May 19, 2024

Media Decoder: Baton Rouge Newspaper Sees an Opportunity in New Orleans

It’s a Hail Mary pass for New Orleans newspaper lovers dreading the day that the city no longer has a daily paper. Starting on Monday, the first day that The Times-Picayune no longer prints every day, The Advocate from Baton Rouge will offer home delivery of a New Orleans edition.

Many of the bylines in the paper will be familiar to readers there. The Advocate hired seven people who had left The Times-Picayune to staff its New Orleans bureau. The publisher, David Manship, whose family has owned the paper since 1909, said that The Advocate had not had a reporter in New Orleans since its correspondent moved back to Baton Rouge, some 80 miles to the northwest, during Hurricane Katrina.

In May, The Times-Picayune announced that it would scale back print production to three days a week and shift its emphasis to its free Web site, Widespread layoffs followed, and some longtime Times-Picayune employees left voluntarily.

Mr. Manship said the new edition would feature coverage of basic news beats like city government. He will wait to see how it is received before deciding whether to expand into areas like arts coverage.

“If this thing goes like we hope it would, then we would add some additional staff,” he said.

But The Times-Picayune is not taking this expansion into its turf lightly. Ricky Mathews, the president of the NOLA Media Group who on Monday will take over as publisher of The Times-Picayune, said that the company had been planning for six months to build its presence in Baton Rouge. He said the paper already had three reporters there but would now add 16 staff members to its Baton Rouge bureau — 12 on the editorial side and four on the sales side.

He said he welcomed the competition.

“We believe that competition is good and what we’ve got to do is serve this region really well no matter who it is,” Mr. Mathews said.

In New Orleans, the newspaper war has already begun. Starting on Monday, The Advocate has handed out 11,000 to 18,000 free copies throughout the city each day. Mr. Manship said more than 6,000 households had signed up for home delivery.

Both papers hope the changes will help with their declining circulation. According to data tracked by the Audit Bureau of Circulations, The Times-Picayune’s circulation from Monday through Friday declined to 134,639 in March, from 142,700 the same time the year before. The Advocate’s circulation from Monday through Friday declined to 76,263 in March, compared with 82,695 the same time the year before.

Mr. Manship said that the success of the New Orleans edition depended heavily on advertisers in that city.

“If the advertising community in New Orleans doesn’t support it, then I would have to rethink the whole thing,” he said. “If I don’t make money on it, as nice a guy as I am, I can’t afford to throw money into a hole.”

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