Despite the black outerpinnings, Hurricane Katrina delivered a few silver linings. For The Times-Picayune, a major one was the realization that good journalism can be delivered to the masses via electronics rather than ink.
Nola.com kept all of us engaged and informed in those days after the storm – and not only the newspaper’s audience, but its employees, too, as we wrote and researched and delivered the news – even held weekly virtual editorial meetings — linked only by laptops across the country.
Nola.com went, well, viral after Katrina. When NolaVie became a content partner in 2011, the site was drawing an estimated 30 million viewers per month. That’s a far cry from its beginnings in 1998, when Nola.com was launched as part of Advance Internet’s new but fledgling universe of digital offerings.
Back in the Internet’s baby days, there was a lot of discussion about what to do with this odd and perplexing new arrival.
In the mid ‘90s, I was part of the TP’s first World Wide Web team (remember Webcrawler?), tasked with creating a site that would be manned by the paper’s newsroom. We studied html coding, typed stories into “back-end” systems, made three-dimensional diagrams of content placement, and installed the city’s first web cam, in the window of The Cat’s Meow on Bourbon Street. Since neworleans.com was taken, our URL became neworleans.net; if you type it in today, it takes you right to its newer progeny, Nola.com.
It soon became obvious that this new Web universe would take far more resources than imagined, and, in the waning years of the 20th century, responsibility for all the Advance websites shifted to corporate headquarters in New Jersey.
From the beginning, Nola.com, like its brethren Advance sites, lived in a parallel universe to The Times-Picayune. Advance websites were never designed to be online newspapers, like The New York Times or Washington Post, but rather regional destinations in their own right, coupling the power of the press with other offerings for their readers.
That gave rise to occasional sibling rivalry, as web contributors created some content that legacy journalists deemed unworthy, and some legacy journalists balked at the mandate to feed the website.
That bumpy ride culminated in the announcement in May that, come fall, The Times-Picayune will cease daily publication and turn to a more digital presence.
Baby brother grew up — and now he’s running the household.
Which is not necessarily a bad thing. But, just as it did in the late ‘90s, Internet journalism sits at a crossroads: Entertainment or investigation? Bourbon Street webcam or business story?
That’s the water-cooler conversation of the moment in New Orleans.
Nola.com unveiled a much-touted new design earlier this year, one that has drawn strong reaction (read my story about the designers behind it here). Whether or not it will carry the journalistic heft or easy navigability of a newspaper remains to be seen.
It’s true that Nola.com reached a massive audience post-Katrina – but those were readers desperate for news, and willing to open a clunky pdf of The Times-Picayune front page to get it.
Internet users are far savvier these days – and far more demanding. They won’t wait on slow-loading pages or navigate through content layers. Millennials, bless them, are not know for their long attention spans.
Renee Peck is editor of NolaVie.