By: Joe Strupp
Every summer, E&P selects its “10 That Do It Right” from the nation’s daily and weekly newspapers. This is by no means a “10 Best” list but rather a hat tip to a variety of publications which have, through excellence or innovation, shown the way in one area or another, such as news coverage, circulation, design, diversity or online.
Over the next two weeks we will be spotlighting this year’s picks (also available for subscribers on this site in the Print section).
The first selection, from Mississippi, follows.
A year ago, when The Sun Herald of Biloxi, Miss., shared a Pulitzer Prize for its coverage of Hurricane Katrina, the newsroom rightly basked in the praise. But if there was a Pulitzer for circulation, the feisty daily could claim that, too.
In the year-and-a-half since Katrina devastated the coastal area, destroying 70,000 homes and businesses in its circulation zones, the Sun Herald has managed to bounce back nearly to pre-hurricane numbers — and there are estimates that continued growth might push home-delivery and rack sales even higher than before. The paper also boosted readership from 2.8 readers per copy before Katrina to 3.9 readers per copy today.
“The potential for this market in five to 10 years is to grow even more,” says Circulation Director Gary Raskett. “There is major development taking place.”
When the hurricane hit in August 2005, the Sun Herald’s daily circulation was 45,658, with Sunday at 54,809. Six weeks after Katrina, when the paper began charging again after giving copies away for free, the daily circulation hovered at 36,500, according to Raskett. The paper also experienced the loss of 35 of its 165 delivery routes, while adult carriers dwindled from 140 to 20. About 300 of the paper’s 1,000 newspaper racks were destroyed.
“We had a dreadful situation, so everyone was delivering papers,” Editor Stan Tiner recalls. For six weeks, the Sun Herald printed 82,000 copies each day and distributed them free. “People were coming out of food lines to get the paper,” he adds.
Tiner stresses that the objective was to get the news out, but he and Raskett admit it turned into a great marketing tool. Tiner adds, “There is no doubt that it was good for the newspaper.”
When the Sun Herald began charging again in October 2005, it faced greatly decreased paid circulation. Raskett says his 20-person staff went door-to-door to see if existing subscribers were still in their homes. Others approached non-subscribers and those who had relocated. With telemarketing nearly nonexistent, at least in the first few months, staffers reached out to residents as they returned to their homes. “Every time a new house appears or power is turned on, we send over people,” Raskett adds.
In the newsroom, beats have been reorganized around life after the disaster. Tiner created an insurance beat, a transportation beat, and increased coverage of environmental and health issues. The paper also launched a new monthly magazine and jobs guide, while publishing two Katrina-related books that sold a combined 60,000 copies, according to Publisher Ricky Mathews.
All of the efforts have brought circulation to almost pre-2005 levels, with 45,374 daily and 50,809 on Sunday, Raskett says, with 25% of those new subscribers.