Why the Times-Picayune is no longer relevant
Tuesday morning several hundred staffers from the Times-Picayune found themselves out of a job. Among the victims of the staff evisceration were children’s beat reporter Barri Bronston, religion reporter Bruce Nolan, award-winning cartoonist Steve Kelly and restaurant and renowned food critic Brett Anderson. Even sports editor Peter Finney, a veteran since the mid-1940s and one of the most respected members of sports journalism, was downsized to a position as a freelancer.
Some industry insiders feel this may seem to be a smart business decision. The spiraling costs of putting out a newspaper have in the last several years been associated more with human resources than with environmental factors. No longer does the cost of newsprint figure as prominently as the costs of maintaining 401K and healthcare plans.
The digital age has meant a paradigm shift in the newspaper industry because Internet sites like Craig’s List have sucked out the profitable classified ads business from local newspapers. Popular search engines like Google have captured much of the local content from newspapers, making them the first choice for Internet word searches and home pages. This has ramped up the value of these sites and the print industry has been slow to respond to this challenge.
The Times-Picayune created Nola.com, their digital portal to the Internet several years ago. However, it was not designed to be the analog newsprint posted on the digital web. It was intended it have its own identity and a separate, mostly younger staff was hired to ensure that it connected to younger readers who were more interested in quick, digital downloads as opposed to more in-depth or investigative pieces that required longer periods of reading for absorption. The disparity in salaries between those who wrote for Nola.com and the Times-Picayune was noted.
So, when the powers that be announced on May 23 that sizable layoffs were coming along with a suspension of publishing on Mondays, Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays, it was suspected they would sack the more expensive newspaper staff and elevate the more affordable Nola.com writers. Yet, when the layoffs were announced, everyone was told they had to re-apply for a position with the new entity.
So, effective in the fall, New Orleans becomes the first major metropolitan area to have no daily newspaper. This occurs despite the fact that industry observers point out the newspaper had the fourth largest market penetration in the nation and that the print editions had been bringing in at least 12 times the revenue than its Nola.com website.
So what does all of this mean to the Jewish New Orleans community? Does it mean that our community will have less coverage? Probably. Does it mean that our insular community will lack connectivity to the Greater New Orleans community-at-large? More than likely. Will it have an impact on our future as a religious community or our connection to our culture and religion? Fairly unlikely. So, aside from the tragedy of veteran journalists losing their jobs and a publishing empire making what may or may not be an ill-advised business decision (which should not be diminished), the effect on the Jewish community will, for the larger part, be business (or religion) as usual. The fact that the Newhouse family who controls the publishing empire is Jewish is somewhat troubling because it means a disconnect with both its historical New Orleans Jewish community and the much larger Greater New Orleans community, 36% of which does not use the Internet to receive its news.
By suspending daily publication in favor of “beefed up” coverage on the Internet, the business “head” of the Times-Picayune has chosen a new model that effectively cancels its “heart,” its subscription to the people.
It doesn’t take an advanced degree to intuit that the people of New Orleans will be canceling their subscriptions to the paper in record numbers. The reason is that the Times-Picayune has called attention to the fact that it is no longer relevant to many of its potential readers. The publishers have decided they do not require a connection to the community through publishing on paper. Henceforth, it is only interested in connecting to the digital world.
After numerous Pulitizer Prizes and other industry awards (especially in the wake of its Hurricane Katrina-related coverage), the Times-Picayune has determined its future. Whether we in the Jewish community continue to connect remains to be seen, but it is apparent we will have to do so without many of the human faces of the reporters we’ve come to know through the years.
In the meantime the great aspect of the Internet is that even a newly-launched website like the Crescent City Jewish News (CCJN) can be as relevant as Nola.com and other newspaper websites. The playing field can be considered level in its access to readers. It is our hope to be an effective presence that will inform, support and serve as a relevant voice for our historically important New Orleans Jewish community.