If you’re nostalgic about these kinds of things keep your editions of The Times-Picayune this week, or at least save next Sunday’s copy because that will be the last edition of the newspaper printed in the Newhouse era. Beginning next Monday, July 1, we will be seeing the wordily named The New Orleans Advocate/The Times-Picayune now owned by John and Dathel Georges. In one of the biggest upsets since the underdog U.S. hockey team defeated the Russians at the 1980 Olympics, what was once The Baton Rouge Advocate has evolved to New Orleans’ daily newspaper and the Georges ,who were not even involved with publishing when the Newhouses startled New Orleans by announcing that the venerable T-P was going to be reduced to three home-delivered editions per week, are the state’s new media power couple. The Newhouses, under the corporate name of Advance Local Media, were betting the future on their website, Nola.com. Now the Georges own both the newspaper and the site.
Before they fade into local journalistic history it is fair to acknowledge that the Newhouses were for the most part good owners of the newspaper during most of the 57 years that they had it. They hired good people; won lots of journalistic prizes, suffered and endured during Katrina; celebrated when the Saints won the Superbowl. Unfortunately, while New Orleanians read their newspaper the Newhouses may have misread New Orleans on the issue of envisioning the future. While other cities faced cutbacks meekly, New Orleans was offended by the suggestion. The town is a news spigot. At times we are ashamed of ourselves; at other times we are bursting with pride (sometimes simultaneously) either way we need to be continually informed about ourselves. That’s where a daily newspaper comes in.
We thank the Newhouses for having brought good staff members to the city; many now work for The Advocate but unfortunately many did not survive the merger. The deserve better; we hope they find it.
We know this about the future; it can be impossibly tricky. As this is being written demolition crews are now striking down the former Times-Picayune building along the Pontchartrain Expressway. When it was built in 1968 it seemed to be the ultimate in modernity, including its sleek architectural style. The expansive building would help meet the demand for more and better newspapers to serve a growing metropolitan area. The interstate, itself a symbol of hustle and hurry, would be a channel for delivery trucks to quickly move newspapers from the printing presses to the distributors.
In its last days, The Times-Picayune under the Newhouses was headquartered in a former iron warehouse on St. Joseph Street in the Warehouse District. No longer having its own press, the paper was printed in Mobile, Alabama. The long truck trip would make the publication less able to cover late information including, perish the thought, news from Saints and Pelicans night games. Back in 1962 when the Newhouses purchased The Times-Picayune no one envisioned that the industry would one day be snagged in a worldwide web.
Since the T-P’s devolution was announce in 2012 I have written many blogs on the topic. While I never criticized the newspaper or its staff (to the contrary I had high praise for both), I was very critical of the Newhouses and their handling of the situation. Last year I had a private background meeting with two high ranking T-P executives. The tone of the meeting was cordial. I emphasized that part of my outrage was out of respect for the product that was being compromised. Both acknowledged that point. There was one issue, however, than one executive wanted to emphasize and kept going back to. The Newhouses, he said, are better than they are being given credit for. They really do care about New Orleans. I accepted his statement though we do not know, in this the last week of Newhouse ownership, if they care about the city as much as they used to.
It probably remains true that local owners will usually be the ones who care the most.
BOOK ANNOUNCEMENT: Errol’s Laborde’s books, “New Orleans: The First 300 Years” and “Mardi Gras: Chronicles of the New Orleans Carnival” (Pelican Publishing Company, 2017 and 2013), are available at local bookstores and at book websites.
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