If you’re a regular reader of the St. Helena Echo, or the Zachary Plainsman-News, you must have been apprehensive with the announcement last week that those two Baton Rouge-area weekly newspapers, plus a couple of others – the St. Francisville Democrat and the East Feliciana Parish Watchman – have been acquired by Capital City Press, John Georges’ company that operate dailies in Baton Rouge and Lafayette, plus The New Orleans Advocate. Also included in the deal were the newspapers’ assets and websites plus a free distribution shopper published by the Zachary paper known as the Plainsman-Extra. The newspapers were the property of Lafayette-based Louisiana State Newspapers, which publishes small market publications throughout the state.
Peter Kovacks, once a high ranking mainstay in The Times-Picayune’s editorial department and now the editor of The Advocate was quoted in his newspaper: “We have a substantial number of readers in the three parishes, and we have wanted to give them more local coverage. By merging the coverage of the Democrat, the Watchman and the Echo into The Advocate, we will increase our presence in those communities.”
According to The Advocate, changes will include the following:
•The 62-year-old Plainsman will be converted into a free publication distributed to Zachary subscribers of the daily Advocate and to select non-subscribing households. The new paper will be called the Zachary Advocate and Plainsman and will offer many current features of the paper as well as new content from The Advocate staff.
•The Watchman, The Democrat and The Echo will be combined into a new paper, The Advocate Extra. It will be a weekly supplement for Advocate readers in the area, and it will be mailed to some current subscribers in St. Helena Parish. It will also be available at newsstands in the three parishes.
•Subscribers to the papers who do not currently subscribe to The Advocate will receive either a two-month free, seven-day subscription to The Advocate, or a four-month free subscription to the Saturday and Sunday Advocate.
This is the Capitol City Press’s second recent foray into weekly publications. The Advocate recently upgraded its weekly publications in Ascension and Livingston parishes and started a weekly Southside Advocate in a section of East Baton Rouge Parish.
John Georges, as quoted in The Advocate, suggested that there were more acquisitions coming especially in the burgeoning Baton Rouge market:
“We will continue to expand our portfolio of community weeklies to provide additional reach beyond the already powerful market penetration of the daily Advocate in Baton Rouge.
I’m glad we could reach an agreement with Louisiana State Newspapers to continue local news coverage for these communities. The combination of these papers will give us an unrivaled news and advertising powerhouse in the arc north of Baton Rouge.”
But what do the changes mean for the employees? Though The Advocate’s statement attempted to be upbeat there was an ominous tone: “Some current employees of the weeklies will be offered employment with The Advocate, while others will be put on a preferential hiring list should vacancies arise.”
Some thoughts:
It is not uncommon for larger city dailies to have predatory instincts about surrounding newspapers. Small as they are those papers create competition for advertising and, depending on local laws, could land lucrative official journal business. Several years ago a chain of weekly “Guide” newspapers encircled New Orleans; including the East Bank, West Bank, St. Bernard and Eastern New Orleans Guides. The Times-Picayune was gradually able to undercut all of them in terms of staffing and ad sales. All were eventually acquired and shut down by the T-P.
For all the attention given to the big city dailies versus web world there is a separate story going on in the suburbs and in the rural areas. While some urban dailies collapse their circulation, other may want to look beyond county lines for new possibilities.
 BOOK ANNOUNCEMENT: Errol’s Laborde’s new book, “Mardi Gras: Chronicles of the New Orleans Carnival” (Pelican Publishing Company, 2013), has been released. It is now available at local bookstores and at book web sites.