One newspaper, one website in New Orleans

Advocate buys assets of The Times-Picayune

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John Georges calls New Orleans a global brand, because of its history and because of its millions of visitors each year from all over the world.

"Our market is not limited to brick and mortar and rooftops. Our market is the global brand of New Orleans," he said.

It's a newspaper and website market now controlled by John and Dathel Georges with their purchase of The Times-Picayune and NOLA.com from Advance Local Media, owned by the Newhouse family. At some point in June, both will be combined with The New Orleans Advocate and advocate.com/new_orleans into one newspaper and one website.

Advocate President Judi Terzotis, an at-large member of the SNPA Board of Directors, said: "The current T-P newspaper will cease publication. The combined paper will carry both logos: The New Orleans Advocate and Times-Picayune.  Our New Orleans website will be NOLA.com."

Terzotis also is president of The Advocate in Baton Rouge, which was awarded its first Pulitzer Prize this year for reporting on the racial impacts of Louisiana's unique laws allowing juries to convict defendants without a unanimous verdict. Voters amended the state constitution to require unanimous verdicts in criminal cases.

The purchase price of The Times-Picayune and NOLA.com was not disclosed, but Georges said it was the easiest part of the negotiation. The sale of Times-Picayune assets includes the brand, the website, the news archives, subscriber and advertiser information and the Loving Cup, the city's highest civic honor.

The Advance regional print lab in New Orleans, where design and pagination of several papers takes place, was not part of the sale. The Times-Picayune was being printed in Mobile, Ala., but the combined paper will be printed in Baton Rouge where The Advocate has one of the five newest printing presses in the country, Georges said.

The News Orleans Advocate will hire an unknown number of Times-Picayune employees. According to the Worker Adjustment and Retraining Notification Act (WARN) notice, Advance Local Media had filed notice of its intent to lay off 161 employees effective July 2.

Georges said some news media have missed what he called a bigger story of the success of The Advocate's move into New Orleans after Advance shifted to a digitally focused strategy and cut back to three publication days at its New Orleans and Alabama papers. Hundreds of newspaper employees in both states lost their jobs.

"I'm happy to say that there are more journalists employed today and there will be more journalists employed tomorrow because of our decision to buy the Baton Rouge Advocate and expand it to New Orleans. That's just a fact," Georges said.

The combined paper will need additional circulation employees in addition to journalists, he said. "We will double our circulation in New Orleans and we will more than double and more than triple our digital."

Georges notes that most New Orleans Advocate staffers came from the Times-Picayune after the layoffs and print changes in 2012.

As for current Times-Picayune employees, he said, "There are some people close to retirement age. There are some people that we're going to take on right away. And then some people we may hire a little later. We have to see. But we know we need a certain amount because we had turnover that we didn't fill."

John and Dathel Georges bought The Advocate from the Manship family in 2013. They expanded coverage with separate editions in New Orleans and Lafayette.

The Times-Picayune has continued three-day home delivery while publishing some iterations of the paper the rest of the week. The New Orleans Advocate prides itself on seven-day publication. Terzotis said Times-Picayune subscribers will have their choice of how many days they want to receive the combined paper.

Baton Rouge subscribers and current Advocate employees will not be affected by the sale, Terzotis said. "There are no plans for layoffs related to this acquisition, or really anything else. The company is run very well. We resource where we need it," she said.

The combined paper will benefit New Orleans advertisers, Georges said. "Those that are advertising in one or the other, now they will have a bigger audience. Those that are advertising in both are going to have more dollars freed up to retool in some emerging advertising opportunities like digital. It just depends on what the advertiser's needs are."

Users of NOLA.com will see one big change. It won't be free.

"We have what we call a flexible meter, so it's not a traditional paywall where [with] paywalls, everybody is one-size-fits-all and they get a certain number of articles for free for 30 days and then they hit this wall," Terzotis said. "Well, we don't work that way."

Instead, the flexible meter for Advocate papers relies on an algorithm to differentiate between heavy users and occasional visitors, with different levels of paid access. Advocate journalism is worth paying for, she said.

"The premise is that we deserve to be paid. We have over 100 journalists; it's 110 across our three markets."

Georges said NOLA.com is among the most successful news websites in the country, and that brand and name will be maintained. NOLA.com came to prominence during and after Hurricane Katrina in 2005, when extensive flooding and severe damage limited home newspaper delivery and thousands of people who had evacuated used the site to find out what was happening at home. Some former residents who never returned still rely on the site for news from home.

"They [the Newhouses] doubled down on the digital, which was a good decision. While they were doubling down, we came in from Baton Rouge and we weren't really two newspapers, we were like one bi-furcated newspaper, because the majority of our editors and writers all came from the Picayune," Georges said.

Both Georges and Terzotis said the Newhouse family has done a service for New Orleans in selling to the Advocate owners.

"As a businessman," Georges said. "I have a lot of respect for the thoughtfulness they put into this merger. It was a selfless act. It wasn't a selfish act on their part."


Jane Nicholes

Jane Nicholes is a former employee of the Press-Register in Mobile, an Advance publication. She is a regular contributor to the Southern Newspaper Publishers Association's eBulletin and is a freelance writer and editor based in coastal Alabama. She is an award-winning veteran of more than 30 years in the newspaper business. Reach her at jbnicholes@att.net.

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