Years in print:
By David P. Garino
Co-publishers Carol Jablonow and Vicki Levitt feel – with noticeable verve – that they’ve recently added two cogs that will propel their St. Louis Weekly to bigger and better heights.
The “cogs” are new employees: editor Jeff Bredenberg and director of marketing and sales Ian Cohen, who joined the newspaper in February and March, respectively. Bredenberg is an “import” from Chicago, where he was graphic editor for the Sun-Times’s features department. Cohen is a “local product,” bringing with him 10 years of experience with the St. Louis Globe-Democrat and the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. As assistant director of marketing at the Post, he oversaw the successful “Great News Game” promotion.
Jablonow and Levitt readily acknowledge that the Weekly’s editorial and marketing thrusts needed boosting. They reasoned that new talent was needed to take the paper to a higher plateau.
Even so, the Weekly has expanded impressively, counting a distribution currently of 70,000 – 44,000 home delivered and 26,000 from stacks, primarily in the west county corridor of Clayton, Creve Coeur, Ladue and contiguous communities. The free-circulation paper had its roots in the Clayton Times, started in 1979 with an initial run of 10,000, aimed at the working population of that well-heeled suburb.
In 1974, with absolutely no publishing experience, they helped found the Tennis Press, a paid monthly newspaper. Both had daughters deeply involved in tennis and besides, the duo recall with smiles, they were looking for alternatives to playing golf and bridge. Their first office was rent-free – at the Holiday Drive-in, then owned by Jablonow’s husband. (Clayton is the paper’s present home.) The Clayton Times, later joined by sister weeklies in Chesterfield and Creve Coeur, was Jablonow and Levitt’s second publication.
The Tennis Press ceased publication in 1980, as the two publishers decided “to put all our eggs in one basket,” Levitt recalls, having confidence in the potential of alternative publications. “They certainly are more legitimate” nowadays, no longer merely viewed as throwaways, Jablonow observes. Last year the Times publications were combined into one, renamed the St. Louis Weekly.
While obviously proud of the Weekly’s layout and design, Jablonow and Levitt indicated a desire to be “more professional,” with meatier articles and less fluff. Their search for an editor included scanning Editor & Publisher. They were taken by Bredenberg’s ad in the trade publication: “Bright young editor with 13 years experience wants new challenge. Currently in mid-management for major metropolitan daily. Extensive experience in writing, editing, graphics, features, hard news and people management.”
The two publishers assert that in just a couple months under Bredenberg’s lead the editorial content is more substantial. Indeed, Bredenberg, Cohen, Jablonow and Levitt all point gleefully to a recent Weekly cover article about cocaine traffic in the area, which was followed a few days later by a strikingly similar banner story on the front page of the Post-Dispatch.
The feature approach of the paper will be varied, nonetheless, Bredenberg explains – “anything of some interest to our upscale kind of reader.” Although a self-admitted “short-termer” here, he stresses there is not a dearth of material. An initial impression: “St. Louis doesn’t give itself enough credit” for containing material “for sustained feature coverage,” a diplomatic way of implying that the area exhibits an inferiority complex. “It’s not true,” Bredenberg maintains. “Week in and week out, we will have interesting features,” he predicts.
To develop a stable of feature writers, Bredenberg advertised in the Weekly, as well as inquiring elsewhere. He received a couple hundred responses and has identified 45 potential free-lance contributors.
If the editorial side needed beefing up, the marketing function more of less had to be instituted. “We hardly did anything but be there” with each weekly issue, says Jablonow.
In a few weeks, Cohen set into motion measures to bolster ad revenues. To enhance the Weekly’s appeal and credibility with advertisers, an outside firm was commissioned to do a readership profile. Cohen is convinced that the paper is read – returns from stacks in supermarkets, restaurants and the like approximate but two percent – and that readers respond to ads.
The Weekly is also having its home delivery figures audited, which Cohen explains will demonstrate “that the papers we say we’re throwing on lawns are being thrown on lawns.”
Such data should help the paper get its story across to potential advertisers, Cohen maintains. Medium-sized and larger companies will be targets, he suggests, whereas small businesses have long been the mainstay of Weekly advertisers. Famous-Barr and Stix, Baer & Fuller recently ran ads in the paper.
Cohen also notes, “You can bet on other types of promotion.”
(Originallypublished in the St. Louis Journalism Review 5/1984).
Sold in 1985 to Edward Presburg
Var.: The Weekly