A newspaper newsroom is a perfect setting to have a large cast of characters reel off entertaining stories, banter and butt heads and delve into personal and professional intrigue. In Jim Fitzmorris’ A Truckload of Ink, the reporters’ and editors’ routine is upstaged when they are blindsided by the biggest story of the day: the drastic reduction of their own paper’s publishing and operations.
In the boisterous first half of Act 1, retiring editor Fintan (Bob Edes Jr.) regales reporters with a war story and shares a bottle of whiskey on his last day in the office. There are as many as 13 characters onstage as the younger reporters, most played by NOLA Project members, listen with one ear, attend to stories breaking at City Hall and chide their beloved colleague. There’s an air of nostalgia in Fintain’s tale as he talks about an era when public drunkenness wouldn’t necessarily disqualify a candidate for public office. Young political reporter Billie (Natalie Boyd) objects to traces of old-world political incorrectness, society pages writer Beatrice Bell (Leslie Castay) recalls one candidate’s cheap cologne, and contentious political columnist Bevin (A.J. Allegra) calls Fintan an old blowhard. Director Beau Bratcher so ably orchestrates the blitz of crosstalk, competing conversations and interruptions that at times it seems too quiet when everyone is listing to one speaker. Even though there are 14 characters, there is a clear sense of most of their personalities and how the changes affect them, and the entire cast helps make the workplace chaos convincing.
The New Orleans Advocate, which expanded from Baton Rouge into the New Orleans market 11 months ago, is now the official newspaper of the New Orleans Saints and New Orleans Pelicans, Advocate owner John Georges announced tonight at a reception at the Superdome, along with Tom Benson, owner of the Saints and Pelicans, and Saints co-owner Rita Benson LeBlanc.
The deal does not extend to naming rights to the New Orleans Arena, though Georges said there would be plenty of Advocate signage in the city's Superdome/Arena sports complex.
The partnership between two of New Orleans' wealthiest and most influential families drew a crowd of several hundred business leaders and politicos to the Bienville Club Lounge on the third floor of the Superdome, including most of the New Orleans City Council and Jefferson Parish President John Young, as well as Benson's wife Gayle and Georges' wife Dathel.
Most of The Advocate's New Orleans editorial staff was on hand as well, though editor Peter Kovacs said the newspaper and sports teams' partnership would not extend to editorial in any way, but simply be a marketing and promotional tool for both entities.
(Editorial will be involved in one immediate way; The Advocate plans to print a commemorative broadsheet edition this Sunday to mark the Saints' season opener against the Atlanta Falcons, and the paper's New Orleans staff has been told to show up at the Dome Saturday night so they can personally tuck 70,000 copies of the paper in the seats.)
After going to thrice-weekly publication last fall as part of its move to a "digital newsroom" (and later adding a Monday sports tabloid during New Orleans Saints football season and a early-Sunday "bulldog" edition in the subsequent months), NOLA Media Group announced in April it would return to printing a news product on the days that The Times-Picayune was not printed.
That tabloid print product, which was named "TP Street," was largely greeted with dismay in the newsroom and confusion and derision elsewhere, due in part to publisher Ricky Mathews' spin on the tabloid. Mathews had called TP Street "the latest milestone in our evolution as a multimedia news organization," when it was clear that the move was a retreat to daily printing.
Adding to the confusion was NOLA Media Group's statement that TP Street was a response to subscribers' demand for a paper — but TP Street would not be delivered to subscribers, but available only on news racks for an additional price. (The final version of TP Street will carry The Times-Picayune's familiar "flag," or front-page logo.)
That non-delivery plan, Gambit learned several weeks ago, has also been reconsidered as NOLA Media Group pondered the possibility of returning to daily delivery of a daily print product with the name Times-Picayune, effectively positioning the physical paper where it was a year ago before the "digital transition" — albeit a physical paper with a severely damaged brand and new competition in the form of The Advocate's New Orleans edition.
Amoss' memo to his staff below the jump.
Longtime New Orleans political columnist Stephanie Grace and Times-Picayune reporter Laura Maggi are the latest names to join the New Orleans edition of The Advocate.
Grace, who declined a job offer from The TImes-Picayune last year following the paper's restructuring, will return to print three times weekly with a column that will appear Tuesdays, Fridays and Sundays. (Most recently, she has written a series of cover stories as a contributor to Gambit.) Last week, James Gill, another veteran T-P columnist, jumped to The Advocate, where his column appears twice weekly.
"I'm back to doing what I always did — writing about local and state politics — and really excited to be part of the conversation in Baton Rouge," Grace told Gambit this morning. "I'm picking up where I left off, and surrounded by some of my favorite people who happen to be great journalists."
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 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."
Gambit editor Kevin Allman appeared on last night's Informed Sources on WYES-TV to discuss this week's tumult and realignment in the local media world with The Times-Picayune and The Advocate. The panel included host Larry Lorenz, producer Errol Laborde, reporter Dawn Ostrom and WWL-TV investigative reporter David Hammer.
The show isn't embeddable, but you can watch here.
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