‘The Advocate’ owner John Georges touts paper’s growth

More than three years after buying The Advocate from its longtime owners, the Manship family, New Orleans businessman John Georges says the newspaper is growing and increasing its circulation, despite industry trends to the contrary.

“The newspaper industry is hanging on by a heartbeat,” Georges said in a speech today to the Rotary Club of Baton Rouge. “It’s on life support.”

The Advocate, by contrast, is growing as its owners have “doubled down, reinvested and become more efficient,” Georges said.

Though he did not cite circulation figures in his speech, the latest data from the national Alliance for Audited Media shows that between Sept. 30, 2013 and Sept. 30, 2015, The Advocate’s total circulation did show significant growth, increasing 23% on Sundays and 32% during the week.

That growth didn’t come from the Baton Rouge market, however, which saw its Sunday circulation fall 28% from 68,476 to 53,531, and its weekday circulation drop 16% from 48,402 to 41,437.

Rather, the growth occurred in online readership and in the Lafayette and New Orleans markets, where The Advocate publishes local editions. Digital circulation during the two-year period increased nearly 250% both on Sundays and during the week, while circulation in New Orleans and Lafayette together increased some 60% on Sundays and weekdays.

Georges encouraged his audience to support the local paper through subscriptions and ad sales.

“The future of your paper is in your hands,” he said.

Georges predicted many newspapers will be forced to continue making cuts and absorbing losses, which will ultimately drive them out of business. He suggested there are opportunities, however, in newspaper mergers. In 2014, The Advocate acquired four weekly newspapers in Zachary, the Felicianas and St. Helena Parish. Those deals have proven successful, he said, noting that “there’s a huge opportunity for those in the business to look at their options.”

He declined to say following the speech whether he is considering any additional acquisitions in the near future.

While most of his speech was heavy on praise for his publication and the efforts of its staff, Georges took aim at the LSU Manship School of Mass Communication for its recent decision to scale back the print publication of its student newspaper, The Daily Reveille.

“We were disappointed with the school for following the negative path of cuts rather than reinvesting in the printed word as we have done,” he said.

Georges praised his staff for its coverage of major news events in 2016, including racial protests over the shooting death of Alton Sterling, the ambush killing of three law enforcement officers and the August flood.

The Advocate really proved themselves,” he said. “It was a very important time in the history of Baton Rouge, and our team did well.”

—Stephanie Riegel

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