James Gill, whose acerbic wit and incisive columns about Louisiana politics and peccadillos have appeared in The Times-Picayune since 1986, is the latest T-P name to jump ship to The Advocate.
"It's very hard to make out a quote, because quotes are all bullshit," Gill told Gambit tonight. "But I am delighted to go to the highest bidder, I am happy to be renewing my association with [former Times-Picayune managing editor, now Advocate editor] Peter Kovacs — and I am delighted we have a newspaper war again after so many years."
Gill took a buyout from the Picayune in late 2009 and almost immediately signed a freelance agreement to continue his elegant-but-pugnacious column on the paper's op-ed page. Since then, he and his wife Gail have split their time between New Orleans and Gill's native England.
In 1997, Gill wrote Lords of Misrule, a book that traced the intersections between the history of New Orleans and the history of Mardi Gras Carnival krewes.
Last January, Gill wrote about the news that businessman John Georges was interested in buying The Advocate:
The Picayune, after publishing a daily since 1837, was bound to be missed, and the Advocate's owners did not neglect the opportunity to pick up the slack. They launched a New Orleans edition, which they say is selling respectably.
That just goes to show that a lot of people really do like a paper in their hands every morning, because The Advocate's New Orleans edition cannot hold a candle to the Picayune. This is not a knock on the ex-Picayune staffers who make up its New Orleans bureau; it doesn't matter how brilliant they are, because we still have them hopelessly outnumbered.
With Gill jumping ship, that number was just reduced by one, and more are expected to follow this week.
Since launching its New Orleans edition last October, The Advocate has not provided the city with a dedicated opinion and editorial page; the majority of the letters published are from The Advocate's Baton Rouge market, and the paper has not had a dedicated New Orleans editorial columnist — one of The Times-Picayune's traditional, and continuing, strengths. Gill's hire indicates a change in strategy for the op-ed page, though the paper still lags on many traditional daily paper staples for the New Orleans market: obituaries, wedding announcements and a strong daily arts section — not to mention wall-to-wall coverage of the New Orleans Saints. Georges has indicated that one of his next moves will be to provide local print obituaries in New Orleans.
The open question now — and one that's being asked in both The Times-Picayune and Advocate New Orleans newsrooms — is whether Advocate executives will be satisfied for now with Gill and a couple more names who are poised to defect, or whether there's been a shift in strategy in recent days and The Advocate will continue to plunder the T-P newsroom.
Those are certain to be topics on Thursday and Friday's editions of The 504, the new WWL/WUPL-TV talk show hosted by Melanie Hebert weeknights at 9 p.m. on WUPL-TV. NOLA Media Group vice president of content Jim Amoss is scheduled to appear Friday, while Advocate general manager Dan Shea, and possibly Kovacs, are set for Thursday's show.
Hebert dismissed rumors that the two-night booking was due to the fact the men did not want to appear together on one panel. The Advocate editors were booked first, she told Gambit tonight, while Amoss was invited to come on with the option of joining the Thursday show or making a separate appearance on Friday. "Jim said he would prefer to come on separately," Hebert said.