Sep 9, 201309:09 AM
The Editor's Room
Weekly Commentary with New Orleans Magazine’s Errol Laborde
The Times-Picayune Fiasco: The New Orleans Advocate's Big Play
That goal-line stand at the end of the game was one of many big plays in yesterday’s Saints game, but one of the biggest, at least from a business perspective, took place on the back of fans' seats and involved Steve Gleason’s historic blocked punt eight years earlier.
Sunday was the beginning of The New Orleans Advocate’s big offense to try to goose up circulation. Earlier in the week, the company had announced a partnership with both the Saints and the (this is still taking some getting used to) “Pelicans” basketball team. The agreement does not give any extra privileges as far as news coverage, but does give the daily newspaper exclusive advertising access within the Dome and, for basketball, inside the arena. Special Advocate sports sections, which were placed on each of the 80,000 seats, relived that emotional Monday night game when the Saints returned to the Dome after Katrina and Gleason flew into an Atlanta punter to block a punt which became instead a Saints touchdown. Now suffering from ALS (aka Lou Gehrig’s disease), Gleason has become a cause. The Advocate's handout promised a $7 contribution to Gleason’s Team Gleason charity for each new subscription. (The Advocate plans a similar promotion at Pelicans games with funds donated to wetland preservation.)
Sunday’s effort was just the beginning. A barrage of television commercials and print ads will soon be showing various notables around town, including Archie Manning, Irma Thomas and Angela Hill, home delivering The Advocate while urging folks to subscribe.
Over the last few months The Advocate has greatly enhanced its product bringing in a boatload of talent, largely from The Times-Picayune. The paper has also been redesigned and its contents juggled to better fit the New Orleans audience. What has emerged is a good newspaper that is waiting for more people to discover it.
Dan Shea, the newspaper’s general manager and COO (and another T-P veteran), says that the readership, counting subscriptions and newsstand, is somewhere between 18,000 and 20,000. The goal for now is 40,000. That’s a point that should make the paper even more comfortable to advertisers at a workable rate.
“People in New Orleans have said they want a daily newspaper,” Shea says. “Now they have to show it.”
What is showing is the community’s anger about the Newhouses’ thrice-weekly concept. Those who will be appearing in the commercials and billboards, according to Shea, did so for free.
Steve Newhouse has proved himself to be an unpopular out-of-town owner. John Georges is absorbing the world of being a publisher. With his ownership, The Advocate is trying to sell local pride, a theme that is popular with Tom Benson, the ultimate local guy, who owns the city’s two major league teams.
On their side, the Newhouses’ have brand familiarity in a town that is often slow to react to change; the Advocate side has fire in its belly and the desire to block any punts that come its way.
BOOK ANNOUNCEMENT: Errol’s Laborde’s new book, Mardi Gras: Chronicles of the New Orleans Carnival (Pelican Publishing Company, 2013), is due to be released in late September. It is now available for pre-order at Amazon.com.
WATCH INFORMED SOURCES, FRIDAYS AT 7 P.M., REPEATED AT 11:30 P.M. WYES-TV, CH. 12.