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Aug. 17, 2009, 2:39 p.m.

NYT vs. WSJ: the quietest newspaper war in America

If there’s one place where print journalism is thriving, it’s the stoop outside my apartment building in Boston. I counted 12 daily newspapers tossed against the steps at dawn this morning. But a look underneath their plastic wrapping reveals a crucial trend: Among the dozen papers, just one was The Boston Globe. Six were The Wall Street Journal, and five were The New York Times.

As papers like the Globe suffer, the Journal and the Times are engaged in a pitched but unusually quiet battle for readers outside the New York metro area who might be persuaded to abandon their local dailies. In a small development on Friday, the Times announced a deal that will extend newsstand sales and home delivery of the newspaper to Nashville, Tenn. That becomes the 26th North American city where the Times is printed, and I’ve mapped them above.

Both the Times and the Journal are working to make themselves more appealing as first-read newspapers for national readers in largely affluent markets. The Times is mulling a few plans that I’m trying to pin down, while the Journal has radically shifted its news coverage and remade its front page. Alan Murray, deputy managing editor of the Journal, told me in April:

What Rupert Murdoch has done is come in and say, look, you’re missing a big opportunity….These papers in Los Angeles, Chicago, Philadelphia are very weak. We should be going in there and saying to people, you don’t need this paper. We can give you everything that you need in The Wall Street Journal.

One market to keep an eye on is San Francisco, where The Chronicle is teetering and The Los Angeles Times might as well be Le Monde. I’d expect to see interesting experiments there from national news brands.

It’s also worth considering how an insurgence of national newspapers affects their local counterparts. A fascinating study in 2005 found that when The New York Times increased its penetration in a market, college-educated readers abandoned their local newspapers. But at the same time, local newspapers upped their focus on local news and, at least back then, increased their circulation among readers without a college degree. That dynamic isn’t limited to print, but it’s certainly the battle being fought on my stoop.

POSTED     Aug. 17, 2009, 2:39 p.m.
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