Georges buys The Advocate

Sale launches new era for newspaper

John Georges, who took over a small family company and transformed it into a billion-dollar business, completed a deal Tuesday to buy The Advocate, the largest daily newspaper in Louisiana.

The Advocate, which dates back 171 years and serves readers from Lafayette to New Orleans, is one of the few newspapers in the United States whose print circulation is growing. It was owned by the descendants of Charles P. Manship Sr., who have been newspaper proprietors in Baton Rouge since 1909.

Georges named two veteran Louisiana journalists as senior executives. Georges said he will serve as publisher of The Advocate and he named Dan Shea as general manager and Peter Kovacs as editor. Georges said he will meet Wednesday with the newspaper’s 450 employees.

He said he has been negotiating with the Manships for nearly two years.

“The Advocate is a strong brand with dedicated employees and a supportive community,” Georges said. “In addition to one of the newest and most state-of-the-art print production facilities in the industry, The Advocate has impressive digital capabilities. Together, these components ensure The Advocate will thrive for a long time to come.”

David Manship, who was publisher of The Advocate, said while it was a “sad day” to sell his interest in a newspaper he had been involved with for 40 years, it is going into good hands.

“John is a very capable businessman,” Manship said. “He’s a true Louisianian and he will do an excellent job to carry on the tradition that the paper has established.”

Manship said while he will miss being publisher, he will miss the people at The Advocate more than anything else.

The purchase price was not disclosed. In addition to the newspaper, Georges’ purchase includes The Advocate’s growing digital operations, including theadvocate.com, the leading news website in Baton Rouge. The Manships also own WBRZ-TV, the ABC affiliate in Baton Rouge, which is not part of the sale.

Georges is a second-generation Greek-American, who grew up as part of his family’s business, washing the trucks in which the firm delivered groceries to stores. Under his leadership, Imperial Trading grew from a small local operation into an industry leader that operates in a dozen states and employs 750.

In addition to the 98-year-old Imperial, Georges’ other Louisiana businesses include 91-year-old Harrison Co. in Bossier. He recently bought the 108-year-old Galatoire’s restaurant in New Orleans and reopened Galatoire’s Baton Rouge Bistro this year.

He served on the Board of Regents and was a candidate for governor in 2007 and for mayor of New Orleans in 2010.

Georges provided a matching grant that established a Baton Rouge hotline for the Metropolitan Crime Commission. He also founded and funds Lemonade Day, which encourages young people to become entrepreneurs.

Georges is a lifelong Louisiana resident who graduated from Tulane and married Dathel Coleman, a member of a prominent New Orleans family. They have three children.

Shea and Kovacs were managing editors of The Times-Picayune when the newspaper won four Pulitzer prizes in a nine-year span. Both left the company when the newspaper ended daily publication in 2012.

Shea joined The Times-Picayune in 1993 and supervised newsroom operations, technology, copy editing, presentation and photography. He created The TP Store, an online source for the newspaper’s photos, books and page reproductions, and he directed the publication of six books from The Times-Picayune staff on topics ranging from the Saints’ Super Bowl victory to the 175th anniversary of the newspaper.

Prior to coming to New Orleans, Shea worked at The Record of Bergen County, N.J., first as the business editor, later as publishing technology manager, where he supervised the purchase and installation of millions of dollars of new computer technology. He also was a financial reporter at a trade paper covering Wall Street and covered local government for the Journal Inquirer and Hartford Advocate newspapers in Connecticut.

Shea graduated from Clark University in Worcester, Mass., and also studied in England and Canada. He and his wife have a son and a daughter.

Kovacs joined The Times-Picayune in 1983 and served as night metro editor and city editor before rising to managing editor. He oversaw The Times-Picayune’s news-gathering staff in seven parishes, Baton Rouge, Washington and Central America.

He also led the newspaper’s fights against government secrecy, including its celebrated battle to give the public access to records showing that members of the Louisiana Legislature were awarding valuable Tulane University scholarships to each others’ relatives.

Kovacs was a member of the Student Media Board at LSU from 2006 to 2010.

He graduated from Brown University in Providence, R.I., and worked as a reporter and editor at The Birmingham News in Alabama before coming to New Orleans. He and his wife have two sons.

Carl Redman, The Advocate’s current executive editor, will continue as senior editor and assist in the transition to new ownership.

Georges’ purchase comes at a pivotal time for the newspaper industry and for journalism in Louisiana. In May 2012, the New York-based owners of The Times-Picayune announced that they were closing their newspaper company, laying off about half their newsroom staff and cutting their publication schedule to three editions a week.

The move, which left New Orleans as the largest U.S. city without a daily newspaper, provoked a storm of controversy and was criticized by Archbishop Gregory Aymond, Mayor Mitch Landrieu, Gov. Bobby Jindal and, unanimously, by the Louisiana Legislature. A group of business leaders asked David Manship, The Advocate’s publisher, to expand his operations into New Orleans. Manship took the gamble, hoping to sell 10,000 copies a day and found the demand was more than double what he hoped.

Today, the New Orleans area accounts for about a fifth of The Advocate’s weekday circulation of 98,000. The Sunday circulation is about 125,000.

On Tuesday, The Times-Picayune announced it will be launching a tabloid edition for three of the four days on which it ceased publication, but the company will not offer home delivery.

Nationally, newspapers have struggled as consumers turn to online information sources. But the industry’s prospects have brightened recently as some newspapers have begun to charge customers for online access and the drop in the value of companies has begun to attract blue-chip investors such as Warren Buffett.

The Advocate’s history goes back to The Democratic Advocate, a weekly newspaper established in 1842. By 1854, the paper had changed its name to The Daily Advocate to reflect its new publishing schedule.

In 1904, William Hamilton, of Shreveport, bought the Advocate and changed its name to the Times. One of the reporters hired at the Times was Charles P. Manship Sr. That year, another paper started in Baton Rouge, The State.

By 1907, the State and the Times had merged. Capital City Press, a company founded by Manship and James Edmonds, purchased the State-Times in 1909 for about $28,000.

Five years later, Manship was the sole owner of Capital City Press, along with being editor and publisher.

In 1925, Manship began publishing another paper, The Morning Advocate, to go along with The State-Times. The State-Times closed in 1991.

In 2005, The Advocate moved out of downtown Baton Rouge into an office at 7290 Bluebonnet Blvd. that is owned by the Rev. Jimmy Swaggart’s Family Worship Center. The next year a new printing plant opened off Siegen Lane, giving the firm one of the most modern production facilities in the newspaper industry and the capacity to meet demand from Baton Rouge, Lafayette and New Orleans.