Aug 6, 201210:12 AM
The Editor's Room
Weekly Commentary with New Orleans Magazine’s Errol Laborde
The Times-Picayune Fiasco: If the Newhouses Win, We All Lose
Last week Steve Newhouse made some noise. In an interview for the newsletter of the Poynter institute (a journalism school), Newhouse, the chairman of Advance Publications, under which the Times-Picayune is managed, said of the reaction to what he is doing to New Orleans: “There’s every reason to be upset and angry.”
Reporter Andrew Beaujon quoted Newhouse further:
“But left unsaid is that we would not be able to produce a seven-day-a-week newspaper” given the newspaper business’ trend lines, Newhouse said.
“We really feel the most important element for our journalistic future is our quality. Not how many days we publish but how well we cover the community,” Newhouse said.
Note to Newhouse: Your feelings about publishing seven days a week have hardly been left “unsaid.” That has been the crux of the arguments since this whole situation began. It is just that people are not accepting the reasoning; that’s why there are willing buyers – as well as the Advocate – announcing seven-day publication in New Orleans.
As for quality, you do not achieve it by driving away many of your most talented staff members and replacing them with entry-level “content providers.”
Most revealing though was Newhouse's response when asked about the Advocate moving into town and about the news websites that have been developing:
“I say bring them on,” Newhouse said. “Competition is great. We’re not afraid at all. We’re going to have a really fantastic website and great print editions, and we’ll let the readers decide.”
There’s bravado to his comments, suggesting that Newhouse knows that as universally despised as his plan is, he still holds most of the chips. For the Advocate to succeed it will need to develop a substantial circulation base. (Note to Advocate: I’m in.) For the websites, which are mostly non-profits, to survive they will, over time, need reliable funding to pay their staffs livable wages. Meanwhile Newhouse has the infrastructure already in place. It is possible that he can win, not because anybody likes what he is doing, but because it is too hard to compete.
(A front-page story in Sunday’s paper had the headline “T-P Veterans Take on New Roles.” The accompanying article mentioned the years of experience that the 25 news veterans, whose pictures were run as well as those of sales and administrative leaders, will bring to the enterprise.
A more compelling, and more photo-filled, page would have listed those veterans who have either been fired or who are resigning, some of who had bylines in that very issue.)
As for the future, Poynter Institute reporter Andrew Beaujon offered this provocative point:
What happens next will determine whether Steven Newhouse is viewed as a publishing visionary or the man who traded New Orleans journalism for a theory.
What Newhouse’s “vision” may not have included is the amount of fight there is in New Orleans. While other cities might roll over to such a plan, New Orleanians have too much pride. They will wrestle this gator to the ground even if they get bitten. That’s what happens when citizens are truly “upset and angry.”
Krewe: The Early New Orleans Carnival – Comus to Zulu by Errol Laborde is available at all area bookstores. Books can also be ordered via email at firstname.lastname@example.org or (504) 895-2266.
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