Veteran Times-Picayune music writer Keith Spera is among four journalists moving to The New Orleans Advocate as the news organization continues to enhance its coverage of the city’s unique local culture.
They join more than two dozen former Times-Picayune writers, editors and photographers who have jumped to The Advocate since 2012, when The Times-Picayune announced deep layoffs and slashed its home delivery to three days a week.
The media outlet has since announced it is shuttering its longtime Howard Avenue office and will print the paper in Mobile, Alabama. It also has conducted two additional layoffs, the latest last month.
In addition to Spera, Dan Swenson joins the newspaper as graphics editor and Karen Taylor Gist as community news editor. Alison Fensterstock, who covered the local music scene for The Times-Picayune for the past three years, will work alongside Spera as a contributing music writer.
The end of daily publication at The Times-Picayune sparked a communitywide backlash and prompted The Advocate to launch a New Orleans edition. John and Dathel Georges bought the paper in 2013 and have invested heavily to build a newsroom filled with familiar names.
“It’s an honor to have these great journalists join our staff as we continue to grow and provide a great city with the great daily newspaper it deserves,” Advocate Editor Peter Kovacs said.
Spera, a native of New Orleans, grew up listening to his father spin classic Fats Domino and Irma Thomas records. After graduating from Brother Martin High School, he earned a political science degree from Texas A&M University.
Returning to New Orleans, he became editor of the monthly entertainment magazine OffBeat. In 1996, he joined The Times-Picayune to cover music.
He has interviewed dozens of marquee entertainers, including Billy Joel, Jerry Seinfeld, Ozzy Osbourne, Aretha Franklin, Keith Urban, Tim McGraw, Faith Hill, Frankie Beverly, Bill Maher, Charlie Wilson, Dave Grohl, Steven Tyler, Jill Scott and U2’s The Edge, as well as scores of prominent and more eclectic local musicians. He has spent more than 150 days at the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival.
Along the way, he won numerous regional and national awards and was a member of The Times-Picayune’s Pulitzer Prize-winning Hurricane Katrina coverage team.
His acclaimed book “Groove Interrupted: Loss, Renewal and the Music of New Orleans,” published in 2011 by St. Martin’s Press, chronicled the efforts of various musicians, ranging from Domino to Pete Fountain to the rapper Mystikal, to overcome adversity in the storm’s aftermath.
He also has documented his misadventures as the married father of three young children via a popular humor column, which he will continue in The New Orleans Advocate.
“I am excited for the opportunity to continue to write about New Orleans music, life and culture,” Spera said, “and thrilled to be reunited with so many old friends and former colleagues.” He will join the staff Nov. 30.
Swenson was with The Times-Picayune for 17 years, most recently as graphics producer. He is probably best known for his interactive Katrina flooding graphics and his work on the Gulf oil spill and land loss/restoration maps. During his career, Swenson has racked up a long list of awards, including two Pulitzer Prizes for Hurricane Katrina coverage and a Peabody Award.
Before moving to New Orleans, Swenson worked for The Chicago-Tribune and the Lexington Herald-Leader. He graduated from Ball State University in 1995 with a major in journalism.
Taylor Gist will take over the newspaper’s community news sections, covering St. Tammany, Orleans, Jefferson and the River Parishes.
Gist replaces Sharon Edwards, who is retiring but will continue to write her weekly column in the St. Tammany Advocate.
Another longtime Times-Picayune writer and editor, Gist covered many facets of local culture, including entertainment, fashion and home trends. Among her many posts, Taylor Gist served as entertainment editor for 10 years.
Spera, Swenson, Taylor and Fensterstock join recent arrival Jessica Williams, who left The Times-Picayune last month and is now covering New Orleans politics and government.