Amoss: Radical restructuring at Times-Picayune has roots in Katrina reporting

The Times-Picayune | PBS NewsHour
Thursday’s front-page centerpiece in The Times-Picayune is an essay from Editor Jim Amoss in which he invokes the newspaper’s Web-first response to Hurricane Katrina in order to defend the decision to lay off 200 people and pivot to the Web. He describes waking in the middle of the night as the storm made landfall to find journalists furiously updating NOLA.com:

None of these reports would ever see a printing press. They would never be part of a bundle of paper landing on someone’s doorstep. No reader would physically turn a page and stumble upon them. They were vital pieces of digital journalism, written by a news staff driven to get word out, posted on our website, nola.com, as they happened. …

I didn’t realize at that moment that I was witnessing the beginning of our part of the revolution that is transforming our business. Nor, I imagine, did the reporters and editors in that dim room. We knew only that we were in an emergency; that we couldn’t produce the paper in physical form; and that we were getting the news out as best and as fast as we could.

David Meeks, a former Times-Picayune editor who led the staff back into the city to report on the storm, told Poynter via email that this isn’t about print vs. digital:

No one is arguing whether the business is going digital — at some point. We all know that. What they continually do not discuss is that it did not need to happen this way, this soon, and they have presented no evidence to prove their case beyond lofty pronouncements about the coming digital era.

The bridge from print to digital was still supported by revenue that could allow a profitable newspaper to make the transition at a pace that was fair to the community and humane to its employees, who do work that is important to the public good. This is not a debate about print vs. digital, it is about smart vs. stupid. It is twisting the narrative to call this meltdown “adapting.”

On “PBS NewsHour” Wednesday night, The New York Times’ David Carr said Advance Publications and Amoss have demonstrated that they can put out an excellent newspaper, but not an impressive website. “In terms of their skills, I think they’re pivoting from their strength to their weakness,” he said.

Amoss writes in his essay that the company is listening to complaints about NOLA.com.

Related: What the future of news looks like in Alabama after Advance cuts staff by 400 (Poynter) | Why a Weak Website Can’t Replace a Daily Newspaper in New Orleans (The Atlantic) | Why hasn’t the paper tried digital subscriptions? (CJR) | Will people in New Orleans start another paper? (NolaVie)
Detroit newspapers’ decision to cut daily delivery “was cutting off your arm so you can get out from under the boulder” (Nieman Journalism Lab)

Earlier: Times-Picayune features layoffs on front page, Alabama papers minimize ‘job status’ (Poynter)

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  • Anonymous

    yet another example of that old favorite: “we’re going to do more with less.” yet another example of a newspaper cutting its own throat.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1024706000 Ann Barks

    Amoss is telling us subscribers the TP’s biz strategy is this: we’ll get rid of half our news gatherers and then increase news coverage. We’re not so dumb down here to know that’s not going to work, no matter what medium they use to “publish.” We can also figure out that once the TP no longer has daily relevancy to key demographics, the advertisers will leave both the TP and its horrid website in search of better ways to communicate. Lots of us figure this was the death of a news organization we admired and cherished.

  • http://twitter.com/matttullis Matt Tullis

    Is Amoss really so naive as to think that his newsroom today could pull off the Web coverage from Katrina? It’s one thing to move to digital. But to gut the reporting staff while you move to digital and claim that it was Katrina coverage that inspired it is just ridiculous.