also posted steep declines, including The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, down 8.5 percent to 326,907, and the Star Tribune of Minneapolis-St. Paul, down 6.7 percent to 321,984.

Declines at other major papers were less severe, with the New York Daily News narrowly keeping the upper hand on its crosstown tabloid rival, Rupert Murdoch's New York Post.

The Daily News posted a 2.1 percent decline to 703,137, while the Post fell 3.1 percent to 702,488. Both Murdoch and Daily News owner Mortimer Zuckerman are going after Tribune Co.'s Newsday on neighboring Long Island.

Newsday, meanwhile, posted a 4.7 percent decline in circulation to 379,613.

Copyright 2008 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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