The disheartening news about The Times-Picayune last week has shaken our city, putting a national spotlight on New Orleans and affirming a harsh reality for print media everywhere. And, while this news means an unfortunate loss of four days of printed news and some layoffs in the fall, I can’t help but challenge everyone to look for the opportunities inherent in this change.
First, let’s take a look at how we got here.
So, the Internet was invented. Then, as technology advanced, daily newspapers began creating websites to complement their daily print versions, giving us immediate updates on all the news. And for free.
With news constantly developing throughout the day, we have become dependent on the ability to access all the most recent information at a moment’s notice from any news source at any time. As a result, we have become hungry for anything that is new and instantaneous. In fact, it’s not accidental that blogs and online news sources have formatted their websites so that the newest posts are organized at the top of the screen.
However, as almost 80 percent of America now has some form of access to the Internet, can we really be shocked that a morning delivery of printed daily newspapers has become an inefficient form of distribution?
Over the past few years, many newspapers have suffered — some going bankrupt and many, including our own Times-Picayune, witnessing a shrinking editorial staff. It’s the unfortunate consequence that comes with ever-changing technology. Still, major newspapers have continued to print even with slow and impending extinction.
In a decision intended to keep our newspaper financially viable, Advance Publications, the company behind the Times-Picayune, has chosen to scale back by changing the daily publication into a more robust online media source, with print editions set for Wednesdays, Fridays, and Sundays only. I will resist the urge to go on a diatribe about the new website, and instead celebrate the opportunities that come with this change.
Our 175-year-old newspaper has been a major part of New Orleans history, from the continued coverage on the city’s status in the days and weeks following Hurricane Katrina for displaced residents to capturing the glorious moment when the Saints won the Super Bowl. Our newspaper has commemorated our city’s biggest moments. For that we are all grateful, and have the evidence to forever remind us what our city has endured and accomplished.
I must admit that, in addition to the potential loss of some talented writers and photographers at the TP, it is definitely a sad reality to think that we may have to wait until Wednesday, February 6, 2013, to pick up printed coverage of next year’s Saints Feb. 3 Super Bowl win.
However, this change also brings new prospects for our city – opportunities to further prove to the country how progressive a city we are and how we continue to grow even through adversity.
The restructure puts The Times-Picayune at the focus of what could be an experimental case for newspapers everywhere. This change could either prove to be the tragic demise of our printed paper altogether or a successful transformation that other publishers across the country could use as a model to keep their papers financially viable. This success could raise the credibility of the The Times-Picayune as an exemplary and nationally renowned publication, and give New Orleans the opportunity to create new industry possibilities within media and publishing.
Now, you’re probably scratching your head, thinking, “That’s ironic, crazy person. How can we seek opportunity or grow an industry in media when our newspaper is downsizing?”
I’m glad you asked.
The Times-Picayune’s market penetration is among the highest in the country, thanks to the loyalty that New Orleans residents have to the printed newspaper.
We read it on the streetcar, at the coffee shop, and on our balconies, because the Southern sun makes the glare on the iPad impossible to read. We frame our copies of the front page after a Super Bowl win, our debut photos from the social section, and articles from our personal and professional accomplishments that make local headlines. Our grandparents spend long, quiet afternoons reading about recent happenings, and we recycle old issues by keeping stockpiles for our many springtime crawfish boils.
New Orleaneans have a deep love for their printed newspaper. So, if veteran publishers think that a smaller staffed newspaper will ensure a more sustainable publication, who is to say that we can’t create another — and another — small-staffed daily newspaper?
Specifically now, with so much growth and progress, New Orleans has continued to be a newsworthy city. That gives the talented individuals who have dedicated years to legacy journalism at the TP and who are now at risk of layoff a huge opportunity to continue this tradition by creating a new, smaller daily.
We’ve done it before with other industries.
Ten years ago, Louisiana was among the first states to create a film tax credit program. While about 37 other programs followed across the country, Louisiana has seen great success as one of the top three states leading the film industry. Not only has this created a new industry in Louisiana that did not exist before, but the growth of film production has brought millions of dollars to our local economy, protected the state during times of economic uncertainty, brought in other new businesses and industries, and helped keep film production from being outsourced to other countries.
As a state and a city, we have proved that we can overcome setbacks, and can create new industries, start new businesses, and set an example for the rest of the country. The news, the spirit, the history, and the creative energy are prominent here now more than ever. It’s up to us to continue to use our assets to our advantage.
So, to those who are part of the TP staff, members of the community outraged by this change, and proud advocates of our continued daily newspaper, I leave you with this thought. Rather than protesting the Times-Picayune’s decision to go digital by using your, um, digital platforms and social media to dispute the decision, think about how we can create growth.
Let’s create more media sources, prove that we are leaders in digital media with sophisticated digital news platforms, start a new small daily newspaper, create a nationally renowned publication that can be irreplaceable and continue to spread the good NOLA news on national levels.
At least, that’s what I’ll be doing.