Gregory Rusovich, chair-elect of Greater New Orleans Inc., and Suzanne Mestayer, chair of the Business Council of New Orleans, were among the community leaders on hand to welcome the Baton Rouge paper into the market. "Economically, our region has the hot hand," Rusovich told the crowd, adding, "We deserve a daily paper, and thanks to The Advocate and the Manship family, we will have that daily newspaper."
Advocate publisher David Manship was there to introduce the staff of the New Orleans bureau, all of whom were former Times-Picayune staffers: bureau chief Sara Pagones; reporters Kari Dequine Harden, Danny Monteverde and Allen Powell; photographer John McCusker; sportswriter Ted Lewis; and Sara Barnard, head of sales for the New Orleans bureau. Carl Redman, executive editor for the Baton Rouge paper, was also on hand. In the back of the room were former T-P columnist Angus Lind and former City Hall reporter Frank Donze, both of whom had stopped by to check out the scene.
"It's exciting and nervewracking all at the same time," Monteverde said. "I think we'll do well, though it may take us a while to get our land legs."
Pagones said that the bureau's offices — located at Baronne and Union streets in the CBD — were still under construction, but that the Advocate had found a temporary home in the Place St. Charles building nearby. The buildout should be completed shortly, she said. "I think we'll be in ours before The Times-Picayune is in their new location," she added, in reference to the newly rechristened NOLA Media Group's offices on the top two floors of One Canal Place.
A quick flip through the New Orleans edition of the paper showed The Advocate's strategy. The main headline was a Pagones story about the New Orleans City Council District B race, while below it was a large photo of yesterday's New Orleans Saints game. Below the fold, Advocate Baton Rouge music writer profiled the end of Preservation Hall's yearlong 50th anniversary — a locally important story, but one that already had been widely covered in local media during the past year.
Section B, christened "South Louisiana" instead of "New Orleans" or "Metro," had a Harden story about the temporary closure of part of the Fly behind Audubon Park and an "On Campus" wrap of mostly New Orleans college news briefs.
The Saints dominated the front of the sports page, with an article by Baton Rouge-based sportswriter Sheldon Mickles. But the arts section ("People") was entirely devoid of New Orleans-specific content, except for a New Orleans TV grid. Likewise, the editorial pages were completely Baton Rouge-centric, at least on the first day. And those who have become fond of The Times-Picayune's weather frog will now have to make do with WBRZ-TV Baton Rouge meteorologist Pat Shingleton — whose five-day forecast didn't specify a city or region.
The paper has also created a New Orleans-specific landing page for local news.
Circulation director Dean Blanchard said The Advocate was being given away free this week in several hundred New Orleans locations (a large stack was placed inside New Orleans City Hall early this morning), but that the earlier plan to throw gratis copies in local driveways was no longer happening. The paper's cherry-red newsboxes, which have been a scarce sight in New Orleans to date, are being brought in now.
Manship told Gambit that the paper now has 2,000 subscribers — up from 1,000 two weeks ago — without any benefit of local advertising. It's one-tenth of The Advocate's goal, which is 20,000 paid subscribers in the New Orleans metro area. To that end, he said, a robust ad campaign was beginning today, trumpeting The Advocate's arrival in TV, radio, print and billboards.(In comparison, The Times-Picayune has a circulation of 133,500, according to March numbers from the Audit Bureau of Circulations.)
Manship also acknowledged the frustration expressed by some New Orleans-area would-be subscribers who said they weren't able to get through to the subscription department: "We've turned over our phone subscription center to a contract center."
Last week, The Times-Picayune announced its upcoming move into the Baton Rouge market; it had never been mentioned publicly before, but publisher Ricky Mathews said it had been the plan all along, and was not made in response to The Advocate's encroachment into the Crescent City.
Asked if he thought a three-day-a-week out-of-town paper would work in Baton Rouge, Manship said, "Well, there's probably some transplants there that miss The Times-Picayune."