The big media news of the day yesterday was the announcement that John and Dathel Georges, the owners of The Advocate, had purchased the New Orleans Times-Picayune. It’s news that shocked the Louisiana media world, and should shock the people of Louisiana.
With this purchase, The Advocate now controls print media in the state’s capitol and the state’s biggest city. They also have a bureau in Lafayette which just recently poached a huge chunk of staff from Gannett’s Daily Advertiser. This consolidation of print media under one banner in three of the most influential regions of the state bodes ill for state media.
The Times-Picayune is by no means a conservative outlet. Their conservative columnist was a less-talented Jen Rubin or Max Boot. Their reporting had at times just as much of a liberal bias as The Advocate‘s. But, they were competition. By sheer virtue of the fact that they were fighting over territory, they were each forced to put up an effort to do better than the other, and try to create a better product. They didn’t always succeed, but the spirit of competition forced them to try.
That is inherently good, and it is inherently conservative to wish for that kind of marketplace competition, even in our media.
But with the purchase of the Times-Picayune came the mass firing of its staff – not just reporters, but supposedly everyone from the editors on down. That appears to mean that the paper will be staffed by Advocate personnel, and they will have no major competition anymore. They won’t be forced to do better.
In Baton Rouge, they won’t have the Times-Picayune to compete with for major stories. They can report as they see fit (and they often see fit to publish little more than press releases for the Democrats and hit pieces on Republicans). Writers like Tyler Bridges will be the prominent voices covering the governor’s mansion. There will be no need to change their ways.
With The Advocate‘s consolidation of print media, they are going to make journalism in the state worse.
Gannett is by no means a perfect company, and there are people at The Advocate‘s bureaus that do good work. I am a fan of Jim Mustian, for example (and not just because we’re both graduates of the same journalism program, though it helps). At the Daily Advertiser, the staff has done a good job covering the diverse culture of Acadiana, and their recent hire of Brett Blackledge to lead the newsroom looks to be a good replacement for the previous newsroom leaders. Those at the Acadiana Advocate office who recently left the Advertiser, meanwhile, are solid.
Are there biases? Sure. Like I said, no newsroom is perfect. But these two papers have to compete to provide the best possible product. It also helps that Acadiana is decidedly more conservative than either Baton Rouge or New Orleans, and they can’t always get away with churning out party-line headlines.
The state still has Louisiana State Newspapers, a group of several small papers with a single owner. But, their newsrooms are shrinking and their pay is decreasing.
We have TV stations and radio stations that do a good job of putting out not just newscasts, but print stories on their websites.
We have other Gannett papers and local papers, but the Gannett papers are often the dominant forces in their own cities and have little competition, and the local papers are dying just as quickly as the LSN papers.
No one outside of Gannett has the strength of media in the state that the Georges do, and while the Georges have been aggressively expanding, Gannett has been plagued by cuts and poaching. The scales are tipping.
This is ultimately going to create a worse state of journalism for Louisiana, and it is going to result in one-sided coverage at the state capitol with little pushback from any other competitor. Unless Gannett were to see the business opportunity and put some reporters with a conservative bent on their state capitol team, there is simply no way anyone will be able to push back against the garbage that Bridges et al. will publish.
There are opportunities to compete, but the funding for such competition is scarce.