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Union-Tribune circulation continues to plummet. The collapse may not simply reflect demographic and industry factors affecting other metro dailies. The downfall may in part reflect San Diegans' disgust with the continued mixing of news and editorial policy, such as the never-ending smear of City Attorney Mike Aguirre, whose poll popularity remains well above 50 percent and whose core supporters hold their views strongly.

On Monday of this week, the Audit Bureau of Circulations announced newspapers' circulations for the six months ended March 31 of this year compared with a similar period in 2006. The U-T's daily circulation was 296,331, down 6.6 percent from last year. Sunday was 378,696, down a stunning 7.3 percent from a year earlier. These figures, low as they are, continue to be bloated by "other paid" circulation, or those papers that land in your driveway gratuitously, purchased by retail advertisers. The North County Times's daily circulation inched up to 91,212, one of the few industry gains. Sunday was down slightly to 91,627. Daily circulation at the Los Angeles Times and Orange County Register dropped 4.2 percent and 5 percent, respectively.

U-T staffers aren't surprised. They were told in the company house organ that December Sunday circulation plunged last year to 380,817 from 445,362 in December 2005. February's Sunday circulation was a mere 374,685, down from 406,534 a year earlier. Results for SignOnSanDiego.com have been volatile -- dropping sharply in December of last year but rebounding this February.

Ironically, the U-T showed its colors two days before the bad news hit. It ran another Aguirre hit piece last Saturday, probably timed to appear just before superior court judge Michael Wellington heard defense pleas Monday to have the city attorney's office removed from the influence-peddling case against Tom Story, the Sunroad Enterprises official charged with twisting arms of city bureaucrats without waiting the required year after leaving the city payroll. The piece was to run Sunday, according to inside sources, but was moved to Saturday to embarrass Aguirre, who was addressing the California Democratic Party Convention in San Diego that day. The matter was still being argued Wednesday.

The San Diego County Democratic Party Central Committee has officially lauded Aguirre's efforts to prosecute financial corruption plaguing the city. It also deplores the attempt by District Attorney Bonnie Dumanis and others to take away the city attorney's ability to prosecute misdemeanors. That is widely considered another move to shield developers, the tourist industry, and the chamber of commerce -- something the U-T does regularly. It may regret that strategy.

"The U-T is improperly trying to influence the judge," says Aguirre, denouncing the story as "half-truths and innuendos." He says, "People are angry with the paper." Statistics suggest he may have a point.

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