In forming Our Weekly, a free weekly newspaper to be circulated in predominantly black neighborhoods throughout South Los Angeles, Natalie Cole and David Miller say they're going after an underserved portion of the city.

"There's no major paper that gives African-American news," said Cole, a former associate publisher at LA Weekly. "As an African-American woman, I get my news from such fragmented sources the L.A. Times, LA Weekly and community papers."

But the publication, set to launch in January with a controlled circulation of 50,000 copies, will be heading into a market where three newspapers, each a newsweekly with long and deep ties to the community, already command much of the readership.

The Los Angeles Sentinel, the Wave, the Watts Times and now Our Weekly compete for the same pool of display and classified advertisers and readers.

Danny Bakewell, owner and publisher of the 71-year-old Sentinel, responded only with a statement through a spokesperson, noting "We wish them well."

Pluria Marshall Jr., publisher of Wave Newspapers, which puts out several free weekly community papers in the L.A. area, said there was "always room for a diversity of voices," but was less than welcoming.

"If the market was truly underserved, maybe (Our Weekly) could fill a void," he said. "The area they're looking to cover is pretty much the affluent parts of South L.A., but so does the Sentinel, the Watts Times and the Wave, and there's about five also-rans.

"Starting a publication is not difficult, but talk to me in three to five years," Marshall said. "The big boys, us, are not giving up market share easily." (Miller, most recently inside sales manager at Daily News of Los Angeles, previously worked for Marshall at the Wave.)

In Cole's view, Our Weekly will distinguish its coverage from the other black publications by being more broad-based covering state and national news relevant to black readers.

"What we're attempting to do is be more vertical in what we present," she said. "Community papers in general will skim the issues, but don't have adequate resources or choose not to give real depth of reporting, or follow up on continuing stories."

Expensive proposition

Cole and Miller said they were bankrolling the effort, including purchasing a building and hiring a staff of 30, out of their personal savings. An editor has not yet been selected.

The decision to purchase the paper's headquarters near the intersection of Western and Manchester avenues in South L.A. (listed by the County Assessor's office as having sold in October for $505,000) is a big capital investment, but it means avoiding a costly lease.

Cole said the paper could be profitable within six months, based on interest she has received from local and national advertisers and some early ad sales.

Our Weekly is in discussions with national advertisers that have budgets set aside to reach ethnic consumers, she said, including Best Buy Co., Wal-Mart Stores Inc. and Kmart Corp. Contracts already have been signed with local community colleges, universities and trade schools tied into special editions focused on career and education, Cole said.

Still, operating costs can add up quickly. Besides salaries and benefits for a staff of 30, off-site printing for 50,000 copies of a 60-page color tabloid paper can run about $10,000 per issue, according to David Comden, publisher of Southland Publishers, which puts out several free weekly newspapers including L.A. City Beat, Valley Beat and Pasadena Weekly.

Where Cole and Miller may establish an advantage over the established competition is in their plan for home delivery. While it's more expensive than dropping papers at newsstands and other static locations, it provides advertisers with some assurance that the paper is being read.

Subscriptions outside the distribution area cost $75 a year.

In addition to free home delivery of 17,000 copies in the predominantly black neighborhoods of Ladera Heights, Baldwin Hills, Windsor Hills, View Park, Leimert Park, Lafayette Park Square and North Inglewood, Our Weekly will be dropped at 1,200 beauty salons, churches and retail outlets.

"One of the weaknesses in the strategy of free weekly papers is not delivering to people's addresses. That's what really interests advertisers," said John Morton, president of Silver Spring, Md.-based newspaper tracking firm Morton Research Inc. "Otherwise, it's just lying on the newsstand. The best way to go is to mail it directly to people. More upscale advertising is also probably a smart thing."

For reprint and licensing requests for this article, CLICK HERE.