SALT LAKE CITY — The Deseret News has posted the top increase combined print and online readership of all daily news publications nationwide, according to figures released this week.

The numbers compiled by the Audit Bureau of Circulations show readership for the Deseret News jumped more than 22 percent for its print and online editions during the past 12 months. Second on the list was El Nuevo Herald, a Spanish-language publication in Miami, which saw a gain of just over 19 percent for its print and online editions.

The figures were compiled from data collected from March of last year to March of this year.

The Deseret News Sunday print circulation increased from 78,032 in March 2009 to 79,363 as of last month. Additionally, overall readership of the Deseret News print editions rose 20 percent over 2009 and online readership jumped 33 percent.

Combined print and online readership totaled 552,507 for the past year, compared to 451,952 a year earlier.

Deseret News publisher Jim Wall said while there is no way to know exactly what prompted such a dramatic increase, listening to what readers say they want as news and providing it is a likely explanation: "Continually staying in contact with readers (and) having a more compelling news product. We are driven, driven, driven by the business of reaching readers."

In contrast, the Salt Lake Tribune's Sunday print circulation fell from 136,432 to 129,898 during the same year-over-year period.

Both publications experienced declines in paid circulation for their average daily weekday and Saturday print editions. Daily circulation for the weekday print edition for The Salt Lake Tribune dropped 4.2 percent, from 118,453 to 113,474. The Deseret News' weekday circulation decreased 2.14 percent, from 73,390 to 71,821.

The Tribune's Saturday circulation declined 8 percent to 102,734, while the Deseret News fell 3.8 percent to 70,183.

Print readership for the Tribune fell 5 percent from 507,121 to 482,717, with online readership rising 1 percent. Combined readership — print and online — was virtually flat, falling to 648,432 in 2010 compared to 650,627 in 2009.

Nationally, circulation continued to drop severely, though the rate of decline slowed from the previous six-month reporting period.

Figures show average weekday circulation fell 8.7 percent in the six months that ended March 31, compared with the same period a year earlier. Sunday circulation fell 6.5 percent.

That's a slight improvement from April through September of last year, when average weekday circulation dropped 10.6 percent from a year earlier and Sunday circulation fell 7.5 percent.

Even so, the top 25 newspapers in the country showed some huge circulation losses.

The San Francisco Chronicle's weekday circulation dropped nearly 23 percent from the year before to 241,330. At The Washington Post, average weekday circulation fell 13.1 percent to 578,482 and dropped 8.2 percent to 797,679 on Sundays.

USA Today lost 13.6 percent of its circulation and averaged 1.83 million. That extended a slump that began with a slowdown in travel during the recession, which trimmed sales where USA Today is especially popular, such as hotels and airports.

In a way, the new circulation figures mirror the industry's advertising trends. While most major newspapers continue to see ad revenue decline compared with year-ago figures, the drop is becoming less extreme. Newspapers are getting some help from easy comparisons — they are holding their latest ad numbers up to results from the depths of the recession — but economic improvement is also starting to restore advertising budgets.

The circulation numbers are getting a small boost from a looser standard by the Audit Bureau on how certain online editions are counted. Under a change that took effect last April, if a newspaper bundles a print subscription with a digital replica of its printed editions or access to its website, it can count a subscriber twice — as long as the online edition costs even a penny extra.

USA Today's decline last year allowed The Wall Street Journal to surpass it as the newspaper with the biggest U.S. circulation. In Monday's report, the Journal once again posted the only gain in circulation among the top 25 newspapers that had comparable figures from a year ago. It grew its circulation 0.5 percent to 2.09 million.

However, the Journal would have had a slight decline in circulation were it only counting printed newspapers. The Journal's paid online circulation rose about 31,000 from a year ago to 414,025, offsetting a decline of about 20,000 on the print side.

The No. 3 newspaper, The New York Times, reported an 8.5 percent decline in weekday circulation during the most recent period and a 5.2 percent drop on Sundays. The Times' average circulation was 951,063 on weekdays and 1.38 million on Sundays.