For the Newhouses the transactions may have meant little more than a dent in their tip jar, but for the stability of New Orleans journalism it was a major development. Last week The New Orleans Advocate was awarded the official journal business for Jefferson Parish, a privilege that had previously belonged to The Times-Picayune. On the same day the independently run Jefferson Parish Sheriff’s Office also gave the official designation to the Advocate instead of renewing with New Orleans City Business.
For the Advocate the new contracts added to their stable that now also includes the journal business for Kenner, Gretna, Harahan, the Southeast Louisiana Flood Authority-East and the world’s most tediously named agency, the (hang on) Non-Flood Protection Asset Management Authority.
By being an official journal a publication prints minutes from meetings and various legal notices for the government agency. When you see pages with small type in the back of a publication, that’s the legal notices.
Awarding of the contracts is based on competitive bids. According to the Advocate, its bid for the parish council’s business was about 17 percent lower than The Times-Picayune's and about 74 percent lower than City Business’. The Advocate explained that the value of the business will be determined by the amount of government announcements that are published over the next year.
Still being sought after is the business for the city of New Orleans, the Orleans Parish Sheriff’s Office, courts in Jefferson and Orleans and the Port of New Orleans. Among other local communities, the T-P has been chosen as the official journal of Westwego.
Though the bid selection process is supposed to be non-political, getting there required at least some calls to legislators. When the T-P moved from daily to thrice weekly, legislation was needed from the state to change the eligibility requirements for journals accordingly. That was done last year in The Times-Picayune’s favor. During the recent session of the legislative session the law governing journals was amended, by unanimous vote, to lessen the time that a publications has to be in a community before being eligible for journal status. That was done in the Advocate’s favor.
Likely helping the Advocate's cause is that it is locally owned while the New York based Newhouses have alienated the community. Unlike other towns where they gutted their newspaper, New Orleans did not roll over.
Awarding of the officials journals designation underscores a fundamental point about the responsibility that newspaper publishers have to a community. When the Newhouses first announced their plans to downsize the newspaper there were some who argued that they are a business and, like all businesses, have a right to make reductions to meet economic needs. The counter-argument is that there are some businesses, daily newspapers and hospitals among them, that have an obligation beyond everyday business to the community that they serve. Thorough the decades the Newhouses have made plenty money by, in effect, being partially subsidized by local governments. They owed the community more respect.
Meanwhile the editorial staff of The Times-Picayune keeps doing a good job despite it all. Recently the T-P shared, with WVUE- TV Ch. 8, prestigious Peabody, Headliner and Edward R. Murrow awards for “Louisiana Purchased” their investigative series on government spending.
For the Advocate the latest victory was on the income side of the ledger. When you’re running second, that’s where you need to be.
BOOK ANNOUNCEMENT: Errol’s Laborde’s new book, Mardi Gras: Chronicles of the New Orleans Carnival (Pelican Publishing Company, 2013), has been released. It is now available at local bookstores and online
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