Georges: The Advocate’s expansion plans include Acadiana in 2014

John Georges, owner of The Advocate, told a Lafayette business crowd Wednesday he would substantially beef up news coverage in Acadiana in 2014, and that one day newspaper readers in south Louisiana could have three distinct papers with The Advocate’s banner in New Orleans, Baton Rouge and Lafayette.

Georges said news coverage for The Advocate’s print and digital platforms could one day stretch from Terrebonne and Lafourche parishes to Lake Charles on Louisiana’s west side.

“We believe people still want to read a newspaper,” said Georges, who was the keynote speaker at the 2013 ABiz Acadiana Top 50 Business Luncheon at the Cajundome Convention Center.

“In 2014, The Advocate is going to make a big push in Acadiana,” Georges said.

Georges is a 52-year-old New Orleans businessman who turned the family’s almost century-old food distribution business, Imperial Trading, into a company that draws $1 billion in sales annually. Georges bought The Advocate from members of the Manship family in a deal finalized April 30.

The Manships in the fall of 2012 decided to expand into New Orleans when the city’s venerable Times-Picayune on Oct. 1 started publishing a print edition only three days a week, and laid off nearly half of its news staff. Two of those who were laid off — editors Dan Shea and Peter Kovacs — became top Advocate executives.

Georges ramped up the news staff, with growing bureaus in New Orleans and St. Tammany Parish.

“New Orleans is the test for what we’re going to be doing here” in Acadiana, he said. “If we can be successful (in New Orleans), you’ll have a paper that’s thicker, you’ll be more informed.”

The Advocate’s Acadiana Bureau currently has three reporters, a photographer, a marketing executive and a circulation director. Georges did not specify how many staffers would be needed for a full-fledged Acadiana edition.

He said that although he was bullish on The Advocate’s future, what lies ahead for big city newspapers owned by chains is a financial mess: printing presses that need upgrades; unfunded pension liabilities; unyielding unions.

The Advocate, he said, has a new press capable of printing 70,000 newspapers an hour, does not have unions representing its employees, has loyal readers and a brand that’s more than 100 years old.

“It (The Advocate) is the best newspaper for covering state government,” Georges said.

He also said The Advocate’s coverage of Southeastern Conference sports is second to none. “Even Archie Manning told me it’s the best sports paper in the country,” Georges said.

The Times-Picayune is owned by the New York-based Newhouse family through their company Advance Publications, which owns media outlets such as The Press-Register in Mobile, Ala., and The New Yorker magazine.

Georges told those who attended the Abiz luncheon they could support The Advocate’s expanded news coverage in Acadiana by subscribing.

He said the Acadiana edition has fewer than 10,000 subscribers. Though he didn’t mention the paper by name, Georges said The Daily Advertiser, owned by media conglomerate Gannett, has a circulation of about 20,000.

About 700 people attended the luncheon put on by ABiz, a business news publication created by Steve and Cherry Fisher May, who also are the owners of The Independent, a monthly publication based in Lafayette.