Rene Sanchez Named Editor of Louisiana Newspapers

From a story on headlined “The Times-Picayune, The Advocate announce new editor after Peter Kovacs retires”:

Rene Sanchez, a Louisiana native and award-winning journalist, will be the next editor of The Times-Picayune, The Advocate and The current editor, Peter Kovacs, who led the paper to an unprecedented expansion throughout southeast Louisiana and its first Pulitzer Prize, is retiring after nine years at the helm.

Sanchez, 56, is currently the editor of the Star Tribune in Minneapolis. He has led that newsroom for eight years and previously served as managing editor. During his tenure, he supervised an investigative report on child deaths in poorly regulated day care homes that won a Pulitzer Prize in 2013. The Star Tribune also won the Pulitzer Prize for Breaking News in 2021 for coverage of the murder of George Floyd and it has been named a Pulitzer finalist twice in the past five years for other local reporting.

Sanchez graduated from Holy Cross High School and Loyola University New Orleans.

His first job in journalism was as a clerk in the sports department of The Times-Picayune, sitting near Kovacs, who was the night city editor at the time. He left New Orleans after college to work at The Washington Post, where he spent 17 years as a local and national reporter, before joining The Star Tribune in the hometown of his wife, Kerri Westenberg, who has been the paper’s longtime travel editor.

Like the Advocate, which is owned by Dathel and John Georges, the Star Tribune has local ownership. Both newsrooms have large staffs for papers their size, and continue to publish a robust daily print edition even as they aggressively chart a digital future.

The Star Tribune is an industry leader in building a base of paid digital subscriptions. It has signed up more than 100,000 online subscribers over ten years. The Times-Picayune, The Advocate and, which began a digital subscription program less than three years ago, have more than a quarter of that number, and have been growing by about 100 subscribers a day in recent months.

Kovacs was ousted in 2012 as the managing editor of the Picayune when that paper’s New York-based owner slashed its weekly print publication to three days and laid off half its news staff. He and then-publisher Dan Shea, also a laid-off Picayune managing editor, spent the next half-decade building a powerful rival to the shrunken Picayune, The New Orleans Advocate.

The Advocate won the newspaper war when the Picayune’s owners sold to the Georges family in 2019. During that time, The Advocate expanded westward with the Acadiana Advocate, and built as a state-wide news brand.

Two weeks before the acquisition was announced, The Advocate won its first Pulitzer Prize for coverage of Louisiana’s unique laws that allowed for criminal convictions by divided juries. Voters abolished the practice in 2018.

Building on that success, the company launched a fundraising drive to underwrite investigative journalism, fulfilled its $1.5 million goal in 2021 — with support from the Ford Foundation — and doubled the size of its investigative staff. The newspaper also raised money for enhanced environmental coverage from the Walton Foundation.

“At a time of shrinking newsrooms, Peter was able to assemble a team that won a Pulitzer Prize,” John Georges said. “It gives me added pleasure that while searching for a new editor, we were able to find a Louisiana native and Saints fan.”

Kovacs said his nine years as editor have been “the most rewarding chapter of my professional life,” but he will make 66 this month and “I wanted to step away when our company is strong and stable, which it is now.”

Georges and Publisher Judi Terzotis said they were attracted to Sanchez by his unwavering commitment to traditional print journalism while at the same time leading a dramatic expansion of the Star Tribune’s digital reach….

Sanchez will begin work this spring while Kovacs will stay on for a year as a consultant and advisor. Sanchez and Westenberg have a daughter who is a sophomore at Tulane University and his parents live in River Ridge.

“It’s very meaningful to me to come home and join this team,” he said. “The work of the Advocate and Times-Picayune journalists, the vision for growth that John and Judi have, make this one of the most inspiring stories in local journalism. I want to devote myself to that mission.”


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