Targets New Orleans for Future Growth
Advocate Publisher Says Paper to Offer Regional Coverage
EDITOR’S NOTE: John Georges of New Orleans, the new publisher of the Baton Rouge Advocate spoke at length to a packed session of the Baton Rouge Press Club. Much of his talk centered on his plans for the future of the Advocate. But he also said, “My father told me, ‘That which is spoken is never done, and that which is done is never spoken.’”
BATON ROUGE — In a speech to the Baton Rouge Press Club Monday, the new owner of the Baton Rouge Advocate told about his decision to purchase the Advocate and his plans for the future. Here are highlights of his talk:
• Unlike so many daily newspapers, the Advocate has an attractive office and modern press facilities outside the downtown area.
• Employees he’s spoken to are ready to expand to New Orleans.
• The Advocate’s expansion to New Orleans before he arrived got the “foot in the door.”
• He has 25 journalists in New Orleans plus Jefferson Parish and St. Tammany bureaus.
• The Advocate’s printing facility can print 70,000 papers an hour. So he can expand throughout South Louisiana. “Our ability to serve South Louisiana is in place,” he said.
• He has named Community Boards for Baton Rouge and New Orleans. These are not editorial boards but an attempt to get in-put from the community.
• Entrepreneurs are buying newspapers. One reason is they are more affordable. Warren Buffet and the Koch brothers are among those making acquisitions. Entrepreneurs are well prepared to own newspapers because they are competitive.
• When asked how much he paid for the Advocate, he said it was something he could afford.
• With growth, there will be pain. In New Orleans, circulation is the priority.
• He said he’s the “business guy,” while Dan Shea and Peter Kovacs (former editors of the Times-Picayune) are in charge of the Advocate’s news content.
• When asked if the Advocate will be a hometown paper or a regional paper, he said, “We will be two newspapers, Baton Rouge and New Orleans.”
• The Advocate wants to be the primary content provider for LSU, the small towns, and the region. He will do the same things for New Orleans.
• Before last Christmas, New Orleans was not getting New Orleans obituaries in the Advocate but now they are.
• Before this Christmas, there will be another paper.
• Right now the Advocate is touching 30,000 homes in the New Orleans area. He said he’s adding prep sports and social news. But he raised the question, “How much does Baton Rouge want to read New Orleans social news?”
• In answer to a question on how the Advocate will provide “better journalism,” he said the Advocate has had six journalists competing with 40 (presumably at the Picayune) but now that has been increased.
• He’s not responsible for everything that appears in the paper. “The smart entrepreneur gets out of the way,” he said.
• Sears Roebuck was dominant, and now Wal-Mart is dominant.
• In New Orleans, there isn’t even a press club.
• When asked about the Times-Picayune’s four-day-a-week tabloid, the TP Street, which was launched Monday, he said, “Let them enjoy the day. It might be an insert in the Advocate some day.”
• None of his personal views will be expressed in the Advocate. “I don’t intend on putting my imprint on the paper. Right now, the team is in place.”
• When he was a candidate for office, he saw examples of bad journalism. “I hope the Advocate is not like that.”
• When you become the publisher, it’s like being the governor. Your views moderate. You have to balance your views. You want both sides to be heard. “When the Manships felt strongly, they got involved,” he said.
• When asked about future plans, he said his father told him, “That which is spoken is never done, and that which is done is never spoken.”
• When the Picayune went to three days a week, he was not part of the outcry against it, because he was already in negotiations to buy the Advocate.
• When he got the family business, it was grossing $29 million a year in a few parishes around New Orleans. Today it is doing more than $1 billion over several states.
• When asked what is the “crown jewel” and where do you want to go? he said, “New Orleans is an opportunity. We already have the crown jewel. Post-Katrina, the Picayune lost half its readership and half its readers.” He said this gives the Advocate the opportunity to grow, defying the national trend.
• When asked if he has regional plans, he said, “It’s like you’re advising George Bush to invade Iraq. But it’s slow growth, a years’ long battle.
• He’s been invited to serve on the board at LSU’s Manship School of Journalism. He hopes his daughters will get their masters’ degrees there.
• He doesn’t plan to make political endorsements, but he said he didn’t rule it out. “I like the independence of the Advocate. I don’t want any bias.”
• He supports Freedom of Information. He said, “We’ll do our role. We’ll take it very seriously.
• When asked how he could be independent and be the official journal of the state, he said there wasn’t a lot of money in that. There was more money in being the official journal for local government, he said.
• There’s a lot to write about in New Orleans. He said the Advocate bureau in New Orleans can produce more content today. The Advocate can also serve more communities, including Houma and Thibodaux.
• When asked what he looks for in acquisitions, he said, “Meat and potato businesses. We’re a distributor. We distribute 10,000 products a day. Newspapers have to be delivered. We look for well run companies, and sometimes companies that are not well run, if they fit what we need.”
• When asked if he has a dream of a New Orleans Advocate Picayune, he said, “It does make sense.” “Our Baton Rouge facility can handle it all. Mobile, AL, would be difficult if not impossible. I get the Advocate at 4 a.m. I used to get the Picayune at 5 a.m. People in New Orleans love LSU, and people in Baton Rouge love the Saints.”
• When an employee asked if he was going to take the Advocate statewide, he said he responded by saying, “Why limit ourselves to Louisiana? Who knows what’s in my future.”