It was about this time of year back in 1989, when I got a call from a guy who said he was working for the Times-Picayune. He wanted to talk to me about a job he was taking there.
The young man’s name was Scott Aiges, a writer from New York, who had ended up in New Orleans; he had been working at one of the newspaper’s suburban bureaus.
When OffBeat first started in 1988, there were no staff music writers at the newspaper (the TP was the only game in town then). I suppose when the TP editors looked at OffBeat they decided that maybe music was something that they should be covering (imagine that?).
Mr. Aiges picked my brain a bit and of course I gave him my spiel about how important music is to our culture and economy, and he should also cover the business side of music (which he did, during his tenure at the TP from 1989 to 1995).
When Aiges left the TP in 1995 to help establish the LMNOP event (New Orleans’ version of South by Southwest), OffBeat’s editor and star writer Keith Spera left OffBeat to take Aiges’ job. I’m proud to have helped Keith in his career as a music journalist. He’s proven himself to be more than capable in that arena, and has also written about his journey as a new father for the TP, and now for NOLA.com.
By the way, OffBeat was the first place many writers stopped on their way to journalism gigs at newspapers and at the local weekly: Scott Jordan, Michael Tisserand, Ian McNulty, Doug MacCash, Brian Boyles, Alex Rawls and so many more. We sort of established the need for music writing in New Orleans. In this city—the most musical in the world—it was pretty astounding that the daily newspaper didn’t have a full-time music writer. Sad, really.
With the spate of additional layoffs at NOLA.com (I suppose we don’t need to call it the Times-Picayune too much longer), one of their fine writers, Alison Fensterstock—who has also written for OffBeat—was let go. And at press time, Spera was offered a job in metro reporting, and will no longer focus exclusively on music. The New Orleans Advocate’s music writer, John Wirt (he’s also written for OffBeat), doesn’t contribute much to the New Orleans Advocate on a daily basis, and the paper has hired freelance writers to fill in.
Now this is a pity and a shame.
We’ve reverted the daily media’s coverage of music back to where it was in 1989. New Orleans seems to be on track to become just another Southern city, focused on its sports teams, and ignoring the factors that have made it so recognizable and important to the world. What’s unique and special about New Orleans is so intertwined with music and our culture. It’s really awful that local mainstream media has regressed so seriously to the same position they took towards music 25 years ago.