Newhouse Publishing once again gave the newspaper world a shock earlier this month when it was announced they’d sold the storied Times-Picayune to the upstart The New Orleans Advocate, thus ending a war for the hearts and eyes of Crescent City readers.
This competition began shortly after Newhouse’s Advance Publications announced almost exactly seven years ago it was cutting most of its daily newspapers nationwide back to publishing three days a week. Of course, the Times-Picayune and its three sister papers in Alabama — the Press-Register, Birmingham News and Huntsville Times — were all part of the “exciting changes,” as they were ironically described by management.
Less than six months later, The Baton Rouge Advocate ownership saw opportunity and cranked up a New Orleans edition of The Advocate to pick up those disaffected T-P readers. In 2013, Dathel and John Georges bought The Advocate and subsequently launched The New Orleans Advocate in 2013, allowing them to pluck up some of the journalistic talent Newhouse had cast to the wind. The T-P tried to respond by adding a news supplement on the “off days,” but Newhouse’s gutting of the Picayune never healed.
Newhouse had vowed not to sell any of its legacy newspapers, even as they shifted to a digital-first strategy that has yielded arguable results. So the sale of the T-P and NOLA.com to the Georges came as a bit of a surprise in the newspaper industry. More than anything, though, it probably serves as the most tangible example of what many believe was a disastrous strategy by Newhouse.
The sale obviously caught the attention of citizens in other Newhouse cities who wondered on message boards throughout the land about whether this might mean someone would soon buy their beleaguered shells of once-upon-a-time dailies. Advance Publications leadership quashed any such talk immediately, calling the T-P sale a “one off.” And while The Advance isn’t exactly known for straight talk, it’s hard to imagine this scenario playing out anywhere else.
The major difference is that in New Orleans a wealthy community leader immediately stepped forward to compete for the readership and didn’t give in to the “print is dead” mantra spewed by Newhouse leadership. For most Newhouse communities, seven years later, their dailies are mere ghosts of what they once were and most of all of those who worked there have long since transitioned into different careers or left town.
But the T-P purchase, and subsequent release of all its employees, does have a direct effect in Mobile. The Press-Register has been printing the T-P for several years now, but that is no more. That follows the loss of its printing of the Pensacola News Journal as well as USA Today at the company’s massive presses on Water Street.
Still, company insiders say the Birmingham News will soon be printed in Mobile, a job that will more than replace the relatively tiny press-run the T-P required before its death. I’m told they are feeling positive, despite the demise of the once-great Times-Picayune.
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