MEDIA: For USA Today, Money buys a whole lot of happiness. USA Today’s Money section is locked in a battle with a huge and worthy opponent, The Wall Street Journal. Claire Atkinson reports

The color-coated USA Today and the black-and-white Wall Street Journal are bitter rivals for the title of top-selling newspaper in the United States.

The color-coated USA Today and the black-and-white Wall Street Journal are bitter rivals for the title of top-selling newspaper in the United States.

The color-coated USA Today and the black-and-white Wall Street

Journal are bitter rivals for the title of top-selling newspaper in the

United States.



It is a fight that USA Today’s Money section takes seriously. Money

employs around 40 editorial staff members compared with the 200-plus at

rival Wall Street Journal. But, according to managing editor John

Hillkirk, that hasn’t stopped USA Today from breaking the big

stories.



For example, the USA Today business team was a day ahead of its rivals -

including The Washington Post and The New York Times - on stories such

as the government favoring a Microsoft breakup and the Glaxo-Smithkline

Beecham merger.



According to Hillkirk, the attitude on the newspaper’s business and

finance section is: ’We’re small but smart.’ He adds, ’We take it as a

real boost if we beat the Journal on a story. We try to get top-notch

reporters.’



One mergers and acquisitions IR executive (who asked not to be

identified) explains why USA Today should be part of every schedule. ’It

is important for one reason - the hotels,’ he says. ’Whether people in

hotels order the Journal or The New York Times, they don’t get there on

time. USA Today does, so we always recommend it to clients.’



Another PR practitioner says that the reporters on Money tend to return

calls more regularly than their Journal counterparts and are helpful in

directing inquiries to their colleagues.



Not surprisingly, travel - especially business travel - is a big subject

in the paper, with articles on topics like mishandled baggage receiving

rigorous coverage. ’Travel is one beat we are putting more people on,’

says Hillkirk. ’USA Today is a travelers’ paper.’



Hillkirk is also looking to hire additional journalists in other areas:

a stock market reporter, a technology specialist and two reporters in

general assignments.



USA Today is upping its coverage of entrepreneurs to identify upcoming

trends and industry newcomers. In January the paper ran a cover story on

Tsingtao, a Chinese beer that is fighting off imported brands with

aggressive marketing tactics. Money also spotlighted another

foreign-owned company, Spanish ISP Terra Networks, which is said to be

Europe’s biggest Internet firm (by market capitalization) and which is

now launching in the US.



Such is the power base of Money that editor Karen Jurgensen decided to

make the AOL acquisition of Time Warner the dominant front page item in

every section. Hillkirk was particularly pleased that all newspapers had

a level playing field, since AOL and Time Warner decided not to drop it

to Monday’s Journal or any of the other big papers.



The newspaper dedicated oceans of ink to covering every conceivable

angle of the megadeal, from how much the executives are set to benefit

financially to a cover story in the sports section about what sports

holdings the new company will own.



Hillkirk says that beyond the heavyweight coverage, there is also room

in his section for the quirky and offbeat. ’I think we are very open to

that,’ he says. ’Having fun is part of what USA Today is all about.’



’An economy of words, a wealth of information,’ is the slogan for the

newspaper’s latest advertising campaign. It is a message that should be

taken literally, since graphics have always been a huge part of the

newspaper.



The managing editor for graphics and photography, Richard Curtis, is

even listed in the main masthead.



There are numerous fact boxes dotted around the Money section; Snapshot,

which carries statistics that give a brief insight into finances,

appears in the corner of the front page of section B, but it is rarely

pitched, according to James Henderson, the deputy managing editor. One

exception is Ernst & Young, which provided a survey of undergraduates

and MBA students showing that seven in 10 believe they will be

millionaires, while another Snapshot looked at the myth of the paperless

office.



By 3:30 pm every day, Hillkirk is gathered with his Money editors to

decide what’s going to get priority for the next day’s section. At 4 pm,

Hillkirk is listening to what kind of packages his colleagues are

preparing for the front section, Life and Sports. But Hillkirk warns PR

pros that they shouldn’t be trying to contact him. Since stories flow

from the ground up, he suggests trying the reporters or Henderson, who

has more direct contact with the assignment editors.



The travelers’ paper is going to be doing some relocating of its own; in

mid-2001, the Gannett-owned head office is moving from the Virginia

suburbs into Washington, DC. But beyond a new office, Hillkirk has some

demographic changes he’d like to make to USA Today: ’I would say the

goal is to broaden the appeal of the paper to women and younger

readers,’ he says.



Currently, USA Today’s circulation is split between 66% men and 34%

women.



The newspaper’s considerable online presence, USAToday.com, is

addressing the problem more forcefully than the print edition. The site

has an alliance with business portal Womenconnect.com that will provide

the web site with news and features focusing on women.



When the Audit Bureau of Circulations published the September 1999

newspaper figures, USA Today crowed about becoming the number-one

newspaper in America for the first time. However, precise circulation

figures are the source of a running battle with The Wall Street

Journal.



USA Today’s press department gives its circulation figure as 2.3

million, while the Audit Bureau of Circulations says the paper’s

Monday-to-Thursday circulation, as of September 1999, is 1.67 million,

with the Friday edition selling 2.1 million.



The Wall Street Journal’s circulation is lower for the Monday-to-Friday

period, averaging 1.75 million. But Dick Tofel, the Journal’s vice

president of corporate communications, explains that the absence of

campus subscriptions affects the newspaper’s September figures. He adds

that the Journal will be back to number one again when the March figures

are published. ’Our figures are the most transparent,’ Tofel says.

’Theirs are unquestionably the most opaque.’ A spokeswoman for the

circulation group explains that the two papers simply calculate their

figures differently, which makes direct comparisons difficult.



USA Today broke all records on the last day of last year. The edition

sold 3.3 million copies, though high sales were perhaps the result of

people seeking mementos rather than coverage of hot news.





CONTACT LIST



USA Today



Gannett Company



1000 Wilson Boulevard



Arlington, VA 22229



Tel: (703) 276 6534



Fax: (703) 558 3821



E-mail: firstinitiallastname@usatoday.com



Web: www.usatoday.com



Money Desk



Managing editor: John Hillkirk



Deputy managing editors: Rodney Brooks, James Henderson



Assignment editors: Anne Willett, Fred Meier, Michael Clements



Auto industry editor: Judi Austin



Business travel editor: Doug Carroll



Technology editor: Geri Tucker



Markets editor: David Craig



Personal finance editor: Ray Goldbacher.



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