‘Houston Chronicle’ Adapts to Influx of Evacuees from Katrina

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By: Jennifer Saba

As the population of Houston swells — it’s estimated the city has seen an influx of about 100,000 evacuees from Hurricane Katrina — the city’s main newspaper has been ramping up to meet the needs of people looking for news and, now, for jobs. It just added a new classified category for people looking for temporary work.

The Hearst-owned Houston Chronicle has been distributing 10,000 ?mini newspapers” to 25 Houston-area shelters including the Astrodome. ?It’s a broadsheet,? said Bill Offill, executive vice president sales and marketing at the Chronicle. “Just above our masthead it says, ‘News for Katrina Evacuees.'”

Wednesday’s edition will grow from six to eight pages and includes information on how evacuees can locate others, find health assistance, and just ?what the heck is going on,? Offill said. Seven thousand copies of the main Chronicle are distributed along with the special editions.

It’s unknown how long the Chronicle will hand out the hurricane-related publication. Today the main paper ran a story showing that many exhausted evacuees are hesitant to move to other shelters — including docked cruise ships — so soon after landing in Houston. Many are still trying to locate family and friends. ?We’re not sure how long people are going to be in these mega-shelters,? Offill said.

Beyond providing short-term quarters, Houston will absorb residents looking for either temporary or permanent residence. Offill said the Chronicle, which has a daily circulation of 527,744, according to the latest Audit Bureau of Circulations figures, can easily produce another 50,000 to 100,000 copies to accommodate new readers.

Already the Chronicle has had to make adjustments. This weekend, the paper produced a new classified category to fill the number of orders for companies looking for temporary workers. ?On Thursday we were getting so many calls, we created a new classification,? said Offill, who added that Labor Day weekend is typically slow for help-wanted advertising. This year it doubled.

Additionally, the paper is picking up display advertising from companies like Chevron and Exxon Mobil, which are encouraging displaced employees to contact them.

?It’s day to day,? said Offill. ?We don’t know how long we’re going to have the influx of people. You hear reports that it could be for a long time. We’re already seeing a lot of people that are going to make Houston their permanent home and they are not going back.”

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