4:10pm

Wed May 29, 2013
Media

Two Newspapers Battle It Out For The New Orleans Market

Originally published on Fri May 31, 2013 2:26 pm

Last year when New Orleans' main paper, The Times-Picayune, laid off dozens of newspaper employees and cut its circulation to three times a week, residents were shocked.

Sharron Morrow and her friends had bonded over the morning paper at a local coffee shop for the past 20 years.

"I've stopped my subscription, and I mourn the paper almost every day," she says.

Shifting Media Players

Newspaper circulation has been rapidly declining all over the country. Advertising revenue has plummeted while online revenue has been making small gains. The Times-Picayune re-branded itself as The Times-Picayune NOLA.com, representative of its new Web-centered focus.

Multimillionaire John Georges was one of the local movers and shakers furious at The Times-Picayune's changes. He was also upset that the paper's New York-based owners, the Newhouse family, refused to sell it.

When The Times-Picayune announced it would scale back its print edition, Baton Rouge newspaper The Advocate launched a daily New Orleans edition to compete. Georges bought The Advocate this year, with an aim toward expanding the paper's New Orleans coverage and luring more subscribers from The Times-Picayune.

"We fought the Battle of New Orleans once before; some think we are going to fight it again in the newspaper," he says.

To lead the charge, Georges hired Dan Shea, a managing editor laid off from The Times-Picayune during cutbacks. In the weeks since his hiring, a slew of prize-winning reporters have jumped from The Times-Picayune to The Advocate. Shea says subscriptions in New Orleans are growing.

"The notion of going into another newspaper's market and convincing their readers to read yours is a fool's errand — except when you so break the bonds of your brand with your readers, and it's created this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity," he says.

Media Weapons

On one side, The Advocate has a brand new printing press strategically placed between New Orleans and Baton Rouge.

On the other side, The Times-Picayune has an aggressive media strategy. The company recently mounted a new daily Web series about the Saints, the local NFL team.

The company has also launched a daily tabloid available exclusively on newsstands on the days the newspaper does not circulate.

Editor Jim Amoss says that despite what the city's size might suggest, there is a big appetite for local news. He's confident that between the tabloid and the Web presence, The Times-Picayune will cater to the town's obsession with itself and its image.

"We're that hometown newspaper and by far the largest newsgathering force, and I don't say that boastingly — that is just a fact," he says. "We'll see what the competition brings."

Picking Sides

Still, consumers feel like they are caught in the middle.

Wilbert "Chill" Wilson owns a barber shop in town. He is keeping his Times-Picayune subscription but is disappointed that there is no Monday paper. He says The Advocate does not feel local.

"Nobody has done a great job yet that is fulfilling to the community in New Orleans," he says.

At a local coffee shop, Sue Rapaski agrees.

"Reading The Advocate is like reading a high school paper; I really hate it," she says.

Her friend Sharron Morrow is more optimistic. "It's getting better as they get to know our needs, and hopefully they'll have a big presence down here."

Transcript

MELISSA BLOCK, HOST:

One year ago, New Orleans' newspaper, the Times-Picayune, laid off dozens of newsroom employees. It cut its paper-and-ink edition to three days a week. And the Web site, nola.com, became the company's focus. Many residents were shocked, outraged, indignant.

But unlike many cities where the paper newspaper is increasingly a thing of the past, the Times-Picayune has some new paper competition. That story from Eve Troeh, of member station WWNO.

EVE TROEH, BYLINE: Open the door of the Fair Grinds coffee shop, and you hear them laugh.

(sOUNDBITE OF PEOPLE LAUGHING)

TROEH: These friends meet every morning, have for at least 20 years; to talk over coffee and the morning paper - emphasis on paper. Like many in New Orleans, they are fiercely loyal, and worship routine. When the Times-Picayune ceased to thump on their doorsteps daily, merged with NOLA.com and laid off their friends, nurse Sharron Morrow says this group banished it.

SHARRON MORROW: I've stopped my subscription, and I mourn the paper almost every day.

TROEH: What about the new daily paper? The Advocate, based 80 miles away in Baton Rouge, launched a New Orleans edition last year to fill this gap in the market. Lawyer Sue Rapaski tells Morrow, she isn't having it.

SUE RAPASKI: The Advocate is just like reading a high school paper. I really hate it.

MORROW: It's getting better as they get to know our needs and then hopefully, they'll have a big presence down here.

TROEH: Big plans are afoot. The Baton Rouge Advocate has a larger-than-life new owner in New Orleans. Multimillionaire John Georges was one of the local movers and shakers furious at the Times-Picayune's changes - and at owners the Newhouse family, based in New York, for their refusal to sell the paper to a local buyer.

JOHN GEORGES: We fought the Battle of New Orleans once before; some people think we are going to fight it again in the newspaper.

TROEH: Georges bought The Advocate from its longtime family owners, and his desire to take on the Picayune is epic.

GEORGES: You don't have to read history of the Trojan Wars to understand what a handful of great warriors that are motivated can do, to overcome. That's a reference to my Greek ancestry.

TROEH: His warriors are highly motivated. Leading the charge, Dan Shea. The new general manager of The Advocate was laid off from The Times-Picayune. In the weeks since he's been hired to run the paper, a slew of prize-winning reporters has jumped from The Times-Picayune to The Advocate. Shea says subscriptions in New Orleans are growing.

DAN SHEA: The notion of going into another newspaper's primary market and convincing their readers to read yours is - it's a fool's errand, except when you so break the bonds of your brand with your readers. And it's created this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.

TROEH: But The Times-Picayune, now officially called The Times-Picayune NOLA.com has its weapons, too.

LARRY HOLDER: Hello, and welcome to Black and Gold today, here at NOLA.com, your daily snapshot of all things New Orleans Saints. I'm Larry Holder, Saints' beat writer for NOLA.com and The Times-Picayune.

TROEH: That's a new, daily web video about NFL team the Saints, part of the company's aggressive digital strategy. NOLA.com and Times-Picayune editor Jim Amoss says New Orleans is more wired than it gets credit for. But to appease the traditional ink lovers, the company has a new, printed tabloid that will fill in the days the full paper doesn't print.

JIM AMOSS: We're the hometown newspaper and by far, the largest news organization in this area. And I don't say that boastingly; that's just a fact. We'll see what the competition brings.

TROEH: He says there's a bigger appetite for local news in New Orleans than the city's size might suggest. This is a town obsessed with itself and its image.

(SOUNDBITE OF HAIR CLIPPER)

TROEH: At Mr. Chill's Barber Shop, owner Wilbert "Chill" Wilson cleans up a neckline. He's kept his Times-Picayune subscription but on Monday morning - means no paper; and all the flying hair isn't friendly to an iPad. Wilson has not subscribed to The Advocate, says it doesn't feel local.

WILBERT WILSON: Nobody has done a great job yet that is fulfilling to the community in New Orleans.

TROEH: In this city's newspaper war, he's stuck in the middle.

For NPR News, I'm Eve Troeh in New Orleans. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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