‘The Advocate’ Preps for New Readers in Baton Rouge

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By: Jennifer Saba

Just an hour northwest of New Orleans, Baton Rouge, La., has seen its population practically double within the span of a week. For this capital city that is now home to roughly 400,000 people, The Advocate, the city’s family-owned newspaper, is trying to figure out a long-term plan to serve new residents and potential new readers.

Though the daily newspaper is nowhere near doubling its circulation of 96,169, according to the latest ABC statement, the Advocate has seen a surge in single copy sales. Overall circulation has grown 10% with single copy sales increasing by 80%, said Dean Blanchard, the paper’s circulation director.

Distribution is relatively back on track, although the paper still can’t deliver to Washington Parish. The instant traffic jams detailed on the front page of today’s Advocate Web site has had no effect on delivery trucks who make their rounds early enough to avoid snarls.

Access to gas, however, remains more problematic, especially for the paper’s carriers. Larry Ruth, director of advertising at the paper, explained that more stations have gas and the lines aren’t as long. But the supply fluctuates, especially as some former Jefferson Parish residents are allowed to make runs to their former homes, which has helped create a gas shortage.

Ruth said some preprint advertisers have been late with deliveries of free-standing inserts because trucks are caught in traffic or simply run out of fuel.

Yet the Advocate has seen a burst in advertising. Insurance companies, banks, and businesses looking for their employees have placed ads in the paper. “That started almost immediately after the storm and it really hasn’t slowed down,” Ruth said. “How long that will go on, we really don’t know.”

Retail advertisers pulled back after the initial impact of the storm, especially grocery stores scrambling for inventory counts. But the classified advertising department has been extremely busy, Ruth said.

Meanwhile, the newsroom is re-thinking stories to fill a growing hole. Executive Editor Linda Lightfoot said that in the long term, writers and editors will focus on the economic effects of the hurricane, especially with so many displaced people. Many of those who resettle in the city will be competing with Baton Rouge-established businesses.

Other areas of focus for the paper include the burden new residents are putting on the housing market and examining the region’s preparedness — or lack thereof — of a major storm. “As the dust settles, people will be debating what should have been done,” Lightfoot said. “We want to take a complete look at the protection system.”

For now, Lightfoot is counting on her staff of about 100 writers, editors, photographers, and others to put out the daily paper. “Can a newspaper always use more reporters and editors? Of course,” she said. Managing Editor Carl Redman, Metro Editor Fred Kalmbach, Photo Director John Ballance, and Sunday Editor Art Adams have been heading up hurricane-related coverage.

“We have asked for extra pages quite frequently, particularly in our A section,” Lightfoot said. “We have never been turned down. We are a family-owned newspaper and we’re not under constraint with news holes and resources.”

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