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.”

 

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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 gdkrewe@aol.com or (504) 895-2266.

WATCH INFORMED SOURCES, FRIDAYS AT 7PM, REPEATED AT 11:30 PM.WYES-TV, CH. 12.

Reader Comments:
Aug 6, 2012 11:59 am
 Posted by  Steve

Much as many of us wish and pretend we live in a society where decision makers are rational and honest, Errol, we don't. You are taking this shark at his word and trying to reason with him. And he, like all the other liars who care only about money and power, is laughing at us while saying something he doesn't believe but knows will sound plausible. However evil, and I use that word with consideration, this makes him, this makes you and me and anyone else who is reasonable a fool. We all need to do more than talk with these bastards, and more than our system allows too, because they own it lock, stock and barrel, all three branches of government. They are inflicting violence, however codified and conventional, upon our lives and it's all they understand.

Aug 6, 2012 12:28 pm
 Posted by  LBMahana

New Orleanians are fiercely loyal and when they are abused or their friend is abused, they retaliate.
In 1954 my father brought a meat packing company to New Orleans. For thirty plus years he prodded and worked hard and developed the brand name King Cotton Meat Products into a prosperous and successful business. In the sixties, the company went public and in the late seventies someone from Chicago bought enough stock to become the majority stockholder in the company and fired my father.
Little did the new owner understand that business in New Orleans is many times done on a handshake and its citizen fiercely loyal. When the grocery industry got wind that my father had been fired, every big account in the city dropped the brand and within a year King Cotton was history and out of business.
I think the citizens of the city will turn their back on the Times Picayune and welcome the newcomers who have expressed the desire to cater to their needs.
Lynda Buring Mahana

Aug 6, 2012 01:02 pm
 Posted by  Metairie Maiden

I much enjoyed telling the TP telemarketer that no I definitely don't want the newspaper and be sure to tell Steve Newhouse for me!

Aug 6, 2012 05:04 pm
 Posted by  rajamata1

Errol,

1) This is what happens when an absentee owner gets "inspired" idea or choses to make a guinea pig out of an institution. This would not have happened if Norman or Alice Newhouse were alive, or, Jonathan living here (he is Pres. Conde Nast Europe)

2) This could not happen to any of Advance's Guild or Union newspapers. Newhouse would be forced to shutter the entire operation not pick it apart piece-meal.

3) The Newhouse Business Model has taken an established, profitable BRAND and is diminishing its worth. It could sell now at an attractive price; but will be worth less later. Is this good business?

4) The Newhouse Model shuttered "House & Garden" magazine refusing to sell the brand. It then, some 10 years later, revived it to dismal failure thus re-shuttering it. Newhouse prefers to let publications languish in a publisher's graveyard rather than let competition make something out of a brand.

5) Sunday's Front Page piece was not a news story; it was not a editorial - it was a PR campaign. Newhouse should have pitched those stories to The New York Times, the paper used to "break the news of cutbacks & layoffs to readers and staff of the Picayune." One suspects, they probably tried and The Times turned them down.

6) As for the website: Readers should be prepared for the expansion of "pay per inch 'news' stories." For now it's paid obits & weddings, in the future will Carnival krewes pay to announce kings, queens, courts & themes; and, schools will pay to list scores, honors, etc. listed?

Lastly, given property the T-P owns (bureaus, etc), if it was so "hurting" for money why didn't it put those assets up for sale before ridding itself of any paper's most important assets - a staff of veteran reporters and editors?

A Former TP Reporter & Editor circa 1969-83

Aug 6, 2012 07:46 pm
 Posted by  George Schwarz

This is the letter I sent to Steve Newhouse at Advance Publications:

I have not read such blathering bullshit in my life.

This insipid and arrogant analysis of the industry is the result of sucking on that sliver spoon in your mouth, Steve, while flitting around with your country club friends while thinking you really know journalism or how to deliver what people need for news. Or maybe your ilk is too inbred.

Others have pointed out some obvious points, which you will ignore as “noise.” Did you all really say that about New Orleanians’ reactions? Here are some other things we in the real, non-country club world know.

First, you should know the Media Audit data, as with the Audit Bureau of Circulation, numbers are fudged all the time. The scam is to convince you all and the advertising agencies that you’re worth spending money with. Remember, we follow the money. Don’t ask me how I know this. You don’t want the answer. You’re deluding yourself if you think Ann Arbor is a typical community. With the University of Michigan there (You do know what a university is, don’t you?), the community will far likely be better “connected” for Web-based information delivery than many places, including New Orleans. I just can’t believe no one in your employ is smart enough to tell you about this, but you sure aren’t smart enough to figure it out.

All this adds up to the arrogance you show in Andrew Beaujon’s interview. Hang onto what few balls you have left, Stevie-boy, because by the time the New Orleans community is through with you and your company, you’ll all be singing soprano.

“‘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 all know the Times-Picayune wasn’t following the industry’s trends. As a traditionalist city, it was still profitable. But typical of big corporation hubris and one-size-fits-all stupidity, you will treat the venerable newspaper the
same as the crap you publish in Alabama.

Second, you are sorely underestimating anger and passion as motivators. Inside an organization, the former is a cancer and the latter is a blessing. But combined on the outside with your enemies, they are weapons of mass destruction. With the Advocate having made the decision to compete and the other on-line alliances, plus the loss of some of your best staff, you and the
NOLA thing (Is THAT really what you call a Web site?) are doomed. Buh-bye.

Third, what’s with Jim Amoss? How did you turn a great leader and smart editor into a Newhouse zombie? And when are you, like most corporatists like you, going to stab him in the back? Inquiring minds want to know.

Look, Newhouse, I am no a punk kid like you are. I am 67-years-old and I don’t give a shit about who likes me or not. I am not scared of power and not scared of speaking truth to power. I am telling you right here and now, you have screwed up big time and your hubris is not letting you back down or respond to the community YOU ARE SUPPOSED TO SERVE. (Yep, those capital letters are me shouting at you.

Frankly, Seve, I think you’re a 24-carat asshole. I don’t hide behind screen names. My name is George Schwarz and I live in Amarillo, Texas.

Bring it on.

Aug 7, 2012 11:39 pm
 Posted by  anon

One more thing. Newhouse, you should check with the Rite-Aid people who thought red white and blue would go over just as well as purple when they bought K & B. HA!

Aug 8, 2012 10:00 am
 Posted by  SMI

Comment sent via e-mail:

I have grown up reading the daily newspaper, first as a child then subscribing when I established my own household in 1956.
E-news is wonderful and has a place but nothing can replace the daily newspaper. I will support any New Orleans daily newspaper.
I will not renew my subscription to the TP when it is no longer daily.

Joan

Aug 8, 2012 08:32 pm
 Posted by  JEF2

Errol,

Accepting the Advocate would be an interesting option. If only they hadn't denied the TP any use of their printing facilities in the immediate wake of Katrina. It would much like being a traitor to the TP all over again.

John F
New Orleans

Aug 14, 2012 01:37 pm
 Posted by  JeauxyNo1

I read the Advocate every day for four years at LSU and would be delight to toss the TP in the Toilet and subscribe to Morning Advocate. Errol: please update us when the Advocate confirms its delivery. I wrote to them and heard it won't happen till the Fall, hopefully, the Fall of the Times-Picayune. Never liked the politics of the TP and now I hate their newbie know-it-all Marketeers.

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The Editor's Room

Weekly Commentary with New Orleans Magazine’s Errol Laborde

about

Errol LabordeErrol Laborde holds a Ph.D. in political science from the University of New Orleans and is the editor-in-chief of Renaissance Publishing. In that capacity he serves as editor/associate publisher of New Orleans Magazine and editor/publisher of Louisiana Life magazine.

Errol is also a producer and a regular panelist on Informed Sources, a weekly news discussion program broadcast on public television station WYES-TV, Channel 12. Errol is a three-time winner of the Alex Waller Award, the highest award given in print journalism by the Press Club of New Orleans. He also received the National and City Regional Magazine Association Award for Best Column for his New Orleans Magazine column, beating out 76 city magazines across the country. In 2013, Errol received the award for the "Best News Affiliated Blog," awarded by the Press Club of New Orleans.

Errol’s most recent books are Krewe: The Early Carnival from Comus to Zulu and Marched the Day God: A History of the Rex Organization. In his free time he enjoys playing tennis and traveling with his wife, Peggy, to anywhere they can get away to, but some of his favorite spots are the Caribbean and historic locations around Louisiana. You can reach Errol at (504) 830-7235 or errol@myneworleans.com.

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