The Advocate achieves employee buyout goal

At least 5 percent of The Advocate’s longtime employees took voluntary buyouts earlier this month, allowing the company to achieve staff-reduction goals announced in July, according to General Manager and Chief Operating Officer Dan Shea.

“While we are sad to see so many colleagues with long experience leave so suddenly, many are happy to get an early start on their well-deserved retirement or help in transitioning to a new career,” Shea said in a companywide email this week.

Shea said he could not comment further on the announcement.

The Advocate had 450 employees when businessman John Georges bought the newspaper in April. About 380 of those were full-time positions. A minimum 5 percent cut, outlined as the goal when the buyouts were offered, meant shedding at least 19 jobs, with at least half of those to come from the newsroom. But at the same time, the company has created new positions in its digital media, news and circulation departments as it aligned its workforce with trends in the media industry.

Buyout offers were made to employees who had been with The Advocate for at least 15 years, with the exception of some specific areas where none were allowed.

In late July, Shea described the minimum 5 percent reduction as a mild cutback. In typical newspaper acquisitions, the cuts have been very heavy. In recent years, some papers have slashed their news department staffs by 50 percent.

The voluntary buyout was aimed at putting The Advocate in line with industry standards. The Advocate’s newsroom had more employees than other papers its size.

In making the announcement in July, Shea said there was no connection between the need to trim staff in Baton Rouge and the move to increase the size of The New Orleans Advocate’s staff. Both markets need to pay their own way, Shea said.

The Advocate has beefed up its staffing in its year-old New Orleans bureau in an effort to attract more readers who were upset with The Times-Picayune’s decision last year to cease daily publication and lay off nearly half its news staff.

Shea said the New Orleans circulation is growing as expected.

“We have gotten a fantastic response from key advertisers who flat out want us to succeed. Opinion leaders of all stripes are rooting us on, saying what we are doing is good for the city,” Shea said in Thursday’s email.

Recent circulation efforts in New Orleans have included the distribution of special editions in the Superdome for the Saints opener, the distribution of Monday newspapers to prospective readers after the first two Saints games and the continued distribution of samples each week to potential customers.

Marketing efforts have included becoming the official newspaper of the LSU Tigers, the Saints and New Orleans Pelicans.

Shea also said in his email that improvements made in Baton Rouge have been well-received.

“While most papers have been losing circulation, we’ve gone up a bit since May,” he said.

Earlier this month, Georges told a Baton Rouge organization that readers here will benefit from The Advocate expanding into other markets.

“My commitment to you is, if you support The Advocate, we will continually pour those resources into the newspaper and you will have more news,” Georges said.

He has said The Advocate also plans to substantially beef up news coverage in Acadiana in 2014.

In August, Georges told a Lafayette business crowd that one day, newspaper readers in south Louisiana could have three distinct papers with The Advocate’s banner in Baton Rouge, New Orleans and Lafayette.