Almost every day of late, the Austin American-Statesman, the newspaper in the capital of Texas, has published an article about a man who lives 1,500 or so miles away, has no direct connection to the area and has no power to change life there at all.

The articles usually are not long, or front page. But the trial of D.C. Mayor Marion Barry has so many universal angles and raises so many issues, said news editor Diane Porter, that it warranted becoming a Statesman staple, no matter how slim the local ties.

"It's about hero-falling," Porter said. "It's about blacks in power and whites in power. It's about drugs in America. It's about Effi Barry sitting there every day. It's about Rasheeda . . . . It just has a lot of elements in it that make it very compelling."

It is compelling, it seems, across the country, indeed the world.

Although it hardly dominates the news of other communities as it does metropolitan Washington, many editors and radio talk-show hosts said last week they are regularly making space and time for it because the Barry trial is obviously no local matter but one stocked with national ingredients.

"Every time a major story moves on the wire of some development in the case, I think we've had a story without fail," said Wayne Adair, an editor at the Anchorage Times.

Most editors said readers have provided little indication they want the Barry coverage, but a new poll suggests they do. The Washington-based Times Mirror Center for the People and the Press found that 22 percent of 1,231 people sampled nationwide in July were following Barry's trial "very closely" and 31 percent were following it "fairly closely."

Although interest in several other stories last month was greater -- President Bush's switch on taxes was tracked very closely by 30 percent of the sample -- center Director Donald S. Kellermann said the level of attention to the Barry trial is "unusually high for a regional story of this nature."

Indeed, more Americans are intently following it than followed Donald Trump's financial problems, the HUD scandal last year and the nomination of Robert H. Bork to the U.S. Supreme Court in 1987, according to the center's statistics.

And the center found that one aspect of the Barry case, the Vista Hotel videotape, caught the attention of a huge segment of the public, with 63 percent saying they had seen the tape on television.

On one level, several editors said, the lure of the Barry story is its tabloid aspects: A former lover entices a prominent man to a hotel room where he smokes cocaine as FBI cameras roll. "These are all the things that people look to cops-and-robbers shows for," Kellermann said.

Herve Couturier, assistant news editor in Washington for Agence France-Presse, the French wire service, said it recently distributed a story saying that "the latest soap opera fascinating Washington was the mayor's trial, with all the ingredients of a good trial: drugs, sex, politics, even race. I think this kind of approach is more successful with our clients abroad."

But on another level, said Kellermann and several editors, the trial's appeal is its broader elements, including what it says about the drug epidemic in America and about allegations that black politicians are singled out for pursuit by white federal prosecutors.

At the Toledo Blade, national editor John Nichols said he publishes an article about the trial almost every day and even uses a special logo to help readers find it. One reason for the coverage, he said, is that the Ohio city is Effi Barry's home town -- but that's not the main appeal.

"It happened at a quintessentially perfect time," Nichols said. "Here we have a war on drugs. Everybody's obsessed by it, almost to an extreme, and here we have a very prominent mayor who gets caught smoking drugs, with videotapes and all kinds of evidence. If anything, it says an awful lot about our times."

For WGCI-AM, an all-talk Chicago station with a largely black audience, the trial has been a "major-league national issue" for callers, centering on the issue of selective prosecution, said program director Michael Watkins. The topic arises on one of the station's five talk shows at least every other day, Watkins said.

"This is almost a litmus test of whether the government is spending a lot of money to attack {black} leaders," he said. "I think people look at this as a big red flag and maybe the straw that broke the camel's back."

Blacks, in fact, are following the trial much more than whites, according to the Times Mirror poll, with 41 percent of blacks and 20 percent of whites paying very close attention.

"We feel a proprietary interest in our leaders," said Chicago Tribune columnist Clarence Page, who has devoted two columns to the Barry trial. Page also said interest is high because the trial "strikes back to the basic breakdown in the dialogue between whites and blacks."

The trial's location also has elevated the story above the routine for some editors. "It's not just another capital in another state," said Porter, of the American-Statesman, adding, "If this can happen in the nation's capital, where the drug war is apparently being fought, what is happening everywhere else?"

Indeed, Washington is part of the hook for the Milwaukee Journal, which raised the issue of statehood for the District. "Some might argue that this sets back that cause," said editorial writer Sue Ryon, who wrote on June 5 that the trial gives "ammunition to Americans elsewhere who contend D.C. is incapable of managing its own affairs."

Several foreign correspondents based in Washington said they have not been covering the Barry story daily. But they have used it to make larger points about the United States and the city.

Yoriyoshi Naito, of the Asahi Shimbun, a leading Japanese newspaper, said his bureau has written about the FBI sting "because in Japan we don't have any sting operation like that." And Peter Stothard, of the Times of London, said he used the arrest to show British readers that Washington has a side that bears no relation to the federal government.

There are, of course, newspapers that aren't interested at all. Jim Smith, editor of the 9,000-circulation Ukiah Daily Journal in California, said he has not published much about the trial because it is "just viewed as more Washington politics." And the Journal's big issue lately?

"The spotted owl."