The Advocate’s swanky St. Charles Avenue offices focus on newsgathering, technology, history, convenience and community.
A library of recent issues of The Advocate is housed against an exposed brick wall in the space between sales and marketing and the newsroom.
Sara Essex Bradley
Despite this being 2017 and things such as smoking and drinking being frowned upon in the workplace, when most of us think of a newspaper newsroom we get the mental image of a smoky space filled with reporters talking fast and typing faster over the din of chatter, ringing phones, typewriters and slamming doors.
While The Advocate, along with other newspapers, no longer employs the use of typewriters or allows smoking in the newsroom, there is a nod to this homage of newspapers past in the lobby of the paper’s new Central Business District offices.
In the reception area, visitors are greeted by a retro cigarette machine sculpture by Memphis artist Kim Wilson. The sculpture is not only a fitting reminder of the long-gone days of smoking in offices and newsrooms, but also, in terms of design, appropriate to the architecture of the building.
The Advocate is housed in a circa-1949, midcentury modern building designed by notable Louisiana firm Curtis and Davis Architects, known by many for the Angola State Prison, the Mercedes-Benz Superdome and the recently-restored main branch of the New Orleans Public Library in Mid-City. The former Klein Motors car dealership and later Michaul’s Cajun Dance Hall, became the home of The Advocate early this year. The space is designed to grow along with the newspaper and serve as a gathering place for the community.
“The building itself is three times bigger than we needed,” says CEO John Georges. “We bought it with a different need in mind and my wife Dathel suggested, ‘Why don’t we put The Advocate here and we can put our offices here?’”
Upon entering the building, visitors can hang a right into the lobby and reception area, which filters into the newsroom, or go straight past a mural of City Park toward the assembly hall. The front of the building facing St. Charles Avenue features an expanse of glass windows, as does a wall separating that area from the newsroom, allowing passersby to see straight through where the reporters and editors are doing their work.
“It’s important to me that my reporters remember to remain in service to this community in all of its horribleness and wonderfulness,” says Martha Carr, managing editor. “It’s important to ride the streetcar and walk up to Lee Circle and watch the monument come down. You don’t want to be too comfortable. Being an accessible, visible part of the community was something we were all hoping to establish.”
The layout of the newsroom is traditional, with low-slung cubicles and reporters with similar beats grouped together, but large-scale murals depicting the history of newspapers in New Orleans, as well as exposed brick and a variety of lighting — rather than just fluorescent — distinguish it from its counterparts.
Carr says the configuration of the space was based on historic photos of a New Orleans newsroom that no longer exists. In the photo, there were wooden desks with lamps hung above each one. Carr shared the photos with Dathel Colemen Georges, who, along with interior designer Jeanne Barousse, designed the space.
A row of vintage-style copper pendant lamps runs along the left-hand wall of the room, as a nod to the past and that long ago shuttered newspaper depicted in the photo.
A low, removable barrier separates the sales and marketing departments from the newsroom. High-top work tables are situated near shelving against the exposed brick wall in the back, right hand side of the room. Recent copies of the paper are stored on the shelves. Monitors with a constant stream of news, and others showing web traffic numbers for stories and blogs, are placed throughout the room. An area in the right front of the room is outfitted with video equipment for broadcasting, with offices and conference rooms lining the perimeter, as well as restrooms and a break room.
Georges and Carr both say everything was designed with convenience in mind, so ground level parking — along with access to the break room and restrooms from the newsroom — were top priorities. Natural light and a variety of spaces to work, read or take a break were also important.
“They can have coffee, lunch or read on the outdoor deck,” says Georges about the second floor terrace. “It’s accessible to everyone in the company. A coffee shop is still in the works.”
The event spaces include the terrace; an open reception area on the second floor (and its conference room); plus the downstairs assembly hall, lobby and reception area; and the parking lot, which can be tented off and used as an outdoor space. Collectively, the indoor spaces can accommodate up to 1,500 people and outside holds 1,000 or more.
State-of-the-art fiber optic video conferencing capabilities make it easy to work closely with the Baton Rouge, St. Tammany and soon-to-launch Washington D.C. bureaus and TV partners. With all of the technology, high-design, amenities and convenience however, there is an overarching notion that sticks with Carr who says, “If anything, a beautiful workspace makes you feel appreciated.”
Georges is enthusiastic about the building’s potential.
“The newspaper can be an intimidating environment,” he says. “We are surrounded by a lot of public space. There will be corporate events. There will be nonprofit events, and we’ll have our events. It’s a little bit of everything.”