The Times-Picayune Fiasco: Newhouse says he's 'pleased.' Huh?
During the years of the Vietnam War, a U.S. senator from Vermont, George Aiken, was widely quoted offering his own solution to how the country should get out of the quagmire. As paraphrased, Aiken said the nation should declare a victory and leave.
Though his actual statement was more complex, the notion of declaring victory when the situation is too muddled to tell otherwise took on tongue-in-cheek acceptance. I thought of Aiken recently when The Baton Rouge Business Report, in a story by Editor Stephanie Riegel, reported that Steve Newhouse, the chairman of Advance Media, whose properties include The Times-Picayune, told her that “he is ‘absolutely pleased’ with the success The Times-Picayune has had since reducing its print circulation to three days a week."
"We are committed," Newhouse said," and have no intention of doing anything other than stay the course and continue to work hard to earn the patronage of our readers."
If Newhouse is actually pleased with the fiasco to date, one wonders what state of ecstasy he would be in if there had been more public acceptance and a real victory:
- If there is any reason for Newhouse to be pleased it can only be at the expense side of the ledger, which will no doubt show a dramatic decrease in operating costs. If just that measures success to him then I suppose there is something to be satisfied about.
- If on the other hand he is measuring success by what the changes have done to the overall image of a newspaper once thought to be one of the South's leading dailies, he should be horrified. There are still some good people working for The Times-Picayune who are capable of putting out a good publication on any one of the three allotted days, but it is not the same. To be a leading newspaper a publication has to be there every day serving as the herald of the news. The T-P has lost that role.
- Meanwhile The Advocate is coming on stronger than anyone might have anticipated. It is staffed by many of The Times-Picayune's best former talent, including some such as Steven Forster, James Gill, Stephanie Grace, Nell Nolan and Gordon Russell who are especially high profile. John Georges, a local businessman who likes a good fight, now owns the newspaper. Plus, The Advocate has the community support of an underdog. There have been other examples of regional newpapers moving into an urban market, and few have been successful, but never has there been so much passion behind such an effort. The challenge made by The Advocate to The Times-Picayune over the next year will be unprecedented.
- While The Times-Picayune of yore had absolute dominance as a daily newspaper it will never have the same degree of control over the web. It will be a force but there are too many other competitors including television stations, news groups and other publications. The day of a monopoly is over.
If through all this Steve Newhouse still sees a reason to be pleased, then let him take a victory lap. I just suggest he keeps the course short.
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