And now there is just one. As there was in the beginning.
One morning in May, New Orleans woke to the news that John and Dathel Georges, owners of The Advocate newspapers, had concluded swift and secret negotiations to purchase The Times-Picayune. Just weeks after they consumed the city’s biggest alt-weekly, Gambit.
In a region grown largely numb to the wild vagaries, fluctuations and disruptions of the local newspaper business, this was indeed a stunner. The idealistic upstart had bested the scarred and grizzled–some might say, soulless – veteran daily. A David and Goliath story, to be sure, with fewer Biblical implications and more boardroom intrigue.
The cold corporate bastids’ in New York City – Advance Publications and the Newhouse family – had dumped the dregs of what was once the crown jewel of their vast newspaper empire into the hands of a similarly shrewd, but seemingly more empathetic media family conglomerate.
Twitter was a-twitter. Wow, that sucks, all those Times-Picayune folks laid off without warning, in a sudden shock; what to think? What will become of them?
Some responded this way: Wow, all those Times-Picayune folks who were complicit in the sudden overnight layoffs of scores of their co-workers several years ago – a well plotted coup against their colleagues of many decades – finally got their comeuppance. What will become of them?
And so this is what has become of the local newspaper business. Lessons learned: Keep a current resume. Have a Plan B. Smile and say thank you sir, may I have another. Adjust. Adapt. And be prepared to cut someone else’s throat before they cut yours.
It’s gut wrenching and confusing to witness. Lives and livelihoods, legacies and logos – swapped out like trading cards. Some ruined, some redeemed. But it’s by no means something new.
As best as anyone can tell, the New Orleans daily newspaper story began in 1794, with the publication of Moniteur de la Louisiane. A French newspaper for French people. From there, it was off to the races. Newspapers in French, Spanish and English. A French newspaper with a Spanish langauge edition (The Bee). An English newspaper named after, and worth, a piece of Spanish currency. (The Picayune.) And so on.
There was Le Telegraphe. The Union. The Delta and The Crescent, two antebellum pro-Confederacy dailies. The Times. The Democrat. They became the Times-Democrat. The States popped up to challenge them. And The Item. The States and The Item then merged into the States-Item. The Times discarded the Democrat like a bad date and merged with The Picayune.
Are you following?
Shortly before I arrived in New Orleans in 1984, The Times-Picayune and The States-Item had merged. And what a mouthful of marbles newspaper mergers can create. On my first day of work, assigned to a suburban post, I was directed to answer the phone: “The Times-Picayune, The States-Item, West Bank Bureau, Good morning, what can I…”
By then the line had usually gone dead.
Time and experience – and jaw muscle fatigue – taught me to pick up the phone and just say: “Rose.” Not a great name for a newspaper. (Or maybe it is.) But it does follow the fundamental tenets of journalism. Short, clear, succinct. At least you knew who you were talking to.
Decades ago, likely more to save costs on ink than any power play, the paper shortened its name to just The Times-Picayune. The States-Item was relegated to the ash heap of New Orleans newspaper history, along with L’Abeille, The Advertiser and so many more that have chronicled the story of this city over the past 300 years. L’Union, the city’s first stridently black newspaper during Reconstruction, later became the weekly New Orleans Tribune, which still publishes today.
So now we are down to one, just like in the beginning. A new, uncertain era begins, the destiny of the local daily broadsheet banks on one newspaper. With three names. The last three names surviving in New Orleans’ long, glorious, inglorious daily newspaper history.
The Advocate, The Times- Picayune.
I pity anyone who has to answer the phone.