Media: Decline and Fall of the ‘Times-Picayune’

For all the ink spilled (sorry, bits uploaded) about the demoting of Ann Curry over at the Today show and whether or not David Gregory was in or out at Meet the Press, the most dramatic story in American media right now is still happening in New Orleans. The city’s daily newspaper, the Times-Picayune, has a 175-year history. It was just about the only institution that managed to function during and just after Katrina. Even after the kind of budget cuts that small-minded owners in smaller media markets are so enamored of (“More With Less“), they were still putting out the kind of very strong investigative pieces that civic government needs to watchdog it.

Then came the news that the Times-Picayune owners were cutting back to three days a week. So, more layoffs. But no worries, the owners said, because our “enhanced” website is going to keep operating. One soon-to-be-laid-off reporter had an opinion on how that’s going to work and laid it out in a letter to the management:

I take a lot of pride in my work, even after I’ve been fired and told my experience, skills, and talents are of no use after Sept. 30. I know that I am good at what I do. But compared to other news outlets, our website is a joke. We break news – but no one would know because of the worst news website known to man and the priority setting – whoever is doing it, is totally ####. Embarrassing, compared to TV. And yet we are focused on digital now? Enhanced? Who is buying this crap?

Sad as this is, it does appear irreversible for the time being. For right now, New Orleans will be the only major American city without a daily print newspaper. It will not be the last. That means going forward, stories like this one will most likely not be uncovered. And the guilty will run free.

2 thoughts on “Media: Decline and Fall of the ‘Times-Picayune’

  1. Hell-Mikey

    I’m a fan of newspapers. I’m a subscriber. But because I actually read them every day, I’m left wondering what the move away from daily print publication means for real reporting. The big stories that my paper carries can still get reported, there’s just less room for the wire service copy and for the nattering of the columnists, which really should move online.

    And no, this doesn’t recognize the business realities and how much you can get for a paper ad versus an online ad. It doesn’t come to terms with what the extensive newsroom firings have already meant to my daily fishwrap. But those are the compelling arguments to make to me, not the “Hey, we need a daily” that’s been the focus of so much of the commentary.

    I want the paper back because I’m an old fashioned guy, and because I recognize what good journalists can do (your decision on whether that’s a noun or adjective). I cringe when reporters report on reporters.

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  2. With very few exceptions, the move from print to online just about always seems an excuse to reduce staff, resulting in fewer reporters and less original reporting. There are exceptions, of course, like Politico, which was always primarily online and now seems to be increasing their print circulation (moving into New York instead of being just D.C.).

    Real reporting still happens, but it is increasingly moving away from a daily deadline entity to more a creature of the long-form magazine piece. All well and good, but we’re obviously going to lose something the fewer staff beat reporters there are out there covering the same people and places every day of the week.

    Just having a newspaper that comes out every day is not in itself a compelling reason to do so. Having a staffed-up newsroom is the issue here, otherwise there will be a severe watchdog gap. Bloggers are not going to be covering City Hall and the police beat. In short, we need more ink-stained wretches out there keeping an eye peeled.

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