A Baton Rouge biweekly business publication has taken a comprehensive look at the competition between the new New Orleans Advocate and The Times-Picayune. The cover story in the July 7 edition of The Greater Baton Rouge Business Report is titled “John Georges’ Big Gamble: One Year Later is His Expansion Plan Paying Off.”
Stephanie Riegel, the Business Journal’s editor, did a superb job pulling together complex information to give the clearest picture yet of an often murky situation
Riegel is a New Orleans native who worked at Gambit, New Orleans City Business and WWL-TV before moving to Baton Rouge where she even had a stint as food editor of the the Baton Rouge Advocate before moving to the Business Report.
“Georges won't disclose how much he is spending on the Advocate publications or how much he is putting in the bank” Riegel wrote. “He will only say a previously reported $50 million estimated sale price is incorrect and that the April 2013 acquisition was not financed with any debt. He also says he has a line of credit for working capital, and that the New Orleans Advocate is making money. ‘Of course it is,’ he says, as if the answer were obvious.”
Riegel continues: "Whether Georges' mini-empire is a viable profit-maker over the long term is not an idle question, though. In a media landscape that is littered with the husks of failed daily newspapers Georges is making a big gamble on an ambitious expansion program. While publishers in virtually every other market in the country are pulling in their horns or calling it quits, Georges, who made his fortune in the grocery wholesale business, remains publicly exuberant about the wisdom of his business plan."
'We're going to be as successful in the space of media as we are in groceries,' he says. 'There are going to be winners and losers in the field of media. We are positioning ourselves to be the winner.'"
Overall the tone of the article is not as optimistic as George sees it, nor totally pessimistic. The future depends on the acceptance of sales points such as comparative demographics. Overall the Advocate’s circulation in New Orleans is about 30,000, an increase over the last two years but still not overwhelming. The Acadiana edition of the Advocate has also grown. The Baton Rouge edition has declined in circulation yet still maintains one of the highest market penetrations in the nation.
Here, as Riegel reports, is where the demographic argument kicks in:
"Another advantage the Advocate claims, in New Orleans at least, is that it reaches a more affluent, professional reader. Georges says the paper's demographics are very strong and that the average reader of the New Orleans Advocate has an income of between $70,000 and $80,000 per year. They are readers, generally, who are plugged into the business climate across south Louisiana and therefore appreciate the Advocate's regional coverage.
'We took the cream first,' Georges says of the paper's readership."
(While the Times-Picayune maintains a circulation dominance there are signs of concern such as deals reportedly offered to subscribers who call to terminate their subscription to the former daily. Last Saturday at the Walgreens on Canal and N. Carrollton a vendor maintained a lonely vigil offering customers a Walgreens discount coupon if they signed up to subscribe to the T-P, plus eligibility for a $100 cash prize drawing. Similar displays have been reported at various times at other Walgreens.)
Those readership differences are being eyeballed by advertisers who, depending on the nature of their products, have different perspectives. One of the area’s largest advertisers, the Ochsner Health system, has listened to the Advocate’s claim of an upscale readership:
According to Reigel: "Ochsner marketing executives say that claim has been supported by their experience with the New Orleans Advocate. Terri McNorton, vice president of marketing for Ochsner Health Systems, says the hospital places targeted media buys in the Times Picayune, the Advocate and the New Orleans Advocate, depending on the nature of the ad. If she wants to advertise an executive wellness program, for instance, she specifically buys the New Orleans Advocate because she feels it's the most effective way to reach her target audience.
'It seems to have a stronger base with business leaders,' she says. "The size of the Times-Picayune certainly gives them a broader demographic group, but we have seen that the entrepreneurial, business leader is looking to the Advocate to understand what is going on across the region.'"
History is written by visionaries taking chances. Quite often they fail, occasionally they succeed and when they do, they change to world. John Georges just may one day change the perception of the future of print journalism among the smart folks and nay-sayers. If journalism is supposed to be the purveyor of the truth, sometimes it takes street fighters to keep the truth coming.
Editor’s Note: A July 8 story on the Business Report’s website, also by Riegel, is titled "Times-Pic pulls out of La. Press Association, associate publisher resigns from LPA board.” The article tells about a controversy that is presumed to be linked to the designation of government-awarded official journal contracts. The story peers into yet another side of the city’s newspaper competition.