- The Washington Times - Wednesday, October 5, 2005

Small, independently owned newspapers in the hurricane-ravaged Gulf Coast region are struggling financially and are looking to federal agencies to help by purchasing ads.

The National Newspaper Association (NNA) is lobbying Capitol Hill, suggesting federal agencies can buy public service advertisements in these papers to tell residents where to find hurricane-related help, give public notice about contract bids for reconstruction, publicize tip lines, or even recruit for the National Guard and Coast Guard.

“There’s a wide range,” said Brian Steffens, NNA spokesman. “Any source of revenue we can get to these small, independently owned papers will help.”

Mr. Steffens said that if these papers fold, no one will act as watchdog to oversee the hurricane rebuilding effort and federal contract process.

“Who does that except the local papers?” he said.

Tonda Rush, NNA director of public policy, has told lawmakers that 30 to 40 Mississippi and Louisiana newspapers are in danger of folding.

Most of those newspapers are functioning or plan to resume publishing soon, but the future is uncertain, Mr. Steffens said.

Many businesses in the region are still unable to advertise. Also, distribution remains a challenge and some residents can’t pay for their papers.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) appears to be the only federal agency that is advertising actively. The Mississippi Press Association said it is working with FEMA on a group ad buy that will run in 22 small Mississippi newspapers.

The Louisiana Press Association said it hasn’t heard from any federal agencies, but is encouraging other newspapers and organizations to help through a campaign called “Adopt a Newspaper, Buy an Ad.”

The campaign has generated $60,000 to $80,000 in ad revenue, said Pam Mitchell-Wagner, executive director of LPA.

Ms. Rush said small newspapers are the best way for the federal government to relay information about the Gulf Coast rebuilding effort and to oversee spending.

“There’s going to be a lot of communication money being spent down there to get the word out, and these papers are what the people trust,” she said. “If you want to have safeguards … enlisting the oversight of the local papers is probably one of the best ways to do that.”

The Sea Coast Echo in Mississippi’s devastated Bay St. Louis community operated initially out of the publisher’s home and now is sharing facilities with a nearby paper.

The Arabi St. Bernard Voice of Louisiana, owned for generations by the Roy family, plans to publish its first post-Katrina edition tomorrow, but many of the town’s businesses and homes are still uninhabitable.

“I know they’re going to give it their best shot to survive,” Mrs. Mitchell-Wagner said.

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