Newspaper Carnival Coverage: How "The Advocate" Won

For most of its existence The Times-Picayune has not only covered Carnival in New Orleans, it has been a part of how the season operates. In addition to the expected photo coverage and news features, its society pages chronicled the debutante scene and visited the balls. Mardi Gras morning began with locals picking up their home delivered newspaper to discover the identity of Rex and his Queen. The T-P was the journal of Mardi Gras.

Not any more. This was the year that The New Orleans Advocate claimed the throne. Beyond its inherent advantage of seven-day home delivery the Advocate threw bigger beads. Two people whose names are associated with Carnival were part of the coverage; society columnist Nell Nolan and Mardi Gras Guide publisher Arthur Hardy who provided daily commentaries as the parade season began. Nolan, herself a part of the city’s social scene, is the ultimate insider.

Those moves gave the upstart Advocate some name identity in covering the definitive local event. During the last week of Carnival, the newspaper made another move which was even bigger and positioned it not just as a competitor but as a major player in the Mardi Gras season: Inserted into the newspaper were “parade bulletins,” beautifully done double-page pullout sheets showing color illustrations of floats for particular parades.

Parade bulletins were once a standard practice but died out during the 1940s. They are important because they allow parade-goers to judge krewes by more than just the quantity of throws. For some krewes there is little else to offer, but other krewes work hard at design and presentation. The bulletins, by their presence, could help encourage more quality in float design and certainly are critical to studying Carnival history. They are keepsakes that will be examined a century from now. Few newspapers can offer so much.

Coverage by NOLA.com/The Times-Picayune was competent. The website was able to provide instant pictures; its society staff kept up with the balls and the feature page had stories to tell. But the king had fallen off the mountain. An indication of the diminished role that the Newhouses have carved out for its prized newspaper is that because there is no longer a Tuesday, hence Mardi Gras, T-P the identity of Rex and his Queen is now announced on the front page of the paper on Sunday, but no longer exclusively. The Advocate had the story also.

Meanwhile Advocate owner John Georges tied Ray Nagin (though in a more favorable context) for being the being the most satirized local person in parades. Images of Georges towered in Chaos, Muses and Le Krewe D’Etat, most often depicting him as a man with high speed ambition.

That ambition paid off with the Advocate’s coverage. Truth is, if a newspaper wants to be the voice of the season it has to publish on Mardi Gras. The only way that the Newhouse plan will ever accommodate that is if Fat Tuesday is moved to a Wednesday, Friday or Sunday.

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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.

WATCH "INFORMED SOURCES," FRIDAYS  AT 7 P.M., REPEATED AT 11:30 P.M. WYES-TV, CH. 12.

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