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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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%
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
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.
1000 Wilson Boulevard
Arlington, VA 22229
Tel: (703) 276 6534
Fax: (703) 558 3821
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.