August is a month in which we have become accustomed to preparing for an ill wind from the east. Usually they’re represented by a first name; this year we’re facing one called “Newhouse.”
As the company prepares to embarrass the city and downgrade a once-respected newspaper, we remind the family members that while they may own The Times-Picayune, they did not create it. The paper is a product of New Orleans entrepreneurship and ambition through the centuries.
Last month a group of area leaders sent a letter to the Newhouse family urging them to sell. Among the points made, the authors said that the goodwill that the Newhouse company (and its division Advance Publications) once had in the community has “dissipated in just a few short months because of the decision that took our entire community by surprise.”
“Advance Publications and its leadership have lost the trust and credibility of a significant segment of the community,” the letter continued.
Perhaps the letter’s strongest point was this:
“If your family does not believe in the future of this great city and its capacity to support a daily newspaper, it is only fair to allow us to find someone who does.”
Though the Newhouses quickly rejected the letter, we hope that they at least got the message of just how unpopular they have become. From that they should also be aware that a community that’s as riled up as New Orleans is won’t let them have their way easily. The Newhouse plan to reduce the newspaper to three times a week and to hope for dominance on the Internet could only work in a vacuum. However, while The Times-Picayune shrinks in visibility and readership, the television stations will be able to promote their websites all day, every day. No television station will have the number of reporters that even the reduced Times-Picayune will have, but they will have video superiority. To someone using a smart phone, iPod or iPad, all new news media will look and feel the same. The daily newspaper will have lost its identity.
It could have been different. Since Hurricane Katrina, The Times-Picayune had become especially popular in New Orleans. It was a voice of our recovery.
Earlier we quoted a letter written by citizens to the Newhouse clan. We first read about the letter in The Times-Picayune. It was one of those discoveries that comes with thumbing through the pages over breakfast. Significantly the story was in a Tuesday edition. Soon there will be no edition that day or the day before. Please Newhouses, reread the letter, reconsider and sell.
You have your fortunes. We need our dignity.