Upstart New Orleans Advocate has bought the rival Times-Picayune

May 2, 2019
Category: Business & Work

The remake of the New Orleans Times-Picayune six years ago to a digital first site, omitting home delivery several days a week, has come to an end.

John and Dathel Georges, owners of the New Orleans Advocate and two other Louisiana newspapers, announced Thursday that they had bought NOLA.com and the print version of the Times-Picayune from Advance Local Media.

The two will be merged and operated from The Advocate’s offices, starting in June, offering seven-day-a-week print home delivery.

Both Advance and The Advocate are privately held, so a sales price was not immediately disclosed.

Advance provoked waves of protest in New Orleans in 2012 when it eliminated print editions and let more than 100 staffers go.  The Advocate, long established in Baton Rouge, moved quickly into town to offer a daily print alternative.

Some thought the launch quixotic, but Georges, a wealthy businessman who had run unsuccessfully for mayor and governor, carried the enterprise through start-up costs and has persisted.

The Advocate later added a third edition in Lafayette and the Acadiana region, giving it total circulation of more than 100,000 and a strong statewide presence.  

It won a 2019 Pulitzer Prize for local reporting last month for exposés of a jury system, discriminatory to African American defendants, that allowed felony convictions even on a split 10-2 vote. Legislation repealing the practice was passed late last year.

Advance, owned by the Newhouse family, piloted the swing to digital at its  Ann Arbor News in 2008. Even after the strong negative reaction in New Orleans, it continued to introduce variations of the plan in other markets including Cleveland and Portland, Oregon.

As a business model, the idea was to reduce printing and delivery expenses, while getting ahead of digital transformation. The bet for the free sites was to build traffic volume and grow digital advertising. That has proved to be slow coming — especially with tough competition, even locally, from platform companies like Facebook and Google.

The Advocate announcement said that some news staffers from NOLA.com and the Times-Picayune will be retained and the digital operation will keep  the NOLA name. But Advocate editor Peter Kovacs and his business-side counterparts will clearly be in charge.

In a news war (if not necessarily an old-fashioned newspaper war), The Advocate emerged a David-takes-down-Goliath winner.

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  • The papers will not be merged. The entire staff of the Times-Picayune and nola.com has been fired. The Advocate will slap the Times-Picayune brand on its own products.