Advance Publications Cuts Newsroom Staff at All 3 Alabama Newspapers

mobile-press-register-masthead-1200x280Advance Publications gave journalists at the Huntsville Times, Birmingham News and Mobile Press-Register their walking papers today (Aug. 18). The layoffs are expected to be precursors to terminations at The Times-Picayune later this year or in early 2016.

Although the company did not disclose how many were terminated in Alabama, Birmingham’s alternative weekly, Weld, pegged it at 21.

At least eight editorial employees at the Press-Register were let go, including six reporters and two photographers, Lagniappe, Mobile’s alt-weekly, reported.

Employees there had been expecting cuts since it was announced in June that Advance was AL.com The Birmingham News MastHead.jpgconsolidating its Alabama operations, its Mississippi Press and The Times-Picayune into the Southeast Regional Media Group, Lagniappe Co-Publisher/Managing Editor Rob Holbert reported.

The latest layoffs mean at least 20 members of the Press-Register‘s editorial staff have either quit or been fired since January, according to Lagniappe.

Huntsville TimesThe company said it has laid off five to nine full-time journalists each in Birmingham, Mobile and Huntsville, the Birmingham Business Journal reported. These layoffs followed 10 terminations in January statewide.

These cuts are expected to precede ones at NOLA Media Group and The Times-

Front page of the Birmingham News in May 2012 when the layoffs began.

Picayune. The Huffington Post‘s media reporter Michael Calderone reported yesterday (Aug. 17) that anxiety is mounting among Picayune staffers, who also face the 10th anniversary of Hurricane Katrina Aug. 29. The assumption has been that the company will wait until after that commemoration to announce layoffs there, given the central and high-profile role the newspaper’s staff played in heroically chronicling the storm and its aftermath.

News media website Poynter.org published the entire memo issued earlier today by AL.com Vice President Content Michelle Holmes announcing the cutbacks.

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Advance Publications Mid-Year Performance a Mixed Bag

July marked a rash of self-assessment by the newspaper industry, including by the local newspaper division of Times-Picayune owner Advance Publications.

Randy Siegel, president of Advance Local, twice annually pens an assessment of the Advance_Localcompany’s progress toward becoming a “digital first” company. His update is ostensibly for employees, but is publicly available on the Advance Local website, and often scrutinized by analysts. His July 16 report is unsurprisingly upbeat, but Poynter Institute’s Rick Edmonds deciphered Siegel’s report and finds that despite Advance’s head start in the digital-first foray, the company is “in the same boat as its peers — needing to serve two different audiences with very different platform preferences for some years to come while inventing a future of their organizations.”

As Edmonds notes, Siegel acknowledges that Advance Local has fallen short of its goals:

“We still have a long way to go … Our business-to-business sales initiatives, while growing well in terms of year-over-year percentage growth, are a fraction of what they should be. While our mobile and video ad revenue gains have also been stellar in terms of year-over-year percentage growth, they should be increasing at a much faster rate given our level of investment.”

poynter_logoEdmonds also notes that “Siegel backed off his claim of six months ago that digital ad gains this year will surpass print losses,” conceding that newspaper declines have been “steeper than we budgeted for.”

Edmonds highlighted some areas where The Times-Picayune and other Advance newspapers are likely saving money when compared to other newspapers, and others where they are losing out on revenue opportunities. Of note:

  • Advance is likely saving money on production and delivery expenses because most Advance newspapers (including the Picayune) are producing and distributing fewer newspapers (three a week during non-football season in New Orleans).
  • Payroll expenses are also likely lower after wholesale reductions in most Advance newsrooms, including the Picayune‘s. The company counters that it subsequently hired a lot of digital-savvy staff, but those employees are, by-and-large, younger and likely less-expensive than the veterans who were terminated during the 2012 mass reductions, and are receiving more-modest fringe benefits. Rumors abound that more staff cuts will come in New Orleans later this year or in early 2016.
  • While three-quarters of newspapers now charge non-subscribers for digital access, Advance has stuck with an advertising-supported, free-access website model. That means Advance isn’t reaping online subscription revenue, or additional revenue from higher print subscription and single-copy prices that most newspapers have been able to charge.
  • On the flip side, Advance is likely avoiding the worst of industry-wide print advertising losses because most ad schedules and nearly all of the more lucrative pre-print insert advertising are still appearing on the days its newspapers publish print editions.

Siegel told Edmonds that Advance’s digital audience continues to grow — a 34% year-to-year increase in unique visitors for the first half of 2015. Quantcast currently ranks all 12 Advance sites combined as the 68th most-trafficked “network” on the web. NOLA.com is 449th, and sixth among Advance’s newspaper sites.

Edmonds adds that declining digital ad rates and continued domination by Google and Facebook probably mean digital ad revenues aren’t what Advance hoped for. “If Advance miscalculated, I’m guessing it was in the hope that loyal seven-day print readers could be brought along to the website as a substitute on non-print days,” he concludes, before citing what he calls “surprising research” by the Newspaper Association of America last year that a majority of print subscribers never access their newspaper’s digital sites.

From the Ashes: Former Times-Picayune ME/News Dan Shea Promoted to Publisher of The Advocate

Former longtime Times-Picayune Managing Editor/News Dan Shea read about his imminent dismissal in the pages of The New York Times. His would be among the most high-profile ousters of wholesale Times-Picayune‘s “digital first” death march in the summer of 2012.

L to R: Peter Kovacs, editor of The Advocate, Dan Shea, general manager and chief operating officer, and Publisher and Owner John Georges. Georges announced today that he’s turning over the publishing reins to Shea effective Sept. 1, 2015.

What a difference three years makes.

It was announced today that Shea will be the new publisher of Louisiana’s largest daily newspaper, which is no longer The Times-Picayune.

Shea was among the first hires of New Orleans businessman John Georges, after Georges acquired the Baton Rouge-based Advocate less than a year after The Times-Picayune debacle. Shea and his fellow former co-managing T-P editor, Peter Kovacs, assumed two of the top posts at Georges’ new incarnation of the newspaper: Kovacs was named editor and Shea general manager and chief operating officer, while Georges served as publisher.

“We aren’t reluctant to pursue a digital future, but in doing that we are not going to change the core values of what a newspaper means to a community, nor abandon the print subscribers and advertisers who built the paper into the largest in Louisiana.” – Dan Shea, incoming publisher of  The Advocate

Dan Shea

Georges will turn over the publishing reins to Shea effective Sept. 1, according to a report in today’s Advocate. “We’ve had great success for the first two years, and now I think it is important to have a publisher who has more experience in journalism and the newspaper industry,” Georges said in the news report. “Our print circulation is growing, as are our ad revenues. I think Dan gets a lot of the credit for that.”

In not-so-veiled barbs aimed at his former employer and its shift away from a daily print newspaper, today’s report quoted Shea as saying Georges’ acquisition and expansion of The Advocate “show the value of a committed local owner in keeping alive quality local journalism. We aren’t reluctant to pursue a digital future, but in doing that we are not going to change the core values of what a newspaper means to a community, nor abandon the print subscribers and advertisers who built the paper into the largest in Louisiana.”

Since the paper’s re-launch under Georges’ ownership, The Advocate expanded and re-branded its Acadiana and New Orleans editions after hiring several dozen former Times-Picayune reporters, editors and photographers, including both those who were laid off during the 2012 purge and others who defected in the aftermath. The saga is detailed in Hell and High Water.

More recently, The Advocate expanded its community newspapers from two to nine in Baton Rouge by both creating new publications and acquiring a chain of weekly newspapers. Borrowing from The Times-Picayune‘s community news section strategy that helped that newspaper stave off competition in the region’s suburbs beginning in the 1980s, The Advocate also launched twice-weekly, free community New Orleans editions it says are now distributed to 250,000 homes. The Advocate also operates three websites, and has created apps and e-editions of its New Orleans, Acadiana and Baton Rogue editions.

The company is building a $13.2 million new headquarters along Interstate 10 in Baton Rouge, and renovating a historic building along St. Charles Avenue in New Orleans, which will serve as headquarters of The New Orleans Advocate.

According to reports both newspapers filed as of March 31, 2015, with industry group the alliance for Audited Media, The Times-Picayune‘s Sunday print circulation fell 18.5% during the first quarter of 2015 compared to the same quarter in 2014, from 127,902 to 104,213, while The Advocate’s grew slightly, from 105,464 to 107,965. The Times-Picayune filed a second quarter 2015 report showing print circulation at 104, 213, but as of today, AAM’s website has no corresponding report posted for The Advocate.

When “digital non-replica” editions are included – which encompasses e-editions and apps – The Times-Picayune‘s Sunday circulation was 121,126 during the first quarter of 2015, while The Advocate reported 133,599. Newspaper website metrics are represented in a wide variety of ways and tallied by a number of independent organizations, and are not always included in AAM reports.