The Advertiser + USA Today = Butterfly Project

by Patrick Flanagan

As part of a national undertaking known by industry insiders as the "Butterfly Project," a rebranded version of The Daily Advertiser is set to launch with Sunday's edition of the Gannett-owned paper.

As part of a national undertaking known by industry insiders as the "Butterfly Project," a rebranded version of The Daily Advertiser is set to launch with Sunday's edition of the Gannett-owned paper.

The Advertiser's rebranding was announced at a "Re-design Launch Party" held Tuesday evening at the Louisiana Immersive Technologies Enterprise, which was followed by a similar announcement Wednesday morning from the paper's parent company, the McLean, Va.-headquartered Gannett Company. Though neither announcement used the Butterfly Project by name, both confirm what industry insiders have predicted for months: A vamping up of USA Today content in all 81 of Gannett's community papers.

Judi Terzotis

According to IND sources who attended Tuesday's rebranding ceremony, information provided by the paper's newly arrived Publisher Judi Terzotis was vague but did include news that the new look will be seen on stands starting Sunday morning. The paper will sport a redesigned front page banner utilizing a fleur-de-lis logo for the paper's masthead.

For months now, advertisements in The Advertiser have pointed to the likelihood of the Butterfly Project impacting the company's Acadiana market, as witnessed by a series of ads prepping subscribers for more USA Today content, including a full-page promo introducing readers to USA Today sports columnist Christine Brennan.

Gannett launched a test run of the so-called Butterfly Project at four of its papers in October. Word of that test run prompted our sister publication ABiz to look into whether the project would impact Gannett's two Acadiana papers, The Advertiser and The Opelousas Daily World.

Gannett's Monroe News-Star Publisher David Petty, who at the time was serving as interim publisher for the Acadiana market following the ouster of former Acadiana Publisher Karen Lincoln, told ABiz that the company's individual papers would be able to opt in or out of the Butterfly Project. Even Terzotis, the Acadiana market's newly arrived publisher - the fourth in six years - dodged our recent questions about the Butterfly Project, only saying, "We are in the midst of a transformation ... Our goal is to be the authority and first choice for the coverage of issues that our community cares the most about."

Yet, according to a press release issued Wednesday morning by Gannett, it seems Petty's claim that the Butterfly Project will be optional is no longer the case, as Gannett execs are now saying the expansion will extend to 35 papers in the company's biggest markets in January, and eventually, to all 81 of its papers. The rollout, according to Wednesday's press release, will take place throughout 2014.

"This is another step in the re-invention of news that Gannett is uniquely positioned to lead," says Gannett President and CEO Gracia Martore in a prepared statement included with Wednesday's release. "We have an incredible national brand in USA TODAY and 81 outstanding local publishing brands. With today's announcement, we are bringing the power of these brands together to delight and engage consumers like no-one else can."

For papers like The Advertiser, the expansion, or "rebranding" as it's being called by local Gannett execs, will mean an additional 12 to 14 pages of USA Today content, including national news, sports, business and lifestyle coverage.

"This innovative content model creates stronger, higher-value local products and extends the reach of USA Today to millions of new consumers," USA Today Publisher Larry Kramer says in a prepared statement included with Wednesday's release. "This also gives USA Today a print presence seven days a week. The integration enables local readers to get the best of USA Today's unique brand of journalism, while getting even more of the great local coverage they expect. This is a unique advantage for us."

Even more of the great local coverage? How so? What no one at Gannett corporate or the local paper has yet to explain is how beefed up USA Today content will lead to more local stories.

The company's expansion comes on the heels of dwindling advertising revenues and subscriptions, and is an attempt to curb the trend both in local markets and for USA Today. That downward trend has not been lost on the Advertiser, which has experienced a substantial decline in readership over the last three years, going from 29,529 daily subscriptions in 2011 to 26,416 this year, according to annual shareholder reports obtained by the Gannett Blog - an unaffiliated website that shares info generated by company insiders.

For subscribers of the Advertiser, the expansion is expected to result in rising prices, according to USA Today's Corporate Chief Spokesman Jeremy Gaines, who tells the New York Times, "As we introduce enhanced products, consumers tell us they are willing to pay for the added value we're bringing them."

Considering the $1.34 added to the price of this year's Thanksgiving Day edition of the Advertiser (considered the bread-and-butter of the news print industry thanks to Black Friday advertising), a day-to-day price increase certainly isn't out of the realm of possibility.