by Kevin Allman
Since New Orleans businessman John Georges bought The Advocate just a week ago, things have been moving quickly. Georges installed former T-P managing editors Peter Kovacs and Dan Shea as editor and general manager, and there was word that The Advocate's Baronne Street offices were adding several additional parking spaces immediately. It was a poorly kept secret that the paper had been talking to T-P city editor Gordon Russell, and only a slightly better kept secret that The Advocate was also interested in Martha Carr, a veteran of the city desk known as a meticulous editor.
"If Gordon and Martha go," a city reporter told Gambit Saturday night, "we all go."
And that's what seems to be happening. This morning Kovacs announced that Russell would be joining the New Orleans Advocate (not the New Orleans bureau of The Advocate, but "the New Orleans Advocate", a change in terminology). Also leaving the T-P: city reporters Claire Galofaro and Andrew Vanacore. (Former T-P staffer Sara Pagones, who had been helming the New Orleans bureau since it launched last fall, will now be St. Tammany bureau chief.) Russell becomes The Advocate's managing editor for investigations, while Carr will be the New Orleans paper's managing editor.
Kovacs told Gambit this morning that he didn't have a precise date for when their bylines might start appearing in The Advocate. "I think our goal is in the very near future," he said. "Things are moving very quickly and I would hope we would start seeing them in the next week or so. It’s a ramp-up process." Beyond that, he had little to say when asked about a redesign of the paper (rumored to be scheduled for late summer) and a possible web redesign. "We have lots of plans to improve the paper," Kovacs said. "I’m not going into which they are and when they’re coming."
Will there be a renewed subscription push in New Orleans? The Advocate's announcement of the new hires said that current New Orleans subscriptions total "about 20,000" (former publisher David Manship had told Gambit several months ago the number was closer to 18,000, but combined subscriptions and newsstand copies totaled about 23,000). "I'm not really in a position to discuss the business strategy of the place," Kovacs said.
Despite what's been considered a circulation success, The Advocate's New Orleans edition is still missing many of the elements that comprise a traditional city daily. The arts and entertainment section remains the same for Baton Rouge and New Orleans (though it's added a Thursday entertainment tabloid, Beaucoup). The editorial pages (which run in both editions) are still Baton Rouge-focused, and obituaries, wedding announcements and social coverage are firmly focused on Red Stick, not the Crescent City. Those things are expected to change soon in the New Orleans edition, Georges told Gambit last week.
Yet to be seen is whether The Advocate will begin to master social media, or even make a stab at doing so. Its New Orleans Twitter page (as of this afternoon) had only 500 followers and was updated infrequently; The Times-Picayune's Twitter feed, @nolanews, has more than 50,000 followers and is regularly updated throughout the day.
Kovacs would offer no timetable or hint at the paper's business strategy. "We’re going to improve it a piece at a time," he said. But the shock-and-awe hiring of Russell, Carr, Galofaro and Vanacore make it clear that the plan is aggressive, and calls to mind the famous line from Viva Zapata!: "Cut off the head of the snake and the body will die."