As the devolution of The Times-Picayune continues, some signs are starting to emerge about who is going to come out ahead in terms of replacing the daily as the area’s news leader. Here’s the way it seems to be going:

WWL TV. The station has long claimed the news leader tag in terms of its ratings, but now the Newhouse blunder will open the way for it to make a move with its total package – including the web. Once the TP goes to three times a week it will have less of a presence to drive people to its website, NOLA.com (plus it will be facing a hostile citizenry), but WWL can promote its website every hour of every day before what is usually the largest media audience in the region.

This is the flaw to the Newhouse plan. It could work in a vacuum, but competition will not let that happen.

Already WWL has improved its product by hiring two former TP journalists, investigative reporter David Hammer and police beat reporter Brendan McCarthy. They will join another TP alumnus, Mike Perlsetin. WWL will have the presence that The Times-Picayune has sacrificed.

Second and third place will be a fight between WVUE TV (Fox 8) and WDSU (channel 6) for the same reason given above—a better ability to market their websites and to establish brand identity. Of the two, FOX 8 shows a real penchant to making aggressive moves and is the only commercial station that is locally owned. Keep and eye on them.

As for the downtrodden TP: It still has a few stars, such as Pulitzer Prize-winning environmental reporter Mark Schleifstein and, as of this writing, its sports staff  seems to be intact. Even at reduced size it will still have more reporters (or is it now “content providers,” as the ads say?) than any other news medium. I am just not sure if the audience will notice. The web is best for short reads. The detailed stories belong in print.

Make no mistake about it; the overall flow of news content will suffer badly because of this man-made urban disaster. Like the hurricanes, I just wish there was still time for that last-minute turn to another direction.

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