Save The Times-Picayune!
I just signed a petition to save The Times-Picayune, New Orleans’ prize-winning newspaper, which recently announced plans to cut print publication back to three days a week.
It was where I cut my teeth as a cub journalist, starting on the copy desk during my senior year in college at Loyola University. I became a stringer, writing about issues on the college beat, including the paper’s first story on the then-unknown phenomenon of the Internet. Later, I covered city government, higher education, the famous Louisiana legislature, and topics including a Superfund cleanup, underage drinking, homeless teenagers and the Pearl River swamp. I was there when the paper won one of its Pulitzer Prizes, for a series on the dire state of the world’s oceans.
I owe much in my career to my mentors from the T-P, including Kristin Gilger (now associate dean of the Arizona State University Cronkite School of Journalism), Keith Woods (now a vice president at NPR), and Mark Schleifstein (still the voice of the environment at the Picayune).
But it’s not out of a sense of mere nostalgia that I question the Picayune’s move.
I’m all for digital news. It is, I believe, the way of the future. I just think that the time isn’t right to cut back print publication – and certainly not to cut the newsroom by half. Here’s why:
- This move won’t save much money. According to an analysis by Rick Edmonds on Poynter.org, these cuts will save a paltry 3 percent. He figured saving 25 percent of costs by eliminating four days of printing plus employee cutbacks, compared to a predicted 22 percent loss in advertising and circulation revenue.
- A professional staff is needed to create a professional product. Readers and viewers want a high-quality publication, whether it’s on paper or on the Internet or both. Cutting half of the newsroom – reporters, editors, copy editors, designers, photographers and so on – will dramatically limit the Picayune’s ability to create its award-winning, community-focused coverage.
- The digital divide is still great, especially in New Orleans. A story published by thelensnola.org reported that high-speed Internet subscribers in New Orleans tend to be white and in higher income brackets. The implication is that poor, minority communities will be more cut off from the news – and the civic engagement it fosters.
- Many people complain that the paper’s website, NOLA.com, isn’t ready for prime time. The website got a recent redesign, but critics say the site is terrible.
Journalism is a business, sure, but it’s also a public trust. Good journalism can and should be done on multiple platforms. This move, however, seems rash – especially in a city where the print edition is still so much loved and needed.
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