Last month, one of the most significant developments in the local news business occurred without the attention it deserved from the other news organizations.
A new office facility for The New Orleans Advocate was opened at 840 St. Charles Ave. This is important for several reasons:
• We take this investment to be a sign that owner John Georges is committed to maintaining The Advocate as a daily home-delivered newspaper. New Orleans, since the changes at The Times-Picayune, is thus spared of being the largest city in the country without a true daily.
• A daily newspaper, among all news media, plays a special leadership role within a community. It has a more pronounced editorial voice and covers more topics than broadcast news or periodicals. It is, more than any other publication, the journal of a city, so it’s important for it to have presence and to be accessible. Located on the first floor of a building within the business district, The Advocate’s new home achieves that.
• In its previous life, The Times-Picayune had that presence. The facility on Howard Avenue was difficult to get to but imposing to see by anyone driving along Interstate 10. On the inside the building may have been falling into disrepair, but from the outside it connoted power – like the big bear in the woods. The delivery trucks parked in front typified a news flow as the papers were rushed to delivery. New technology makes the classic newsroom with its melody of clicking keyboards less necessary, but it’s still good for there to be a high-visibility location for news people to gather and for the public to feel its presence.
We know that the digital world has changed a lot about news and its distribution. (News operations for The Times-Picayune/Nola.com have been moved to a free-flowing top floor in Canal Place.) The Times-Picayune is banking its future on the Nola.com part of its operation. There are some excellent people on its staff, and the operation is capable of providing good coverage for both the newspaper and digital component.
Nevertheless, we’re blessed that The Advocate has filled the daily home-delivered void partially with talent that came from The Times-Picayune. We know that these are troubled times for the newspaper industry, but we still maintain that every city needs a daily. There are some stories that are best told when spread out on a broadsheet. These includes news items that wouldn’t be noticed were they not part of the page-to-page flow.
Whereas we once feared not having a daily newspaper at all, the news audience may have come out ahead by having both a daily and a thrice-weekly – both also feeding the internet.
There are some drawbacks: Neither paper has the staff size that The Times-Picayune once had back in its daily prime; both papers are printed out of town (The Times-Picayune in Mobile; The Advocate in Baton Rouge), so deadlines are earlier and less sensitive to nightly news. Still, we’re glad for what we have and that The Advocate’s new facility shows promise for its endurance.
In its first month, the new location ingratiated itself in a classically New Orleans way. Located along the business district’s Carnival route, staff members were able to stream passing parades. We will know that The Advocate’s new office has fully established its presence when we see beads dangling from its roof.