Jul 9, 201207:00 AM
The Editor's Room

Weekly Commentary with New Orleans Magazine’s Errol Laborde

The Times-Picyune Fiasco: Who Is Coming Out Ahead?

As the devolution of The Times-Picayune continues, some signs are starting to emerge about who is going to come out ahead in terms of replacing the daily as the area’s news leader. Here’s the way it seems to be going:

WWL TV. The station has long claimed the news leader tag in terms of its ratings, but now the Newhouse blunder will open the way for it to make a move with its total package - including the web. Once the TP goes to three times a week it will have less of a presence to drive people to its website, NOLA.com (plus it will be facing a hostile citizenry), but WWL can promote its website every hour of every day before what is usually the largest media audience in the region.

This is the flaw to the Newhouse plan. It could work in a vacuum, but competition will not let that happen.

Already WWL has improved its product by hiring two former TP journalists, investigative reporter David Hammer and police beat reporter Brendan McCarthy. They will join another TP alumnus, Mike Perlsetin. WWL will have the presence that The Times-Picayune has sacrificed.

Second and third place will be a fight between WVUE TV (Fox 8) and WDSU (channel 6) for the same reason given above—a better ability to market their websites and to establish brand identity. Of the two, FOX 8 shows a real penchant to making aggressive moves and is the only commercial station that is locally owned. Keep and eye on them.

As for the downtrodden TP: It still has a few stars, such as Pulitzer Prize-winning environmental reporter Mark Schleifstein and, as of this writing, its sports staff  seems to be intact. Even at reduced size it will still have more reporters (or is it now “content providers,” as the ads say?) than any other news medium. I am just not sure if the audience will notice. The web is best for short reads. The detailed stories belong in print.

Make no mistake about it; the overall flow of news content will suffer badly because of this man-made urban disaster. Like the hurricanes, I just wish there was still time for that last-minute turn to another direction.

-30-

Reader Comments:
Jul 9, 2012 12:16 pm
 Posted by  lanative

Change is always difficult, and always resisted, particularly by those who are so familiar and comfortable with whatever is being replaced. I'm sure that the change to the printing press evoked these same emotions from those employed in the slow and painstaking manual creation of manuscripts. After all,the rapid reproduction of so much information just couldn't possibly be a good thing without the wisdom and oversight of traditional slow and methodical process. And yet it worked out just fine. I suspect that the competitive forces described in Errol's piece will ultimately deliver to the public what they want. Some may wish the public to want something different, but that doesn't make it right.

I for one welcome the refreshing change that this will bring to the media scene and "news" in our city. There are opportunities for Gambit and other weeklies or tabloids to expand their presence and attract a broader reader base. The battle for online web superiority from various news organizations will be a good thing, and fun to watch.

Others can wax nostalgic about the passing of the venerable Times Picayune, but it has been a dying dinosaur for years. It also wasn't a very good newspaper. More importantly, it wasn't terribly relevant to the majority of the public that it served. It was too parochial to have much regional appeal, notwithstanding sports, which was it's strongest department and will likely be the part of the TP missed by most.

Jul 9, 2012 11:24 pm
 Posted by  Robert

Lanative: Are you so blinded by personal dislike of the Times-Picayune's editorial policies that you believe there's an adequate substitute for a daily paper's beat reporters in a weekly or a website?

Who is going to cover the crime beat? Who is going to do the kind of in-depth reporting that requires sitting through city council meetings? Who is going to spend tedious hours running down facts and writing stories that don't "sell papers" but are nonetheless important?

This is not about "new" media doing things more efficiently and taking over market share based on a superior product. It's about money. There's no money in print advertising. This is not a zero-sum game; that money is not going to the online news sources. To date it's pretty much only "pronographers" who have figured out a way to make money providing content on the web.

"Some may wish the public to want something different, but that doesn't make it right"? The public enjoys Burger King and McDonald's. That doesn't make them good restaurants, or their food healthy. And I don't know that "the public" have voted. I'm not privy to the TP's circulation numbers, but I doubt the problem is as much decline in readers as the aforementioned dearth of advertising.

This week's Gambit features a cover story by David Simon that does a better job than I could hope to do of pointing out why you are so very, very wrong. The Gambit *does* stand to gain from the end of the Times Picayune, and it's a credit to publisher Clancy DuBos and editor Kevin Allman that they - like Errol - recognize the importance of a daily paper beyond the short-term personal benefit it might bring them.

I can't post a link here (Goddamnit, Errol) but I recommend the article to you at bestofneworleans.com/gambit/why-beat-reporters-matter/Content?oid=2037437

Then by all means come back and tell us about the "refreshing change" you see coming down the pike.

Jul 10, 2012 08:26 am
 Posted by  lanative

No Robert, my like/dislike of the TP actually has nothing to do my opinion on this subject. Actually, I wish that the paper wasn't changing it's format because, as Errol pointed out in an earlier column on this topic, it is an ego blow to the community. Plus it illustrates how comparatively unimportant the metro area is economically, which may hinder further economic development activities as new companies are recruited.

That is why I wish the TP had made itself more relevant on a regional basis. That may have given them a chance to survive and GROW, which is what every business must do so that it can continue to invest in the business. If it doesn't grow, it eventually dies.

Newspaper readership EVERYWHERE is declining and has been for years. I have three children. One is a local doctor, another is a banker in Houston and the youngest is graduating college next year. None of them, or their peers, read a daily print newspaper. They actually want MULTIPLE sources of information. Large city (or high growth city) papers will survive for awhile longer because of sheer numbers. But most are struggling with the same issues and are losing subscribers.

The technology and resultant delivery mechanism for news and information has changed. Period. You may not like it, but it has. There is a reason that the advertising dollars are declining. They are fleeing to other platforms with better age demographics and more exposure.

But I am optimistic that if all the things you mention are important to enough people, a provider of that information will fill the void. Maybe the weekly's will become daily's. Maybe the digital sources will get better and become the go to sources. Maybe a combination works best. I am not smart enough, or arrogant enough to proclaim that I know what is best. And although I don't eat at Burger King or McDonald's, I respect the individual's right to choose what they consume, whether food or information source.

Jul 10, 2012 01:24 pm
 Posted by  Steven

The other advantage is that WWL has more of the stuff that people go to the web for like video and weather radar. Nola.com's video efforts are literally amateur. Absent the goodwill that comes from being the paper of record, there's nothing to compel readers to nola.com. Rather, given the ill will created by Newhouse's approach, many will be compelled to avoid it. Even if they weren't, the current design of the Newhouse sites make for, in the words of David Carr, "a miserable place to consume the news." All tolled, this is a blunder of Netflixian proportions without the humility to make the necessary but awkward walk-back.

Jul 10, 2012 01:37 pm
 Posted by  sidprof

As we predicted, Donald Newhouse & family respond to VIP letter to sell the paper: "Respectfully, we're ignoring what you and the public want. We'd rather ram a 3rd rate website down your throats and wreck your daily paper, thanks." And dear LANATIVE, rather than repeating non-applicable generalities, in point of fact,the TP was actually running a profit higher than most, with a reader saturation rate that was among the best in the nation, if not the best. This isn't brave new world/embrace the inevitable future stuff as some imply. It's old-fashioned greed and arrogance, and much to the Newhouse clan's surprise, it's blowing up in their faces.
Respectfully, the Newhouses need to take a freakin' hike. Don't let them earn a penny off of us: Boycott their amateurish cookie-cutter website! Get your news from anywhere else. Boycott Nola.com! http://www.facebook.com/#!/BoycottNolacom

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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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