May 13, 201309:03 AM
The Editor's Room
Weekly Commentary with New Orleans Magazine’s Errol Laborde
The Times-Picayune Fiasco: Shootings Reveal Flaw in Newhouse Plan
When 19 people get shot at a second line parade that's a big story, but the former newspaper of record will not be printing anything about the incident today (Monday) or tomorrow. Those who want to read more about the incident in print will have to either buy a copy of The Advocate, or a national newspaper, or wait until the Wednesday edition of The Times-Picayune. They could scroll through the details on their electronic devices but many people who live in the affected neighborhood might not have access to such instruments. This is when they need their daily newspaper.
Last week we saw another example of the the importance of having a daily newspaper, and it was also right in the Newhouses' empire. Earlier this year there had been some concern that the Newhouses would reduce another one of their properties, Cleveland's The Plain Dealer, to thrice weekly as they have done to The Times-Picayune. Instead, they decided to keep The Plain Dealer as a full-fledged daily, though home delivery would only be three times a week. (That’s better than what New Orleans is getting, even with the newly announced tabloid sized TPStreet.)
Imagine if the New Orleans plan had been inflicted on The Plain Dealer. Last week Cleveland was the site of the biggest story in the nation as three women who had been missing for a decade were discovered having been held captive in a home. That story broke on a Monday. It was the type of story that is riveting to a community. The incident, like the Treme shooting, is a classic example of a day-after story where people, having already gotten the breaking news, want to sift through the details. That is what dailies do best. Under the New Orleans plan there would not have been a Tuesday newspaper in Cleveland. The rest of the world could be informed, but not there. True, the information would have been available electronically, but it is not the same thing as printed pages. Then, by Wednesday, most of the news would have been old. That’s why daily newspapers are important.
That example is hypothetical. Plain Dealer readers have been spared their dignity. They had a Tuesday newspaper. By contrast, in March there was an actual example of a missed beat in New Orleans when white smoke billowed from the Sistine Chapel.
For the first time ever a bishop from the Americas was elected Pope. That happened on a Wednesday. New Orleans is a town that is very Catholic in population and in culture. There is also a large Hispanic population that was very interested in the election of a Cardinal from Argentina. Most of the world found out about the actual election electronically, if not from the white smoke. On the day after, however, when there would have been the analytical stories The T-P did not publish. In its prime the paper even had a religion reporter, Bruce Nolan, who would have been all over the story; instead, two days after the new Pope's election, the paper carried a syndicated story about the condition of the Catholic Church.
When a newspaper is not daily, much is lost from public understanding and discourse.
There is The Advocate and we saw indications last week that it is actively building a staff including having attracted Gordon Russell, the T-P’s most prominent investigator, and Martha Carr who has left the former daily to become managing editor of The Advocate. Other T-P reporters are following.
At some point the city needs to have a full functioning daily newspaper again because, as we saw in Treme, at any moment New Orleans, too, could be the site of the biggest story in the nation. Once again the Newhouses have failed us.
More Times-Picayune News: New York Times Weighs in on The T-P
A major article by reporter David Carr, who specializes in covering the media, appears in today's New York Times. Titled "Newspaper Monopoly That Lost Its Grip," it is a major piece not only for untangling the New Orleans blunder but for reconsidering the future of daily newpapers. Read the story here.