Citing The Advocate’s extraordinary coverage of a harrowing summer in Louisiana, the National Press Foundation on Monday named the newspaper’s editor Peter Kovacs as editor of the year.
In winning the award, Kovacs joins a list of celebrated editors including Paul Steiger of The Wall Street Journal, Len Downie of the Washington Post, and Marty Baron, whose role as investigative leader of the Boston Globe was chronicled in the Academy Award-winning motion picture "Spotlight."
The Advocate’s newsroom has been challenged by a series of tragedies that began on the morning of July 5, when Baton Rouge police officers shot and killed a man in an incident captured by two video cameras. Although police say the man was armed, the shooting of a black man by a white officer sparked tense demonstrations in Baton Rouge and around the nation. Twelve days later, a Kansas City man bent on revenge shot six local law enforcement officers, killing three.
Four weeks after that, the area suffered through days of devastating flooding, which is estimated to have impacted a quarter of the structures in Baton Rouge and surrounding parishes. The damage is still being tallied, but the flooding ranks as the costliest natural disaster since Sandy assaulted New York and New Jersey. The newspaper published forceful editorials scolding President Obama for failing to come see the damage, and the president arrived soon after and supported an emergency appropriation of more than $400 million to begin aiding homeowners.
“Peter Kovacs has demonstrated great leadership in extremely challenging times,” the foundation said in making the award.
The award is named for Ben Bradlee, who led the Washington Post newsroom as it unraveled the Watergate scandal, which led to the resignation of Richard Nixon. Kovacs became only the second Louisiana winner; Jim Amoss of The Times-Picayune won in 1996. The award comes with a $5,000 prize, which Kovacs says he is donating to flood relief.
Kovacs joined The Advocate in 2013, when the newspaper was purchased by Dathel and John Georges. He and Dan Shea, who is publisher of The Advocate, had served as managing editors at The Times-Picayune. The Advocate moved aggressively into New Orleans, aiming to fill the void left by The Times-Picayune owners’ decision to abandon daily publication to save money and concentrate on their website.
The Advocate publishes separate daily newspapers for Baton Rouge, New Orleans, and Acadiana. At a time when most newspapers are retreating, The Advocate grew and overtook The Times-Picayune as Louisiana’s largest.
“The Advocate is owned by a fearless and dedicated Louisiana family, and we have a terrific publisher and a talented staff,” Kovacs said. “But our chief asset is our readers and advertisers, who believe as we do that great news coverage is vital to building informed, prosperous communities.”
The National Press Foundation is an independent nonprofit, run by and for journalists, whose role is to train practicing journalists. The foundation established the Editor of the Year Award in 1984 to recognize significant achievements that enhance the quality of journalism in the United States.
Kovacs said he learned of the award in a phone call Thursday, when he was invited to receive the honor in Washington Feb. 16.
“First thing I did was make sure the date didn’t conflict with Mardi Gras,” he said.