May 6, 201309:37 AM
The Editor's Room
Weekly Commentary with New Orleans Magazine’s Errol Laborde
The Times-Picayune Fiasco: John Georges vs. The Newhouses
Imagine being served a nice sizzling sirloin steak and a baked potato, but then the waiter comes and takes away the steak. You sit there for a few minutes staring at the cooling potato and then the waiter returns and announces, “I’ve got exciting news. We’re increasing your meal to make it more bountiful. We have a burger for you, but its over on the counter. You will have to go get it.”
Then the waiter continues. “This is just another way that we are enhancing our customer service. By the way, the price of the burger is the same as the steak."
Welcome to Newhouse’s where the service is medium rare.
Last week, when Ricky Mathews, the publisher of NOLA Media Group, which oversees The Times-Picayune and NOLA.com, announced that the company would start publishing a three-times-a-week tabloid called TPStreet which would appear on those days that the real Times-Picayune is not published (except Saturday), he sent a message to the company’s advisory board. “I am happy to share some exciting news with you," he began...
Today, we are announcing a new and exciting addition to our print products. Beginning this summer, we will publish TPStreet focusing on breaking news, sports and entertainment. It will appear in a tabloid format, publishing on Monday, Tuesday and Thursday. The new publication will cost 75 cents, the same as a current weekday copy of The Times-Picayune.
Mathews added that the printed version of the tabloid would be sold on newsstands only and not available by subscription.
Now wait a minute, Ricky. A cynic might say about the new publication that “you really haven’t increased anything, all you’ve done is partially make up for the short fall.”
Mathews went on to explain that Times-Picayune subscribers will have access to a digital edition of TPStreet for free, though the main message, as we understood it, was that the newspaper would, in various forms, return to printing daily. (Let's see: If you take the three editions of the real Times-Picayune and add the three editions of TPStreet, that amazingly equals seven, because the Sunday paper, which is partially printed early on Saturday, counts for two.) So, according to Newhouse math, The Times-Picayune is whole again as though nothing ever really happened. Pass the mustard please.
Meanwhile, in Baton Rouge, the announcement that New Orleans businessman John Georges had purchased The Advocate, which now holds The Times-Picayune’s abandoned title of the “state’s largest daily,” was taken so seriously that Gov. Bobby Jindal even wore a tie for the occasion. Joining him were Baton Rouge Mayor Kip Holden and New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu, who still presides over the largest city in the country without a locally published daily newspaper.
What Georges was promising was more straightforward: A full-sized daily printed newspaper, just like what most cities in the world still have, despite the digital age. He was pledging steak with no baloney.
On the day after the May 1 purchase, Georges spoke to The Advocate staff and talked about the newspaper’s future, as reported by The Advocate's Timothy Boone:
Georges said if The Advocate could double the number of subscribers in New Orleans, the newspaper would “be in great shape.” He said there are opportunities in the city
because The Times-Picayune was “wounded and confused.”
Georges was also quoted in the article saying, “We have a unique opportunity to grow this newspaper. It just happens that there’s a geography to the south that’s dying for quality journalism seven days a week.”
To date, The Advocate reportedly has about 20,000 New Orleans area subscribers, so twice that seems to be the magic number. Georges mentioned September as the launch for the new version of The Advocate. Between now and then some new hires, possibly from The Times-Picayune, and a visual re-design are expected.
As for T-PStreet, its debut was announced for June. An interesting observation came from reporter Ryan Chittum of The Columbia Journalism Review who has been providing some of the most insightful coverage of The Times-Picayune situation:
NOLA [.com’s] hamhanded PR [is] not going to win back the trust of Picayune readers who have been so badly burned in the last year. The company controls one of the great brand names in American journalism in The Times-Picayune, and it goes and names something TPStreet.
When The Advocate's new look debuts in September, that will mark 11 months since the Newhouses implemented their thrice-weekly strategy. The end of the noise that Steve Newhouse wished for never came, indeed the scene is about to get louder. All that sizzles is not steak.
Krewe: The Early New Orleans Carnival - Comus to Zulu by Errol Laborde is available at all area bookstores. Books can also be ordered via email at firstname.lastname@example.org or (504) 895-2266.
WATCH INFORMED SOURCES, FRIDAYS AT 7 P.M., REPEATED AT 11:30 P.M. WYES-TV, CH. 12.