Giving Murdoch a run for his money

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The Independent Online

Last summer, when the Bancroft family decided to sell The Wall Street Journal, there were many at the Financial Times who prayed they would not do a deal with Rupert Murdoch. Pairing the prestigious 118-year-old WSJ with News Corporation's global reach looked certain to harm the FT. Each title publishes tailored editions for America, Europe and Asia. Each serves high-earning professionals in the financial sector. Could the Pearson group's flagship survive Mr Murdoch's competitive aggression?

The latest ABC figures suggest the answer is an emphatic yes. Despite having to confess errors in its ABC figures for December and January, which inflated its published circulation by 3,956 and 5,334 copies respectively by exaggerating international sales, the FT was one of only two British quality dailies (the other was The Independent) to increase circulation in February (by 0.27 per cent to a daily average of 448,342). Equally impressive was its 0.69 per cent sales increase since February 2007. The market for quality morning dailies shrank by 3.15 per cent in the year to February 2008, so FT editor Lionel Barber has bucked a powerful trend. And this is no triumph of commerce over quality. The FT was named newspaper of the year at the What the Papers Say awards.

Other newspaper people with cause to share champagne with Mr Barber include the new editor of The Observer, John Mulholland, who has continued his predecessor's gravity-defying performance with a 4.28 per cent monthly sales increase and a 4.95 per cent year-on-year improvement.

Lawson Muncaster, owner of the free newspaper City A.M., saw distribution of his niche title rise by 13.34 per cent across the year, while Steve Auckland, manging director of Associated's Metro title, can thank his team for a 19.5 per cent increase. Sun editor Rebekah Wade received good news too. Her title's sale is up on the year, while its major red-top competitors – the Mirror, Star and Scottish Daily Record – all continued their long-term declines.

Overall Sunday newspaper circulation was down 1.85 per cent on January and 4.45 per cent on the year.

Tim Luckhurst is professor of journalism at the University of Kent