Two weeks before The Advocate begins an advertising blitz to let New Orleanians know the Baton Rouge paper is coming to town, the paper has already received between 800 and 1,000 new subscribers in the New Orleans metro area, according to publisher David Manship — and he's expecting more readers to sign up as they hear about the plan.
"We definitely need more than 1,000," he told Gambit this morning. "I'd like to get 20,000. But we're looking at 5,000 to 10,000, and I think that’s easily obtainable based on the response we got yesterday."
The Advocate's push into the New Orleans market, of course, is in response to The Times-Picayune's scaling back to thrice-weekly publication as of Oct. 1, concentrating its news gathering online at NOLA.com under the name NOLA Media Group.
"We still believe in the printed newspaper every day," Manship said. "We don’t doubt the importance of digital — we have a website and an app; we even have an e-edition, so we feel like we are there. We just felt like the people of New Orleans were very strong toward their reading of the Picayune seven days a week. So we thought we’d step in and fill the void."
Under the cut: Manship discusses distribution, advertisers, and office space for The Advocate's new New Orleans bureau ...
"The storm [Hurricane Isaac] really threw a kink in our thing," Manship told Gambit this morning. "Last week was the week we were going to make a big push in New Orleans, but we have a team on the ground there now. We’ve already been in contact with the major players — the Macy’s, the [JC] Penneys — and we have indicated that if they would like us to change out the ad for the New Orleans edition, we'll be happy to do that. We haven't had a chance to get to the real local advertisers yet, but that's coming."
That "team on the ground" includes not only salespeople, but new editorial hires, several of whom are Times-Picayune alumni. The New Orleans bureau will be helmed by Sara Pagones, a T-P veteran reporter and editorial page writer. Kari Dequine Harden, a former weekend reporter who created a stir with an open letter to Times-Picayune management saying that the paper had "the worst news website known to man," has been hired as well. (Gambit has also learned of a third high-profile hire from the T-P ranks — a multi-award-winning reporter with a familiar front-page byline.)
The local edition of The Advocate, Manship said, will feature New Orleans-centric stories on the front page and the first page of the B section, and will have ads that run in both the New Orleans and Baton Rouge markets. One big difference between the T-P and The Advocate, however, is the latter's lack of a local arts and culture staff — which has been one of the T-P's big strengths in a town that's a lot more artsy (and eccentric) than Baton Rouge.
Will The Advocate be hiring arts writers? "Not initially," Manship said. "We will cover that. Will we cover that to the extent the Picayune did? The Picayune did a hell of a job, they’re a great newspaper. But they covered New Orleans with 200 people in their newsroom — i’m not going to have 200 people! But we do have a Sunday magazine, and we will increase that [arts] coverage. We know it's important to people in New Orleans."
"Starting on the 24th, we’re going to be giving away papers in New Orleans," Manship added. "We'll be handing 'em out on street corners, giving 'em away in coffee shops, throwing 'em in people’s driveways. We’re gonna do that for a week, then start home delivery Oct. 1. Even after that, we will continue to throw some samples in driveways."
The distribution strategy will not be limited to home delivery. "I think we have 10 machines [newsboxes] in New Orleans now, mostly centered around the [federal] courthouse," Manship said. "We'll have another 150 machines out, and we'll have about 400 outlets total. We've contacted numerous merchants — Cracker Barrels, hotels — it'll be easily accessible."
Manship also said The Advocate would also have a "New Orleans edition" website, with New Orleans news front and center. That website will launch Sept. 21.
Early reports that The Advocate would come into the New Orleans market with a "virtual newsroom" — no formal office space — have changed. Manship confirmed that the paper was looking at a loading dock in Harahan, and scouting office space in downtown New Orleans.
"We don’t really want it in a high-rise on the 50th floor. We want it on the street level," he joked — referencing the NOLA Media Group's plan to move the newly digital operation into the two top floors of the One Canal Place office building.
The newsstand price for The Advocate will be $1 — 25 cents more than the current price of The Times-Picayune — though the Baton Rouge paper undercuts the T-P on subscriptions ($14.95 for 7 days, as opposed to the T-P's $16.95 for 3 days plus a Monday edition during New Orleans Saints season).
A kickoff party for the New Orleans edition is set for September 24. Manship said the paper hoped to have it at its new downtown digs, but if those aren't ready, "we'll look at some place iconic, like Rock 'n' Bowl."
Isn't this all a significant investment in expansion at a time when many newspapers are cutting back or contracting?
"There is some risk involved," Manship said. "As you know, the way newspapers make money is through advertising, not subscriptions. But we just got a lot of inquiries from New Orleans about the fact they wanted a daily newspaper — and we just decided, heck, let’s give it a shot.
"We believe the advertisers will follow."