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Ladue News

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Advertisers Are the News in the Pages of the Ladue News

By Dawn Grodsky

            Most papers do their best to separate advertising from editorial copy. But the Ladue News, a free circulation tabloid, promotes its advertisers throughout the paper. In fact, after looking over various issues from the past two years, one would draw the conclusion that the Ladue News is in business for its advertisers. The fashion articles are written to quote the shop-owners and picture their wares. Stories on design, food, beauty, real estate and even health are done for the same reason.

            The Ladue News not only breaks traditional rules of journalistic ethics, but it also – and that may be more bothersome – creates difficulties for other advertising representatives. They face pressure from advertisers to be editorially as accommodating as the Ladue News is. And this most cannot do.

            “It’s ridiculous to compare us to the Post-Dispatch or any other weekly newspapers,” says Charlene Bry, publisher of the Ladue News. “We are totally different. We do not compare to other papers. People want to know about advertisers.”

            Bry bases her comments on a survey conducted by the University of Missouri which has shown her that in the “golden corridor” people “look to us for good taste in fashions, restaurants, and such items.”           

            Bry admitted that she suggests names of businesses to free-lancers, which may or may not include advertisers. “Dillard and Neiman-Marcus do not advertise and we quote them all the time,” says Bry.

            Since the Ladue News is devoted to what people wish to buy or use and since “the most upscale people in the field advertise with us,” Bry sees no way of not quoting advertisers. “This would be a disservice to our readers.”

            The cover of the Ladue News immediately sets it apart from other area publications because the cover is a full-page color advertisement. Pages two, three, four, and sometimes five and six are alsofull-page ads. Page five (or seven) has a box titled “About the Cover” that contains several paragraphs about the company and reads as if it were written by a public relations firm. Estimates are that the cover goes for about $2,000.

            Famous-Barr bought the cover of the July 1 [1991] Ladue News. The inside copy says in part, “From all the best names in fashions forthe family and home to the truly elegant surroundings…you’ll find a whole new world of shopping at Famous-Barr St. Louis Galleria. Don’t miss the August 1 opening.”

            The issues usually carry a feature article dealing with the business on the cover or someone who works for the business. In the July 1 issue, people reminisce about Famous-Barr in a section called “Spotlight on Clayton.” In the May 17 issue, First National Bank of Ladue bought the cover, has two additional advertisements in that issue and is featured through a personal interview with Jackie Naunheim, the bank’s vice-president and manager. That feature is titled, “We’re not your ordinary bank: Getting personal with First National’s Jackie Naunheim.”

            More often than not, the center spread (probably the most prime placement, after the cover) is a two-page advertisement.

            The articles in the paper are littered with bold-faced names and businesses of the people who are quoted and nearly all of the people quoted have an advertisement somewhere in the paper – most likely on the same page. Every issue will feature a certain community like Old Webster, Creve Coeur, or the Central West End, but the only aspects featured are the area’s businesses.

            The one exception to this is the society-type story. The Ladue News covers society events, charity dinners, balls, auctions, etc. While in these articles the names of people will be bold-faced, their businesses/professions are not usually identified.

            The publication is celebrating its 10th anniversary this month. Charlene Bry and Almira Sant are the publishers; the paper was founded by Bry’s son.

            Bry used to write a sports-gossip column for the St. Louis Globe-Democrat. People would write in questions about sports figures’ personal lives and Bry would answer them. Her husband, Rich, is an agent for big-money athletes.

            George Richards once applied to be the publisher’s assistant. He says that the paper’s news element exists by default. “You try to sell ads and the features are about advertisers. The paper is supported by a lot of people in Ladue who want to get into the society column…They are very tight with their advertisers,” he says.

            Barbara Schwartz, who owns Gourmet To Go, has been advertising in the Ladue News since its inception. “I have advertising with them on a very regular basis. They have helped me tremendously. I am not privy to exactly how it works but I know I pay only for the advertisements that run…Remember, they have a business to run and it’s good business to bend over backwards for good customers…Now do I think there is a crossover? Yes, I do. Is it right? Altruistically, newspapers should be above it, but they all do it,” Schwartz says, adding that she has known Bry since their school days and that Bry helped her design her first ad.

            “The number of advertisers quoted in the newspaper is not a coincidence,” says a writer for the Ladue News. “No one has ever said you cannot quote a non-advertiser but the advertisers get real mad if they are not included in the article. They know if they advertise they get free editorial space…I have used non-advertisers in stories, but most of the time there isn’t room. You are limited by space and can’t pick a non-advertiser.

            “This is a very sensitive issue at the paper. I don’t think they’re real dishonest about it. The nature of the paper is features, not hard news and because of that, a finer line can be drawn.”

            The writer says that the mission statement of the LadueNews would be “to entertain and to some extent inform about social events, new styles and products. It is not the pinnacle of journalism. You can’t judge the Ladue News by a lot of other papers. It is what it is, and what it is, it does very well. I know people read it.”

            The Ladue News breaks a lot of fundamental rules of newspapering and this can cause trouble for competing papers. An advertising salesperson at a competitor says, “Our advertisers sometimes get mad when we don’t quote them like the Ladue News. One man pulled his ad last year because we quoted another business and he hasn’t come back since. I have to try to explain the difference to our advertisers. I tell them the Ladue News has no hard news, that it is all fluff. But I have to say it in a way that won’t make them feel stupid for advertising with them because if I make an advertiser feel stupid, they’ll just get mad at me and I’ll lose a sale.”

            (Originally published in the St. Louis Journalism Review 7/1991).


In the Beginning

By Joe Pollack

            It began as something to do on a summer vacation, when a 17-year-old college student from Ladue thought that his friends and neighbors in Ladue deserved their own, upscale version of, say, the Central West End Wordor the Southtown Journal.

            That was in 1980, when Richman Bry, Jr., began the Ladue News.

            Seventeen years later, the Journal Register Co. of Trenton, N.J., bought the newspaper from the founder’s mother, Charlene, paying more than $1 million for a mostly free monthly whose front cover may be one of the area’s most popular advertising locations. The Ladue News is slick and thick and filled with pictures of residents, parties, dinners and charity functions. Stories are heavy with favorable mention of Ladue residents, and the weekly is a popular item.

            “We’ve sold the cover through 1998,” Charlene Bry said recently, “and we have people waiting in line. If we had 200 covers a year, I’m sure we could sell them all.”

            Bry became owner and publisher in 1981 when her son gave her his interest. She will remain publisher for the next three years under the terms of the sale, and she said that all the 40 full-and-part-time employees would remain.

            “We won’t change at all, she said.

            The publication reaches about 200,000 people a week, with half distributed free in stores and most of the remainder delivered free to homes.

            The Journal Register publishes the Alton Telegraph and the Suburban Journals, plus newspapers in the East. Richman Bry, now 34, works in real estate in California and Florida.

            (Originally published in the St. Louis Journalism Review 2/1998).

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