Times-Picayune Plans to Cut Staff and Publication Days

I had thoughts on the twilight of American Idol based on Ann Powers’ excellent analysis, but the news about changes at The Times-Picayune jumps in front. According to Gambit, The New York Times broke the story that the T-P is going to shift its thrust to Nola.com, cut the print edition to three days a week, and reduce staff size and costs.

According to David Carr at The New York Times:

Times-Picayune Cover After Hurricane KatrinaNewhouse Newspapers, which owns the Times-Picayune, will apparently be working off a blueprint the company used in Ann Arbor, Mich., where it reduced the frequency of the Ann Arbor News, emphasized the Web site as a primary distributor of news and in the process instituted wholesale layoffs to cut costs.

According to Kevin Allman at Gambit, many staffers found out about these plans through the Times story:

The level of disrespect for T-P employees by upper management was the main topic of conversation tonight. All employees with whom Gambit spoke — even longtime senior writers and editors — said they learned of their fates from The New York Times report.

“My supervisor didn’t even fucking know,” said one reporter. “My supervisor.”

“I had to find this out by Twitter,” said another. “Do I go in to the office tomorrow? Do I even have a job to go in to tomorrow? I don’t know. No one has called me. No one has said anything.”

Allman reports that the plan is to reduce staff by a third and cut salaries of the remaining staffers, who’ll blog regularly for Nola.com.

A piece at Nola.com authored by the “The Times-Picayune” doesn’t mention any specific plans for the staff:

“We did not make this decision lightly,” said [Ricky] Mathews [president of the newly created NOLA Media Group]. “It’s the toughest part of transitioning from a print-centric to a digitally-focused company. Our employees make us the company we are today, and we will work hard during this transition to treat all of them with the utmost respect for the hard work and dedication they’ve shown over the years.”

Starting in the fall, the paper will be published on Wednesday, Friday and Sunday because these are the days most in-demand for advertisers.

It’s easy to wisecrack as friends and I have this morning—What about the debs? How will I ever keep track of poor Luann’s love life? Will Steve Kelley be funnier if he doesn’t have to draw so often?—but this news is disturbing at a number of levels, starting with the possibility that 100 to 150 talented people will be out of a job in this economy. We won’t know the details until it happens, but it certainly sounds like those who stay will be asked to do more for less money. If that’s true, this is a shameful betrayal of those who helped get the paper back to life after Hurricane Katrina and an inhumane way to reward those who opted not to take the buyouts that were offered in 2009. (This also gives us a reason to pause when we think about Republicans’ emphasis on freeing businesses up to be “job creators,” but that’s a digression.)

As a journalist, I’m also saddened to see good, professional writers face the choice of accepting harsh pay cuts or being out of a job. That’s not the sort of choice that a community-oriented organization offers its best and most loyal people.

The story at Nola.com assures us that we will continue to get a week’s worth of society coverage, comics and puzzles, as well as “a richer and deeper news, sports and entertainment report.” That seems hard to imagine if writers are being focused on regular online blogging. Not impossible, obviously, but it’s hard to imagine that we’ll see meaningful, multi-part journalism like the recent look at the prison business.

One staffer I spoke to referred to the Huffington Post as a model for what’s to come, which suggests that the new Nola.com could be more varied in its approach, but much of what’s there—and across the blogosphere—is written in response to the hard reporting that mainstream journalists have done. In this new climate, will someone like David Hammer have the time, resources, support and will to cover the investigation into the BP oil spill as thoroughly as he did?

These days, we need journalists holding government and industry’s feet to the fire, and it’s not clear that a web-first approach will make that happen. I don’t know if I would have clicked on a story on the now-withdrawn hospitality zone proposal, but I discovered the plans to fill its board with unelected members when flipping through the pages. I wonder if such a plan will encounter the outcry it received if it is proposed next year.

A recent study showed how the places we get our news affects our grasp of current events. I won’t make an issue of which news outlet makes you know less than people who don’t read or watch the news, but one thing that was consistent regardless of your favored news source is that we have a poor grasp of international affairs. When those stories become part of a menu that have to be clicked on and not something you run across in the process of reading, it’s likely that they’ll be passed over and we’ll be even less informed.

I assume the NOLA Media Group anticipates election coverage and the return of football to help drive people to the site. After all, since there will be no Monday or Tuesday paper, there will be no print coverage after Saints games. Right now, it’s easy to fear that the sky is falling (and for the people working there, it is), but I hope that professionals will continue to do a professional job of gathering and reporting the news. I’d like to think that this doesn’t represent the abdication of journalism in New Orleans, but it’s hard to be optimistic that the NOLA Media Group has the city’s interests in mind and that its priorities are journalistic.

  • Pltrhd

    This is not new. The business of gathering and reporting new has been in freefall dating back to the 1970s. I watched it from the best seat in the house, reporting for United Press International, then Reuters and AP. At UPI we saw our thousands of small newspaper clients slowly go out of business. At one point we had a newsroom in every state capitol building in the country. Now most of the cities don’t even have a viable newspaper. Then entire divisions of UPI were eliminated overnight. Even the supervisors had no idea what was happening. In every case what was going on was exactly what Mr. Romney did at Bain — take the assets of an organization, like the Bettman photo archives at UPI, and sell them off for a quick profit. The newspaper world has been run like a bust-out business ever since then. I share your concern but this is hardly alarming because it’s been going on for a lng time now. Nobody ever seems to react until the “news” lands on their own doorstep. Meanwhile publishers insist on the concept that bloggers shouldn’t be paid for their work.  

  • Thanks Alex, prescient yous.
    I’ve followed offBeat for ever of course, but you online post Federal Flood. I’ve really gotten into you because you are excellent. As such, yous will be called upon more and more to fill the void, to stand before the minions of this pustules yellow black hole descending upon our still great local news landscape. In short, we got yer back. If y’all decide to expand to fill this void, I will support you.
    Thanks yous,
    Editilla the Pun

  • Michaelpatrickwelch

    Oddly, just last night, as I walked by a long-neglected free copy of the Times-Pic that had been thrown onto my stoop who knows how long ago, I wondered when they would stop printing the paper…

  • Janramsey

    This rumor has been in the mill for at least two years, and it’s finally come true. One of the things I truly like about reading a newspaper is that is exposes me to many different ideas and types of news that I just can’t get online. I can pick and choose what I want to read as I peruse the pages. An online source cannot ever do that. You won’t be able to find information you may not even know that you need on any online site. What this does is gives the online site too much power in controlling the dissemination of information–you’re only going to get what they feed you in a click-through . You only see what they have links to. Who’s to say that I don’t want to know about the Ladies and gentlemen, get ready for the real dumbing-down of New Orleans, and the end of journalism as we knew it. Bloggers, for the most part, aren’t what I’d consider real journalists, and I don’t trust what they have to say. They usually only express their opinions, and THAT’S NOT JOURNALISM. You could be paid as a critic or a blogger, but blogging just isn’t the same as being a journalist and reporter of facts. What standards are bloggers held to? Who edits their stuff? Show me a blogger who wants to be edited! 

  • Anonymous

     The only way I can see out of this shameful move is for a New Orleans-loving philanthropist without an ideological axe to grind to buy the paper back from the conglomerate that owns it now, invest in the staff, bolster the Pulitzer-worthy reporting, maybe raise the price by 25 or 50 cents and keep the real paper alive.  Also, either staff in internal web team or hire a local web design group so as to not become like other web sites run by the former corporate overlords.  There are ways to work with the revenue problems like paid access for archives or something similar.  We don’t live in New Orleans.  We visit a few times a year and even though we’ve got our laptop with us for web access and I’ve got the Nola.com gadget on my smart phone, we feel deprived if we don’t pick up the paper every day – for the same reasons Jan mentions.  Scrolling and clicking is just not the same as reading a real newspaper.  Perhaps the Jolie-Pitts would like to be in the newspaper business.

  • Royeuresr

    I delivered the T.P. on my bike when it was a heavy, gigantic chunk..Sunday and holiday editions a back breaker..Loved Dixie Roto and the weekend music lineups..Advertising dollars have shrunk and fragmented into multiple and growing media..the small merchant puzzled where to advertise..A shame. but not unexpected!

  • Pltrhd

    If a newspaper fires its staff and turns them into bloggers they cease to become journalists? The concept is insulting to the writers who work so hard for so little money, just to make the world a better place. And believe me it’s a vocation. You’d have to be pretty stupid to embark on a journalism career thinking you’ll get rich.

  • Rjrappold

    on the comment about Republicans and freeing up business to create jobs. Shame on you for bringing that up! Maybe you should be printing that 100 to 150 people may lose their jobs under the OBOMA administration. I hope Mr. Rawls you are in that number!!!

  • Alexrawls

    You hope I, a person who doesn’t work at the Times-Picayune, loses a Times-Picayune job? I’m confused. The bottom line is that an article of faith for Conservatives today is that we need to put our faith in business, but none of the articles I’ve read claim that these moves are necessary for the T-P to continue exist. These are changes with major civic impact that are being made because they want to, not because they have to.

  • I wish, instead of the term ‘cut costs’ the more accurate term of ‘increase profits’ had been used…..a concept, Mr Rjrappold, more in line with the Republican candidate’s work history.
    This move, has profound implications beyond the loss of jobs to talented writers. It decreases news availability to the elderly and impoverished. If one does not have access to the internet, one does not have daily news. It decreases the probablity that young minds will have exposure to anything beyond what they hear discussed on a stoop or the kitchen table, if such a thing exists anymore. I grew up in Biloxi, MS, where my parents took the Biloxi paper in the morning and the TP every afternoon. I read them, both daily, from the time I was about 9 years old.
    Beyond that, it should be an embarrassment to every literate New Orleanian that anyone should even propose such a thing.