Jul 15, 201309:59 AM
The Editor's Room
Weekly Commentary with New Orleans Magazine’s Errol Laborde
The Times-Picayune Fiasco: Hey Newhouses, the Stakes are Getting Higher!
If this were a poker game one might look for a gleam in The Advocate’s new owner, John Georges', eye. One would also look to see if the Newhouses’ hand was not as strong as they thought it was when the game started.
We are now in a transitional stage in the future of New Orleans’ home-delivered daily newspapers. In a business where much time is spent trying to separate rumors from fact, the sky is atwitter with the former. According to rumors, The Advocate will be making a big move within the near future, which will include a redesign and rebranding. No longer will it be just the New Orleans edition of The Advocate, but rather The New Orleans Advocate.
Already the newspaper has made several high profile hires most of whom were formerly with The Times-Picayune. Might there be more to come? There go those rumors.
What is fact is that The Advocate operates an office in downtown New Orleans where there are “reporters” rather than “content providers” and “editors” rather than whatever the Newhouses' techy euphemism du jour is. That office is on the ground floor rather than, as is now the case with The Times-Picayune, on the top floor of an office building. There is something trustworthy about easy access to journalists and the people they cover.
I am not sure how the three-day-a-week, newsstand-only, no-home-delivery T-P Street has caught on, if it has at all. There's no noise about it, Mr. Newhouse. There are not even rumors.
I never doubted that the real Times-Picayune, the one that comes out on Wednesday, Friday and Sunday, would still have the capacity to be a good newspaper. There are some talented survivors there. The only difference is that locals are mad, not at the newspaper but at what its ownership has done to it. New Orleans feels insulted by the Newhouses. It is hard to develop goodwill from there.
A year ago this past week, a letter signed by 70 or so prominent locals was sent to the Newhouse family urging them to sell The Times-Picayune. Among the signees were the university presidents, Tom and Gayle Benson, James Carville, Cokie Roberts; the two arches – the Archbishop and Archie Manning – and many more people of influence.
Some of the points made, as reported in one of the last Tuesday editions of The Times-Picayune, were quite powerful:
- ”If you have ever valued the friendship you have shared with our city and your loyal readers, we ask that you sell The Times-Picayune. Our city wants a daily printed paper, needs a daily printed paper and deserves a daily printed paper.”
- (The goodwill Newhouse had built over 50 years has) "dissipated in just a few short months because of the decision that took our entire community by surprise. Advance Publications and its leadership have lost the trust and credibility of a significant segment of the community."
And to me, the strongest statement of all: "If your family does not believe in the future of this great city and its capacity to support a daily newspaper, it is only fair to allow us to find someone who does."
In response, Donald E. Newhouse, president of Advance Publications, was quoted saying, “We have read the letter with great respect and concern. Advance Publications has no intention of selling The Times-Picayune.”
Well at least he didn’t call it “noise.”
Who would have thought that a year later the city’s daily newspaper WOULD be in the hands of a new owner, only the daily is The Advocate and the owner is John Georges?
Hey Newhouses, there are still some big hands to be played.
BOOK ANNOUNCEMENT: Errol’s Laborde’s new book, Mardi Gras: Chronicles of the New Orleans Carnival (Pelican Publishing Company, 2013), is due to be released Oct. 31. It is now available for pre-order at Amazon.com.
WATCH INFORMED SOURCES, FRIDAYS AT 7 P.M., REPEATED AT 11:30 P.M. WYES-TV, CH. 12.