July 1, 2019

Two months ago, 161 employees of New Orleans’ Times-Picayune, also known as NOLA.com, were told they were being laid off.

Of the roughly 65 journalists who lost their jobs, 19 will remain as journalists in New Orleans, with 10 of them moving to The Advocate, our research found. Fourteen are leaving to practice journalism elsewhere.

“I would have loved to have been able to stay here, but I know I’ll write about New Orleans again one day,” said life and culture reporting fellow Laura Testino, who is leaving for a journalism job out of state. “The culture here is just really rich and I feel lucky any time I get to write about it.”

The Baton Rouge Advocate purchased the paper and its online presence in May, merging them into the New Orleans Advocate Times-Picayune. The Advocate also absorbed the alt-weekly The Gambit last year, leaving few print options for Times-Picayune reporters in search of a local job.

Six staffers are giving up journalism to stay in New Orleans, with three of them going into public relations.

“I’m a New Orleans native and planning to stay right here,” reporter Robert Rhoden said. “(But) after 40 years at the TP, I’m getting out of the newspaper business. It’s time for a change.”

In interviews conducted over the last week, more than half — 36 staffers — said they were definitely staying in journalism, although 19 were still looking for jobs. (Seven staffers did not respond to requests for comment.)

Peter Kovacs, editor at the Advocate, said about half the staffers at the rival paper either were not interested in the Advocate’s offers or did not ask for an interview at all. Almost no one agreed to take a job covering a different beat.

“A lot of talented people lost their jobs, some of whom we would have like to have had,” Kovacs said. He said the paper is still in negotiations with some staffers and may hire more.

Tim Morris, a Times-Picayune columnist, wrote in a Facebook post that the Advocate had offered lower pay and more entry-level jobs.

“I can only say that I did not consider ‘the offer’ made to me to be serious,” Morris wrote to Advocate owner John Georges, who commented on his post. “I’ve never owned or operated a business, but I would think that might explain why you received more rejections than you had expected.”

Columnist Jarvis DeBerry said he turned down the Advocate’s offer for several reasons, including doubts about their opinion content, business model, pay grade and the fact that they are owned by a politician. (Georges unsuccessfully ran for governor in 2007 and mayor of New Orleans in 2010. He has served on the Louisiana Board of Regents and is a commissioner of the New Orleans Public Belt Railroad.) He also said he felt a sense of “triumphalism” that “rubbed a lot of people completely the wrong way.”

“They seemed to think we would all be desperate for jobs,” DeBerry said. “It didn’t seem like there was a healthy respect for the people who were, like I said, just working hard.”

Most importantly, he said, he had been feeling restless and thinking about leaving New Orleans even before the May merger.

“Being in the same place for 22 years felt like a natural time to think about the future and what was next,” he said. “Honestly, I’m personally invested in people knowing that wherever I went to was my choice to go.”

Several Times-Picayune staffers declined to comment, citing a non-disparagement clause.

In the end, the Advocate hired 10 journalists, three of whom have salaries that are paid for by grants, Kovacs said. He said they also hired a dozen or so staffers from the non-editorial side.

Other staffers are leaving the Crescent City for The Wall Street Journal, Seattle Times, Tampa Bay Times, St. Louis Public Radio and other outlets around the country.

Some of the reporters who stayed found new jobs in national or broadcast outlets, like the USA Today network and the local WVUE Fox 8. Several reporters said they were staying in New Orleans but couldn’t publicly announce their new roles.

Food editor Ann Maloney, who is moving to The Advocate, said she was disappointed to see so many colleagues leave the city, but gratified to see them land good jobs. She said she credits the Times-Picayune’s experiments in digital with preparing its staff for transitions to non-print media.

“I look back with a lot of pride,” she said. “It was something to be a part of. It was a really grand experiment.”

More from Poynter: 

Clarification: This article has been updated to include information about Advocate owner John Georges’ political background and to clarify the role of The Gambit in the New Orleans news market. 

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