By Joe Atkinson
It’s an unseasonably warm Wednesday afternoon in late autumn, and everyone’s reading the newspaper.
But, they also note, there are only so many advertisers to go around. So at the /files/storyimages/of the day, does that mean someone will have to win?
Talk to employees of both publications, and they’ll say there is no real competition between the two. Despite having the same publication date, the same tabloid format, the same pickup cost (free) and overlapping target audiences, they say there is room for both.
No matter the age, gender or dress of the people on the street, almost all are either reading or carrying a copy of a local newspaper. But wherever you look, you’ll rarely see a copy of the Courier-Journal. Instead, the downtown lunch crowd is reading a brand new issue of the Louisville Eccentric Observer — better known as LEO — a weekly alternative newspaper published Wednesdays by Erie, Pa.-based Kildysart LLC. Or they’re reading Velocity, the newer, two-year-old weekly publication, on newsstands every Wednesday courtesy of the Courier-Journal.
Anyone walking down Fourth Street at lunchtime, roaming through Fourth Street Live!, can see dozens of people sitting both inside and out of coffee shops and restaurants, flipping through newsprint as they eat their lunch. Farther south, at Broadway, closer to the Louisville Courier-Journal building, the same phenomenon is evident.
We ve always covered entertainment, and will continue to do so, says LEO editor Cary stemle. But what we add that other papers don t is this aspect of social justice.
“Personally, I read LEO more often,” says 24-year-old Brian Rogers, as he works behind the counter of the Highland Coffee
shop on Fourth Street. “But I think they both have their niches.”
At the moment, the numbers support that hypothesis. While determining the number of readers for free publications may seem difficult — both are, after all, handed out in coffee shops and in street boxes — a company called Media Audit takes on the task. According to its January 2005 report, a survey estimate of the number who say they read the most recent issue of Velocity was 64,300; LEO’s readership was larger at 80,800. Those numbers differ from figures given by the publications’ managers, which seem
to slant in favor of Velocity. According to LEO Publisher Pam Brooks, LEO regularly prints 40,000 copies each week, with 93.95 percent picked up by readers. Velocity’s editor, Jim Lenahan, says his publication prints about 52,000 copies each week,
with a pickup rate approaching 90 percent. (Media Audit’s readership figures for one issue surpass the numbers of issues printed
because some copies of each publication are seen by more than one reader.)
So who reaches more people each week? It’s hard to say. Either way, both sets of numbers look
great to advertisers and executives in suits. But they tell only half the story; a newspaper can be picked up for a variety of reasons,
from fireplace kindling to dog training. So the question remains: How many people are actually reading both LEO and Velocity?
And how many of them are members of the publications’ target audiences?
Again, both questions are difficult to answer. Media Audit’s January report, however, included a median age readership of 41.2 for LEO and 38.2 for Velocity. Ask folks on Fourth Street which — if either — of the publications they read and the answer generally is one or the other. As Rogers says, each magazine has its own particular niche of readers. “I think the point of Velocity is our nightlife — what is going on in entertainment, what is going on in town,” he says. “LEO deals more with political issues — not necessarily
all politics, but what’s going on in town, what’s happening and the things we can get involved with to make the area better.”
According to the editors, those different focuses are aimed at different demographics. LEO editor Cary Stemle describes his
audience as the “active and engaged” types in the community. Velocity, meanwhile, shoots for “young.”
“We really set out trying to serve that group of readers,” Lenahan says. “So what you’ll find is a lot of entertainment stories. . . . We have a lot of stories on things going on around town, the places to go, the things to do.
“We did a lot of focus groups that told us that this was what they really wanted to see — that this was the kind of thing they
would pick up week after week.”
Of course, a weekly tabloid can’t all be about bar-hopping. Jennifer Carroll, the director of news development for Gannett, which owns the Courier-Journal, notes that the same focus groups showed that many in Velocity’s target age group (20s and 30s) are beyond college, starting families and getting into careers. Those people, she says, wanted “more than just a bar guide.”
We did a lot of focus groups that told us . . . that this was the kind of thing they would pick up week after week, Velocityeditor Jim lenahan says of the tabloid s targeted youth market. Which is why Velocity does what Lenahan called “lifestyle stories” as well — stories that aren’t necessarily entertainment-related, but instead are “geared more toward the daily life” of young men and women.
“For instance, going back to school and getting an advanced degree might be an example of a lifestyle story,” Lenahan says.
“Maybe fashion stories, stories about buying a first home, remodeling or redecorating. Those are the kinds of things we like
to focus on with our lifestyle stories.”
Those were the things, Carroll says, Gannett felt LEO-type papers weren’t doing in most markets.
“We weren’t ever setting out to do an alternative news weekly in a traditional sense,” she says. “It was much more lifestyle and entertainment. So it wasn’t as if we looked and said, ‘Here’s a market we want to encroach into,’ as much as it was us seeing
a need for a publication that would reflect everything that was going on in Louisville.”
The question remaIns, though: Are young people reading the Courier’s spin-off?
While there has been no known research completed that specifically deals with LEO and Velocity, national research suggests that
the answer is: “No.”
Rachel Davis Mersey, a graduate student at the University of North Carolina and former employee of the Arizona Republic did
some research on the subject while helping that Gannett-owned Phoenix daily form its weekly publication, Yes! Magazine. And as
part of her graduate work, she has delved deeper into the world of youth publications.
And what has she found?
“Evidence suggests that the audience picking up these publications is younger (than traditional newspaper readers),” Mersey says.
“But they are, by no means, young.”
More importantly, she says, research presented at the recent World Wide Readership Symposium in Prague suggested that weekly
publications put out by major newspaper conglomerates — like Velocity — aren’t reaching their target audience: young folks who don’t read the traditional newspaper. “Instead, it’s just that the avid newspaper readers are reading more,” she says. “They’re buying newspapers and picking these up, as well.
“Furthermore, there was research presented saying that these daily freebies have had absolutely no impact on newspaper
circulation in four major markets — New York, Chicago, Boston and Dallas.”
But Mersey also notes that, despite this research, publications like Velocity must be doing something right, because newspaper
chains aren’t abandoning them. “You have to believe they’re trying it for a reason and sticking with it for a reason,” she says. “If
they weren’t convinced it was working, they wouldn’t be doing it.”
Rich Gordon, chairman of the New Media Department at Northwestern University’s Medill School of Journalism, says he believes some of these publications are reaching new audiences; more importantly, though, they are reaching new advertisers. These youth publications, according to Gordon, “provide advertising space for (businesses) not advertising with the regular newspaper.”
Which puts them smack into a battle with alternative weeklies.
When John yarmuth launched LEO in 1990, he did so with a simple aim: “My goal was to create a forum of divergent
ideas,” Yarmuth says. “In that respect, it was a little different than what LEO has become, and what most alternative weeklies already were at that time.
“Most alternative weeklies at the time were a 50-50 balance of advocacy journalism on public issues and entertainment topics.
Ours was 100 percent opinion.”
LEO’s first issue, printed in November 1990, was filled mostly with opinion pieces on various local and national social issues.
Entertainment news had been added in by the time Yarmuth’s publication was sold in 2003 to Kildysart, which owns another alternative weekly in Cleveland, a daily newspaper in Erie, Pa., and other media properties.
Today, LEO looks more like those other alternative weeklies. Inside, readers can find entertainment listings and stories
about different events happening around the city. But they also can find those social commentaries that were the foundation of
Yarmuth’s creation. “Our goal has been, and continues to be, to cover arts, culture, entertainment and social justice,”
Stemle says. “Those are the big four . . . and I believe we give our readers those four things in spades.”
Stemle, who came on board as managing editor in 1998, points to an issue released shortly after his arrival — the Nov. 18, 1998 LEO, which was headlined by a story about 35-year-old Alicia Pedreira. Pedreira had worked for several years at the Kentucky Baptist Home for Children. But in 1997, she attended the Kentucky State Fair with her partner, wearing a shirt advertising the “Isle of Lesbos” in the Mediterranean Sea. Someone took a picture.
More than a year later, that picture surfaced in an exhibit at the Kentucky State Fair. Pedreira’s employers saw it, learned that she was homosexual, and fired her.
At the same time, Louisville’s city aldermen were considering the Fairness Ordinance — a gay rights regulation that dealt with workplace rights. Many were saying it was unnecessary, arguing that homosexuals were not treated unfairly in the workplace.
But shortly after Pedreira’s story went public, the ordinance passed.
“I think we’ve always covered entertainment, and will continue to do so. It’s huge for us,” Stemle says. “But what we add that other papers don’t is this aspect of social justice. We’ve written a lot about the Fairness Ordinance over the years . . . and (Pedreira), in particular, was a very clear example of some
"My instinct is that Velocity has not taken away many advertisers from LEO, but it has been a very strong competitor for new advertisers," says LEO founder John Yarmuth.
“So when we impact the community like that, it’s amazing. And that’s what we do.”
VELOcity debuted in November 2003, as the third “youth publication” launched by the Gannett chain, which owns 99 daily
newspapers. For months, Gannett and Lenahan — who, as editor, was the first Courier-Journal employee moved over to Velocity — had sat in on focus groups, letting young people tell them what would interest readers in their age bracket. They had spoken one-on-one with those young readers, produced prototypes and tested the potential audience’s reaction.
The goal, both Lenahan and Carroll say, was not to go after LEO’s audience. Nor were they trying to drive LEO out of business; instead, they were trying to carve their own niche with Louisville’s youth. “We were told by Gannett that what we wanted to do was design a publication that was right for Louisville, that would really hit the 20-and 30-year-old marketplace,”
Lenahan says. “We weren’t trying to be a
condensed version of the Courier-Journal,
nor were we trying to do a lot of political
material, like you would see in LEO. We
were trying to get more at those lifestyle-
Velocity’s strength, Lenahan says, has
come from its ability to connect with targeted readers by hiring writers from the
same age group, who can speak the same
language and communicate a shared background. The editor says he’s given staffers
the freedom to add more personality to
their writing, to make it more conversational and experimental.
The results include stories written in the
first person, stories done as question-andanswer sessions, and other formats not often
seen in traditional newspapers. “We treat
it more like a magazine than a newspaper,”
Lenahan says. “A magazine is really a lot
about that kind of one-on-one connection
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with readers. People read magazines because
they like them, not because it’s something
they need to be informed about what’s
going on. They form more of a connection,
and that’s what we’re trying to do.”
On top of that, Velocity is providing
young readers with what — according to
focus groups — they want most: ideas
about how to sp/files/storyimages/their spare time.
One of the tabloid’s largest sections – and
the one that gets all the space it needs,
no matter what, according to Lenahan
– is the listings. Here, readers can find out
about all the shows and events going on in
Louisville for the coming weekend. That’s
something that LEO and even the Courier’s
Friday newspaper had done previously, but
Lenahan says he believes it’s a major reason
people pick up Velocity.
Competition from Velocity hasn’t been
completely ignored by LEO.
“As far as reacting to things they did,
feeling like we had to do specific things? I
would say no,” Stemle says. “I don’t think
we directly felt like there was anything we
weren’t doing that we needed to be doing.
But I do think it sharpened us and kept us
on our toes.
“There used to be no other options for
advertisers and people with a story to tell.
So when competition comes around, it’s
healthy, because it gets you out of your rut.”
While managers at both publications
won’t talk exact sales numbers, indications
are that the competition may be having
some affect on LEO. “In terms of dollars and cents, I can’t speak to that,” says
Yarmuth, who is still involved with LEO as
a columnist and adviser despite having sold
it to Kildysart. “My instinct is that Velocity
has not taken away many advertisers from
LEO, but it has been a very strong competitor for new advertisers. So I think Velocity
has somewhat inhibited LEO’s growth, but
I don’t think it has, in any way, hurt LEO.
In fact, in some ways, it has elevated LEO’s
stature because I think most people realize
there is far more substance in LEO than in
In pure page count, Velocity comes out
on top with an average of 100 pages to
LEO’s 68 per issue. But both publications
numbers have gone up since Velocity came
on the scene; LEO had its largest issue this
year, at 100 pages, and was up more than
125 total pages for the first nine months
of 2005 versus the total for the same time
frame in 2004. Meanwhile Velocity’s average issue has swelled from 80 to 100 pages.
Some at LEO claim that Velocity has
more pages — and more advertisements
— because it can offer ad breaks to businesses appearing in both Velocity and the
"With young adults, and
the role they play in
changing the way people
use media, we know we
need to continue making
content available when
they want it, the way they
want it," says Gannett's
Courier-Journal. And according to Velocity
ad director Kelly Gream, that is true —
there are special packages for joint advertisers and there are special packages for
frequent Velocity advertisers.
But the latter is the case for both publications, and when comparing the base ad rate
for both publications, LEO advertising is
cheaper: LEO charges $1,685 for a one-time,
full-page ad, while Velocity’s rate is $1,830.
so BaCk To The quesTIon: Does someone
have to win?
The muted battle between LEO and
Velocity is a microcosm of what is happening nationally in the newspaper business.
Newspaper conglomerates like Gannett,
Scripps Howard and others are venturing
into the youth market with publications
like Velocity. And while they may claim no
intentions of challenging the 126 members
of the National Association of Alternative
News Weeklies (including LEO), they still
are battling for a share of the youth market that had been served in similar ways
by those other publications. They’re also
fighting for the relevance of traditional
newspaper companies, who are trying to
find a product they can put in the hands of
“We feel we need to keep growing young
adults as readers,” Carroll, the Gannett
executive, says. “If not in a daily print
paper, then on our Web site, in free publications and with additional forms of delivery like a cell phone or BlackBerry.”
But will any of those things reel in the
elusive youth audience?
Richard Carpel, executive director of the
Association of Alternative News Weeklies,
doesn’t believe so. Carpel notes that newspaper conglomerates have been “fiddling at
the margins of their own papers” for years,
trying to find a way to draw young people
into the traditional newspapers. The current wave of “youth publications,” he says,
is the result of the failure of that method.
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“Successful newspapers aren’t started
by people in business suits doing focus
groups,” Carpel says. “They are started by
people who have a passion for what they
are doing — people who are interested in
covering things that would be interesting
However, the individual approach that
has drawn readers to LEO and other alternative publications will continue to be
challenged by the corporate media. “We
are in a fragmenting media landscape,”
Northwestern’s Gordon says. “And I think
what’s clearly going on . . . is that the
idea that one product is going to meet
the needs and be read by every group of
readers is clearly no longer the expectation. Now, if you want to cover multiple
segments of your audience, you’re going to
need multiple products.”
That isn’t the goal of LEO, at least not
a present. It was created for one niche and
one basic product for readers. “We have
always covered arts, culture, entertainment, social justice and opinion pieces,”
says Brooks, its publisher. “And we have
tried to keep our focus on maintaining and
strengthening our identity in the market
so as not to get lost in the confusion of all
the different specialty publications in the
But for major media conglomerates like
Gannett, survival depends on maintaining an overall audience share — and the
audience it has had for many years with
dailies is dying off, being replaced by a
younger generation less interested in reading the traditional newspaper. According
to Carroll, companies like Gannett are
fully aware of that trend; they know that
young people don’t get their news the old-
fashioned way. They can go to the Internet;
they can hit the blogs, the magazines, e-
mail alerts or even have the news delivered
straight to their BlackBerries.
That’s why Gannett is experimenting
with its Web sites, toying with other multimedia methods of news delivery — and,
yes, creating publications like Velocity. For
now, the size and pickup rates of those publications indicate that they are working.
But if, eventually, they don’t, then
Gannett will try again.
“It’s been a fascinating experiment,”
Carroll says of Velocity and similar youth-
oriented freebies. “And with young adults,
and the role they play in changing the way
people use media, we know we need to
continue making content available when
they want it, the way they want it.
“So I don’t necessarily expect this is
the last kind of experiment we’ll try
with them.” n