USA Today, published by Arlington-based Gannett Co., has inched ahead of the Wall Street Journal in circulation, making it the nation's largest daily newspaper for the first time, according to a report yesterday by the Audit Bureau of Circulations.

Overall newspaper circulation was down 0.7 percent in the six months that ended Sept. 30, according to an industry association's analysis of the circulation figures. Small papers showed larger circulation losses on average, but seven of the 10 largest papers showed gains.

USA Today sold an average of 1,758,477 copies daily in the six-month period, up 1.1 percent from the period a year earlier. It narrowly surpassed the Wall Street Journal, with 1,752,693 copies, up 0.7 percent.

USA Today has already claimed the No. 1 position in number of readers. Its publisher, Tom Curley, said the paper's own circulation figures, which include bulk sales to hotels, overtook the Journal earlier.

Richard Tofel, a spokesman for Dow Jones & Co., which owns the Journal, said it still outsells USA Today every day but Friday. Both papers have weekend editions on Fridays and do not publish Saturday or Sunday editions.

The New York Times, the Los Angeles Times and The Washington Post also posted circulation gains.