Granted, not everyone cares about the upcoming social season’s list of debutantes, but anyone who is interested in news and competition between the daily New Orleans Advocate and the thrice-weekly Times-Picayune should take note of what occurred in Sunday’s Advocate.
For years the revelation of the upcoming debs has been the privilege of the T-P with the announcement usually published in a Sunday paper in late summer. It was a section that society watchers would keep folded somewhere in the house to watch who was who, especially as the Carnival season, with its Queens and maids, unfolded. Yesterday, the Advocate took over that turf with a 20-page section titled “2014 Debutante Coterie.” The section featured photos and biographies of 64 debs. As the T-P had begun doing several years ago, the featured girls were both black and white. The lead article, for example, taking advantage of Fathers’ Day, was titled “Dads & Debs: Fathers and Grandfathers are the Quiet but Proud Presence Behind Young Women Presented to Society.” The featured pictures were racially balanced; Dr. Robert Newsome and his daughter Amanda and former Rex John Weinman and his granddaughter Nicole.
Bylined writing for the section was by Victor Andrews, a T-P vet who reportedly was key to pulling the section together, and veteran all-purpose freelancer, and another T-P vet, Stephanie Bruno. It says something for the strength of The Advocate’s society coverage bench that star Gal About Town, former T-P-er Nell Nolan, was able to watch approvingly from the sidelines.
Overall, the section, with its liberal use of color, was informed and nicely designed.
Deb coverage is clearly a niche but it is a niche that is more important in New Orleans than in most other cities. Good newspapers are a conglomerate of many niches. The Advocate showed it skills in an area that wins the hearts and minds of a readership segment that is generally well educated, committed to the city and affluent.
This is the Advocate’s second major deployment into the world of Carnival related coverage. During the past parade season the newspaper provided Carnival parade bulletins featuring illustrations of floats for certain parades. The bulletins brought back a long abandoned but historically appreciated tradition.
Meanwhile on the hard news side The Times-Picayune continues to have good reporters (aka "content providers") and good reporting, so too does The Advocate much of whose top-level talent once worked for the T-P.
Public disenchantment with that T-P is not because of its staff but because of its owners. One wonders what the intense competition among New Orleans newspapers looks like from Stephen Newhouse’s throne. Or if he even bothers to pay attention.        
BOOK ANNOUNCEMENT: Errol’s Laborde’s new book, Mardi Gras: Chronicles of the New Orleans Carnival (Pelican Publishing Company, 2013), has been released. It is now available at local bookstores and online