Sometime today, the process will finally begin to turn The Times-Picayune, the only daily newspaper in New Orleans, into a three-days-a-week newspaper – thereby giving New Orleans the title of “Biggest American City Without a Daily Newspaper.” The editors will meet with their various staff members and begin to process of separating the ones getting severance offers or their outright release from the staff members who would be offered positions within the newly-formed NOLA Media Group, which would run the Times-Picayune in its new Wednesday/Friday/Sunday format as well as their online partner, NOLA(dot)com. This process is happening under the cloud of major opposition from the community the Times-Pic serves, which has begun campaigns to Save the Picayune both online and out in the streets with protests, sign-up campaigns and pledges from the business community.
It’s unfortunate that, despite the fact that the community is so overwhelmingly in favor of maintaining its only daily newspaper as it is, the paper’s owners, Newhouse/Advance Publications, are set on making their changes a reality. But just in case, there’s any doubts as to why it’s a really bad idea, let me present three simple reasons:
1. New Orleans Isn’t As Online Ready
The idea behind the change is that, as the newspaper industry is pushed by online pressures around the nation, most readers will choose to get their news from the website version, which will be constantly updated with breaking news and pieces. This format may work for many cities like New York, San Francisco and Chicago, which have a wide variety of news options and are interconnected to the hilt. New Orleans, however, is different.
Don’t get me wrong: there are many sections in New Orleans that are well-connected to the Internet: Downtown, the CBD, Uptown around the campuses of Tulane and Loyola universities. But many parts of the city are still spotty, at best, in terms of their connectivity and I’m not just talking about the Lower Ninth or the poorer sections of the city. Even Uptown and around the Garden District, you can struggle to get a good signal. That’s due to the geography and the architecture of the city. Signals bounce around the old buildings. There was once an idea to make New Orleans the first city to have free Wi-Fi across it, but like so many promises, it never materialized.
Furthermore, you have to consider the cost. Yes, the online version may be provided “free of charge” but in order to access it, you must obtain access to the Internet and an instrument in which to read the website – i.e. a data plan and a tablet/phone, a home Internet connection and a computer. Even if you have free Internet access and computers at a library, it means getting on a car or a bus and taking a ride out to it. So what’s cheaper to someone, a $0.75 daily newspaper or a “free” phone with a $30 data plan?
2. New Orleans Still Gets Its News In Print
For many folks in New Orleans, the way they get their news is by the traditional media methods: print, radio and TV. It isn’t just a question of cost. It’s a choice. It’s part of the way they live their every day and they like their methods. The oft-quoted example is of senior citizens who find out about the passing of acquaintances in the daily list of obituaries. And it’s often mentioned because it’s true. In a city where people have built lifelong connections to their communities and neighborhoods, The Times-Pic is often the fastest way of finding out news of that nature. A three-days-a-week paper would curtail the speed of those news.
Consider also the sports fan who follows their Saints, the Hornets, LSU or any of the local high school, college or professional teams. For them. the Monday edition during Saints season is sacred. They pore over the news and opinions and stats. Go back to 2009 during the Saints’ Super Bowl run and you’ll see or read stories on how the Times-Picayune kept having to reprint their editions because fans kept scooping them up to keep as mementos. I’m one of those who has the famous “AMEN!” Times-Pic somewhere safe to get framed. That link would be severed if the newspaper is printing on Sunday and then Wednesday.
Everyone, even Newhouse/Advance Publications, admits that the Times-Picayune is one of the best supported newspapers they own. Yes, the newspaper industry is having its issues due to the economy and the paradigm shift to online news sources. Circulation has fallen here just as well. However, you also have to factor the dramatic drop in population due to Katrina. Per population, New Orleans supports the Times-Picayune at a rate much higher than many bigger cities.
3. New Orleans Still Needs A Daily Newspaper
But perhaps you’re thinking that those reasons aren’t strong enough to offset the cost that Newhouse/Advance Publications incur for printing a daily Times-Pic. To which I would have to ask: you don’t think New Orleans is worth the cost of a daily paper?
Just in the last decade, New Orleans has experienced two major disasters (Hurricane Katrina and the BP Oil Spill), three major political scandals (Edwin Edwards, Eddie Jordan, William Jefferson), a new team arriving (Hornets), a championship run (Saints) and a whole new industry (Hollywood South). Amidst all of this, the city has been nearly lost and rebuilt but things are far from rosy. The murder rate in New Orleans would be frightening in even the biggest of American cities. Political graft and corruption looms like a shadow over the city (and the state) at every turn. The education system is going through major reforms. The city is changing in its dynamics and its systems.
This is the point that Newhouse/Advance appears to be missing: New Orleans needs a daily newspaper to not only inform its population but to provide the detail and the analysis that is required. Anyone who thinks the newspaper outdated because it cannot compete with the Internet for speed has obviously not realized that newspapers lost that battle the first time a “Breaking News” bulleting flashed on a radio set back in the 1920s. That horse has been out of the barn for almost a hundred years.
But comprehensive detail? Analysis? The opportunity to keep a story alive and moving long after the 24-hours TV/radio/online cycle has had to move to whatever story is new and fresh? That is the purview of the newspaper. New Orleans doesn’t just need someone to report the weather for this morning and what happened last night in sports. It needs news outlets that keep the pressure on civic leaders to keep to their promises. It needs news outlets that focus on the stories that happen outside the press conference rooms or that simply rehash what was stated in the press release. New Orleans needs a news outlet that can focus not just on the aftermath of tragedies and events but that can delve into the issues that cause them – their recent series on the burgeoning prison system in Louisiana is a great example of this.
For these reasons, I think New Orleans needs a daily Times-Picayune…even if that is looking to go the way of the dodo. SMH