'Parish Heat' publisher seeks to clean up crime

'Parish Heat' publisher seeks to clean up crime

While The Advocate and The Times-Picayune duke it out for subscribers in Baton Rouge and New Orleans, the owner of a Watson sand and gravel company thinks he has hit on a formula that that may appeal to a niche market of readers. It's called Parish Heat, and it's a biweekly newspaper of crime news that features mugshots and arrest records of every perpetrator in East Baton Rouge Parish.

"There are two ways of looking at crime," says Tony Modica, who works in his family-owned business by day and publishes the paper after hours. "You can sweep it under the rug or you can try to clean it up. I'm trying to clean it up."

Modica says he was motivated to publish the paper because he got fed up with crime in the community and wanted to lay bare the facts to as wide an audience as possible. Reaching that audience is not easy, however. For the moment, Modica is direct mailing free copies of Parish Heat to different neighborhoods.

The first edition, published in early September, went to a cross-section of some 8,000 homes. The second edition, mailed last week, targeted nearly 8,000 homes in Southdowns. An additional 20,000 copies were circulated at various businesses and magazine racks. The third edition, which goes out next week, will be mailed to residents of Mid City.

Eventually, Modica hopes the paper—which he is printing on The Advocate's presses—will be sustained through subscriptions and ads. Ad sales have been slow, he concedes, but they are growing.
"Advertisers are either all on board or they want nothing to do with it," he says. "Bigger companies are afraid it will hurt their image. Smaller companies love it."

Modica says he has met with the district attorney's office as well as the East Baton Rouge Parish Sheriff's Office and the Baton Rouge Police Department and has their support. But he says the long-term future of Parish Heat will depend on whether he is able to generate enough ad and subscription sales in the next two months.

"The beginning of the year will either make us or break us," he says.

Other cities around the country have similar publications, though Modica says his is different in that it is more comprehensive. In other cities, such publications have been criticized, too, for effectively tarring and feathering in a public forum people who have been arrested but not proven guilty.

"When people ask me whether it is fair to publish arrest records, what I tell them is that an arrest record will follow you your whole life, whether you are prosecuted or convicted of a crime or not," he says. "We're not publishing anything that isn't public record."

Today’s poll question: Do you think a publication like Parish Heat can help reduce crime in East Baton Rouge Parish?

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