The Advocate buys four weekly newspapers

Advocate staff photo by TRAVIS SPRADLING -- Advocate Publisher John Georges
Advocate staff photo by TRAVIS SPRADLING -- Advocate Publisher John Georges

Zachary Plainsman-News, Watchman, St. Francisville Democrat and St. Helena Echo part of deal

The Advocate is acquiring four weekly newspapers to increase its coverage of the Baton Rouge area as it continues to expand across south Louisiana.

The papers are the Zachary Plainsman-News in Zachary, The Watchman in East Feliciana Parish, The St. Francisville Democrat in West Feliciana Parish and The St. Helena Echo in Greensburg.

The terms of the agreement between Capital City Press — the parent company of The Advocate — and Louisiana State Newspapers weren’t disclosed.

The sale of the four newspapers includes the assets of their websites and a free “shopper” publication, the Zachary Plainsman-Xtra.

Advocate Publisher John Georges, who purchased Capital City Press in 2013, said the move builds upon the company’s strategy to give advertisers and readers more options for local news, in print and online. 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.

“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,” he said.

“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.”

Darrell Guillory, chief operating officer of Louisiana State Newspapers, said the decision to sell its newspapers to The Advocate was a strategic one and will allow for local community reporting to continue.

“We are happy that these communities will continue to be served by an organization like The Advocate whose commitment to covering the news and providing the reach that local advertisers need is steadfast,” Guillory said.

The 62-year-old Plainsman will be converted into a free publication distributed to Zachary subscribers of the daily Advocate and to select nonsubscribing 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.

“Our goal is to provide the growing city of Zachary a strong local publication that will highlight all the good things going on in that community,” said Dan Shea, president of The Advocate.

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.

“We have a substantial number of readers in the three parishes, and we have wanted to give them more local coverage,” said Advocate Editor Peter Kovacs. “By merging the coverage of the Democrat, the Watchman and the Echo into The Advocate, we will increase our presence in those communities.”

Current paid subscribers to the four papers who are also Advocate subscribers will be credited with an extension of their Advocate subscriptions equal to their remaining subscription.

Other 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.

“We will be contacting each subscriber and advertiser to understand their preferences and welcome them to The Advocate family,” Shea said.

Gary Miller, general manager of the group of weeklies, will be joining The Advocate to supervise the transition of the papers into The Advocate. After that, he will be a senior executive in the advertising department.

Before joining Louisiana State Newspapers, Miller was director of advertising at daily papers in Lafayette, El Paso, Texas, Sioux City, Iowa, and several publications in New Mexico. He lives in Baton Rouge.

“We’re so happy to have on board a seasoned professional with such broad experience in the business,” said Sheila Runnels, The Advocate’s vice president of advertising.

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.

The changes are expected to occur in October.

Capital City Press also publishes The Acadiana Advocate, and The New Orleans Advocate, the only daily newspaper in Louisiana’s largest city. The company employs nearly 400 staffers in Baton Rouge, New Orleans and Lafayette.

Louisiana State Newspapers, headquartered in Lafayette, publishes several small daily and weekly newspapers throughout the state.

The Advocate reaches 620,000 adults each week with its website and newspapers.