Almost a year ago, New Orleans’ Times-Picayune cut staff, announced that it would stop publishing a daily newspaper in favor of three days a week and tired to pivot to digital first at NOLA.com.
A year into the process The Columbia Journalism Review calls strategic decisions made over the last 12 months a “rolling disaster" while the New York Times’ David Carr calls pretty much everything to do with the Picayune "a jaw-dropping blunder”.
But the Picayune isn’t done. Advance Publications, the paper’s owner, has announced the paper will be a paper. Again. Sort of. But in a different format. Probably because The Advocate, the Baton Rouge daily that’s just set up shop in New Orleans, is looking to eat the Picayune’s lunch.
David Carr tries to explain the Picayune’s return to print:
The new distribution plan is hard to explain, but I will do my best.
On Wednesdays, Fridays and Sundays, a broadsheet called The Times-Picayune will be available for home delivery and on the newsstands for 75 cents. On Mondays, Tuesdays and Thursdays, a tabloid called TPStreet will be available only on newsstands for 75 cents.
In addition, a special electronic edition of TPStreet will be available to the three-day subscribers of the home-delivered newspaper. On Saturdays, there will be early print editions of the Sunday Times-Picayune with some breaking news and some Sunday content.
There’s more, but you get the idea — or not. It’s an array of products, frequencies and approaches that is difficult to explain, much less market.
The move was clearly defensive, unveiled the day before John Georges, the new owner of The Advocate, announced that it would expand its incursion into New Orleans.
If that leaves you shaking your head, try this take by Kevin Allman at The Gambit:
The digitally-focused NOLA Media Group, which cut back print publication of The Times-Picayune to three days a week last year, continued to innovate today by announcing a new plan to print on the days it doesn’t produce a print product, bringing the company up to 7-day-a-week publication, according to an announcement by NOLA Media Group Vice President of Content Jim Amoss.
The report, which is not from The Onion, says the new product, to be called “TPStreet,” will launch this summer in newsboxes around the city and cost 75 cents, just like the daily paper, which it will not be, because it is more innovative than that…
…The innovative publication is in response to “a repeated request” from home-delivery subscribers to get a delivered daily paper, but it will not be home delivered, [President and Publisher Ricky] Mathews said.
So, The Advocate’s is trying to invade and the Picayune is playing oddball defense.
"Our hope is that we will be treated to an invigorating old-time press war between The Advocate and The Times-Picayune," Jed Horne, a former editor at The Times-Picayune tells Carr, “but of course, it could end up being two dinosaurs fighting over the last mud hole on an overheated planet.”
Let’s hope not.
Reporters at the new organization will cover local government, economic development, education, crime and other civic issues. “We are filling a reporting gap that the free market will not necessarily fill,” said Michael Hecht, chief executive of Greater New Orleans Inc., a regional business development group, who will head fundraising.
Background, Part 01: Earlier this year New Orleans’ hometown paper the Times Picayune announced they were scaling back and would only print Wednesday, Fridays and Sundays. While the new venture is online, it is/will fill a hole in the city’s local news ecosystem.
Background, Part 02, via Poynter:
Cameron McWhirter and Keach Hagey report in The Wall Street Journal that NPR and the University of New Orleans will announce Friday the launch of a nonprofit news organization called NewOrleansReporter.org, which they plan to have operational by the end of the year. The site will employ 10 to 20 people, McWhirter and Hagey report.
NPR issued a press release after the story, saying the new site will follow a ”public radio funding model” and will be open source, like ProPublica and The Texas Observer. NewOrleansReporter.org will be based in WWNO’s newsroom, and its general manager Paul Maassen will run both organizations. NPR, the release says, is “providing consultation to WWNO around technology infrastructure and online revenue generation as well as training to support the rapid deployment of a multimedia newsroom.”
Background, Part 03: Here’s where it gets interesting. Also via Poynter (emphasis ours):
The letter also says NPR is investing $250,000 in kind in the project (though that dollar amount may be an estimate and is subject to change), and “has decided to make New Orleans its ‘beta’ market to develop a robust online platform for its affiliates nationally.”
Come September when changes at The Times-Picayune take effect, not only will New Orleans become the largest city without a daily newspaper, its residents will likely become some of the most disconnected in the country.
New Orleans lags behind the rest of the U.S. when it comes to broadband Internet service connections, according to an investigative report produced by the nonprofit journalism organization The Lens in conjunction with the Center for Public Integrity and the Investigative Reporting Workshop at American University. About half of Louisianans subscribe to broadband services while the national average is 60 percent. Those who do subscribe to broadband Internet service tend to be white and in higher income brackets, the report shows.