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SALT LAKE CITY (AP) -- The Deseret Morning News boosted daily circulation by 4,735 copies in July -- the first full month of the newspaper's switch to morning publication.
The city's larger morning paper, The Salt Lake Tribune, was down 589 copies, said Stephen Kelsey, vice president of circulation for both papers' joint-operating agency.
Kelsey's unaudited figures compare subscription and newsstand sales for July against the same month of last year. Normal seasonal fluctuations would distort month-to-month comparisons, he said.
The News' daily circulation was 79,593 copies in July, compared with the Tribune's 133,397, he said.
The News' gain runs counter to most afternoon newspapers that switch to morning distribution and suffer an initial slip in circulation by upsetting readers' habits, veteran newspaper analyst John Morton said.
"Now, all of this is complicated in Salt Lake City by the fact that the Deseret News is owned by the Mormon church, and they have a lot of readers," said Morton, president of media consulting firm Morton Research Inc. of Silver Spring, Md.
Kelsey said the News' switch may have been particularly helpful to members busy with churchly duties at evening.
"Obviously one of the reasons we went morning is because we think it serves the public better," News managing editor Rick Hall said. "This sort of bears that out, although it's a little early to stake too much" on a tentative gain.
He said his paper was competing more squarely against the Tribune. The rivals are more competitive, in part because neither has a half-day to catch up to the other's breaking stories, he said.
"I pick up the papers every day and try to keep score," Hall said. "I think we're a little ahead."
Tribune Editor Nancy Conway didn't immediately return two telephone messages Thursday morning.
The Audit Bureau of Circulation won't release its next set of industry figures until October, and those numbers will be for the year ending June 30 -- too early to measure the News' transition.
The News took two months to phase in all-morning editions by June 9, turning a page in its 152-year history.
July circulation figures were higher for Sunday editions: 72,456 for the News and 151,137 for the Tribune.
The Tribune gained 1,000 in Sunday circulation while slipping on daily circulation.
The fact the News gained readers in a month when newspaper circulation usually slips could make that gain all the more significant, although Kelsey was hesitant to characterize it that way.
Still, he thinks the News benefited from widespread media coverage of the bitter newspaper rivalry sparked by the Tribune's ownership battle and the News' unwillingness to accept some of the Tribune's former owners as business partners.
The News blamed the Tribune's former management group for blocking its move to morning publication for four years, and the running feud educated and prepared News readers for the switch, he said.
"It was an unintended consequence of the newspaper war," Kelsey said. "You never want to do a marketing campaign that way."
The newspaper agency merged 3,000 Tribune and News circulation routes, with all but a few of the same carriers now delivering both papers in morning.
But the agency is struggling to print both papers at the same time, around midnight every day, at an aging printing plant that's prone to breaking down. The Tribune and News are making plans to build a new plant.
"If you walk into that press plant, it's like stepping back to the 1950s," Morton said.
(Copyright 2003 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)