Former Times-Picayune editors will lead Baton Rouge Advocate, which has a new owner

The Advocate | The Times-Picayune

Former New Orleans Times-Picayune managing editors Dan Shea and Peter Kovacs will serve as General Manager and Editor, respectively, of the Baton Rouge Advocate, which announced it had been purchased by New Orleans businessman John Georges Tuesday night. Current Advocate Executive Editor Carl Redman will remain as senior editor, The Advocate’s announcement says.

The news would seem to signal a newspaper war in Louisiana.

Shea and Kovacs were ousted by the Times-Picayune last year as it prepared to reduce print frequency and staff.

“This was too good a prospect to pass up: we’re preserving local ownership of great newspaper, showing how the trend to digital is not incompatible with seven-day print, and bringing our enthusiasm and experience to a great staff,” Shea wrote in an email to Poynter Tuesday night.

The Advocate launched a New Orleans edition last year, “to fill a void [the Times-Picayune was] creating,” Richard Manship, the president of the company that owned the paper, said last July.

“Our plan is simple,” Shea writes:

Give the people of metro New Orleans what they want: A seven-day, home-delivered truly local newspaper. We’ll provide the resources to get that done quickly. People here will decide if we are succeeding. The Manships made a bold move to come to New Orleans and the staff of the NO bureau has done magnificently. They will welcome some reinforcements.

Kovacs is moving to Baton Rouge, Shea says. He will have his office there but says he plans “to spend a lot of time meeting readers and advertisers throughout southeast Louisiana.”

On Tuesday, the Times-Picayune announced it would sell a tabloid edition on newsstands on three of the days it had stopped printing daily editions.

The Advocate said in January it sold about 22,000 copies of its paper in New Orleans per day. It launched its New Orleans edition with a splashy party last September at which it introduced a New Orleans bureau made up of former Times-Picayune staffers.

Last Wednesday, the Nola Media Group, which publishes the Times-Picayune, announced it would launch a free weekly publication called BR in Baton Rouge. “We have been a constant presence in Baton Rouge for more than a century,” NMG’s James O’Byrne wrote in a post introducing BR.

I asked Shea whether The Advocate’s Baton Rouge customers needed to worry about all this New Orleans talk. “Let’s be clear. We’ll invest in New Orleans, but that effort must in turn pay for itself,” he said. “We will not weaken any of our coverage in Baton Rouge. It is too important to our readers and our business.”

The Advocate did not file a publisher’s statement by press time for the Alliance of Audited Media’s biannual circulation report, which was released Tuesday. Its audited circulation report last September showed average Sunday circulation of 100,373 copies and average daily circulation of 75,083 copies.

In its announcement, the Advocate said the “New Orleans area accounts for about a fifth of The Advocate’s weekday circulation of 98,000″ and that Sunday circulation is “about 125,000.”

The Times-Picayune said it had a rise of 13 percent in average Sunday circulation over March 2012 in Tuesday’s report, a gain driven by what AAM calls “digital non-replica copies” (average print circulation on Sundays was down about 9 percent).

In an email to Poynter, Times-Picayune President and Publisher Ricky Mathews said the digital non-replica copies “represent the average unique users of our digital apps during the six month period ending March 31,2013.” Those apps, Mathews said, are not bundled with subscriptions.

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