Two months after Hurricane Katrina devastated New Orleans, the city’s alt-weekly is hitting the streets with a new issue. Given that those streets are still dominated by trash, debris and discarded refrigerators, Gambit’s speedy return feels like a triumph.
“We weren’t sure when the city was coming back, but we knew that it was definitely coming back, and we wanted to be a part of whatever the city was going to be,” says Gambit publisher Margo DuBos. “We also wanted to be available for businesses as they came back.”
The Nov. 1 issue comprises 64 pages, significantly larger than DuBos’ initial goal of 40 pages (and not too much smaller than the pre-Katrina average of 80 pages). Twenty-five thousand copies were distributed, half of a typical pre-Katrina run, primarily at re-opened businesses in the Uptown area and the Jefferson Parish and St. Tammany Parish suburbs.
Gambit’s Editorial and Operations Staff: Rebecca Thiel, David Lee Simmons, Kandace Graves, and Clancy DuBos
The staff is still working from a temporary location in Jefferson Parish while their flooded Mid-City office is being gutted and restored. Setting up a workspace in the damaged region created technological difficulties, DuBos says. Until a week ago, Gambit staffers were checking e-mail at a neighboring computer training center, where they could receive but not send messages.
“We sold the whole paper by cell phone,” DuBos says. “The response was great, which doesn’t always translate into dollars spent, but this time it did. Some businesses just want to let people know that they’re open.”
The paper has also been challenged by the loss of staff members who evacuated and then moved on, including long-time editor Michael Tisserand, who plans to move to Chicago where his wife, a pediatrician, found a position. Co-owner and political columnist Clancy DuBos is serving as interim editor. Tisserand has been writing a series about his evacuee experience for AAN’s AltWeeklies.com Web site and will continue to contribute to the Gambit as a freelancer.
Shala Carlson, the former managing editor who worked for AAN for two days before deciding to return to Louisiana, is residing in Opelousas, La., her hometown. Eric Coleman, the classified sales director, is now working for the Memphis Flyer. Staff Writer Katy Reckdahl, who recounted her experience giving birth and being stranded in the flood for City Pages (Twin Cities), has relocated to Arizona. And Lynda Martin, a senior account executive who had been with Gambit for 15 years, is now job-hunting in Miami.
Gambit’s Advertising Staff: Sandy Stein, Jeanne Exnicious Foster, Margo DuBos, Gisele Cosma, and Chelle Grantham
However, other crucial staff members did return, including Art Director Dora Sison, Sales and Development Director Sandy Stein and Administrative Director Mark Karcher. In all, Gambit has shrunk from 52 to 22 full-time employees. The majority of the 30 separated employees have not returned to New Orleans, but there are a few living in the city whom Gambit has not yet been able to hire back for financial reasons, Karcher says.
The comeback issue’s cover story is the first installment in a three-part series titled “The Road Back,” which focuses on New Orleans’ priorities for regrowth. Community leaders were asked to answer three questions: What should New Orleans’ priorities be? What elements of New Orleans must be preserved at all costs? What mistakes must be avoided at all costs?
The issue also includes an editorial in praise of those who have begun rebuilding, columns from regular contributors and even event listings. In addition, Arts & Entertainment Editor David Lee Simmons is contributing a new column on offbeat DVD releases. Simmons’ column will be available for distribution through AltWeeklies.com or in advance by e-mail.
Gambit’s Business and Production Staff: Gary DiGiovanni, Sherie Delacroix, Dora Sison, Amy Berger, and Joaquin Greene
Margo DuBos thanks AAN members for playing a part in Gambit’s successful return through donations to the Gambit Relief Fund. “We are grateful beyond words for the outpouring of offers and assistance that our employees and our company received as a result of this catastrophe,” says DuBos. “The Association of Alternative Newsweeklies, its staff and member papers will always have a special place in our hearts, and for the rest of our lives we will owe them a great debt of gratitude. We could not have come back without them.”
As the topic of the new issue demonstrates, the Gambit staff is focused on the future. “The first issue is one thing, but then we’ve got to get through issue two, issue three,” Margo DuBos says. “Our challenge is to sustain the level of business that we need.”