After years waiting, The Advocate swoops on The Daily Advertiser

The Daily Advertiser offices on Bertrand Drive. Billy Hathorn

THE LATEST: The Current confirmed Monday afternoon that Advertiser Sports Editor Kevin Foote, senior reporter Claire Taylor, staff writer Megan Wyatt and sports writer James Bewers resigned to take jobs with The Acadiana Advocate, joining News Director/Content Strategist Kristin Askelson, who left Friday. At least two more from the newsroom are mulling offers from The Acadiana Advocate. We’ll have more details later this week.

The gist: Over the last few days, The Advocate has pounced on The Daily Advertiser’s newsroom, multiple sources close to the two papers confirm, snatching up several reporters and a senior staffer in a coup that could cripple Lafayette’s flailing daily.

Some say The Advocate’s intent is a kill shot aimed to wipe out a weakened competitor in a flash. If successful, the plan will nearly obliterate The Advertiser’s skeletal newsroom staff and turn local print media upside down.

Our sources asked not to be identified because of the timing and sensitivity of this developing story.

What we know: News Director/Content Strategist Kristin Askelson resigned Friday, our sources say, for a position at The Acadiana Advocate. Askelson joined the Advertiser in mid-2010, according to her LinkedIn page. Reached by text early Saturday evening, she declined to comment for this story.

A group of reporters is said to be following Askelson this coming week. Columnist Jan Risher has already left the Advertiser, The Advocate announced Jan. 31. Her column, Long Story Short, which ran in the Advertiser for almost 17 years, is set to appear in tomorrow’s Acadiana Advocate.

The scope of The Advocate’s sweep could more than double its Acadiana Bureau news team — which currently consists of two writers, a business editor and a photographer.  

Advertiser Executive Editor James Flachsenhaar, a 20-year veteran of newspaper giant Gannett, the Advertiser’s parent company, accepted an early retirement buyout, the local paper announced Jan. 3. As part of that round of cuts, the latest in gutting measures that started years ago, Features Content Strategist Shari Puterman was let go, according to sources close to the two papers, who spoke on condition of anonymity.    

A new face — who lives all the way in Montgomery, Ala. The Advertiser announced Saturday that Bro Krift, executive editor of the Montgomery Advertiser, will take on additional duties as state editor for the Advertiser and Daily World in Opelousas. That appears to be a newly created position, at least as it relates to the Advertiser. Krift is the only senior editorial staffer in place after Askelson and Fachsenhaar’s departures. (We put in a call to the newsroom at the Montgomery Advertiser Saturday afternoon, hoping to reach Krift, but no one answered the phone.)

We were unable to confirm the remaining defections, which cover the news and sports departments, but insiders say the extent of the exodus should be known early next week. All of those involved are at-will employees, according to our sources, and are not contractually restricted from immediately working for a competitor.

The Advocate, which is based in Baton Rouge and also publishes in New Orleans, has long assumed a wait-and-see posture in Acadiana, as Gannett continues to shed jobs and disinvest in its newspaper properties nationwide. The Advocate, owned by millionaire businessman John Georges for the past six years, appears to have made its move on news that Gannett is now the target of a hostile takeover attempt by Digital First Media, which is primarily owned by a hedge fund known to make deep cuts to newspaper assets it acquires. (Two days after this story published, Gannett rejected Digital First’s unsolicited takeover offer, its flagship publication USA Today announced. We will update this story when and if Digital First responds.)

An opportunity for new life. For these employees, especially those wanting to stay in Acadiana, jumping ship offers a chance at a more certain future in a declining industry, as the privately held Advocate’s financial pressures are far different from those of a publicly traded corporate giant like Gannett. Digital First’s play sent shivers through Gannett newsrooms across the country when the story broke, and the hostile takeover bid appeared to get more serious Friday when The Wall Street Journal announced that investment bank Moelis & Co. had been hired to press the $1.4 billion bid. Digital First is also being advised by New York-based law firm Olshan Frome Wolosky LLP, according to the WSJ.

There is reasonable speculation that Judi Terzotis, who joined The Advocate as president a year ago as part of a management reorganization, is leading the charge here. Terzotis had worked for Gannett for 25 years and was president of its Gulf Region when her position was eliminated (one source says she was offered a transfer to another state) and she left for The Advocate. It’s likely Terzotis worked with nearly all of the employees The Advocate aims to recruit.

Terzotis, reached via text this afternoon, declined to comment at this time.

The outlook for the Advertiser has been (more) dire since the threat of Digital First surfaced, but if The Advocate has its way next week, the controversial hedge fund may just get to buy a paper that even it could not gut to this extent. — Additional reporting by Christiaan Mader