Times-Picayune publisher: ‘This is chapter two’

The Times-Picayune’s digital-first strategy is working, the publisher said at a conference Tuesday.

His comments come after the paper switched in October from seven days of print editions to three days a week. The move was publicly criticized by residents in the city and has been the source of much discussion in the journalism industry.

But, Ricky Mathews, publisher of The Times-Picayune and president of NOLA Media Group, said the change was needed and is going well.

“This is a 50 chapter book,” he said. “The first chapter was we decided to make a bold change. This is chapter two. So far, so good, but we’ve got a lot to learn. Hopefully as a result of things that are successful for us and the mistakes we make, you can learn from that.”

He and Jim Amoss, vice president of content for NOLA Media Group, were guest speakers Tuesday at the Key Executives Mega Conference, being held in The Roosevelt Hotel in New Orleans. The Inland Press Association, the Local Media Association and the Southern Newspaper Publishers Association joined forces to put on the conference, which attracted more than 500 publishers, editors, sales directors and other media representatives.

Mathews said average daily circulation grew about 1 percent from the third quarter of 2012 (before the print change) to the fourth quarter in 2012 (after the change). Average Sunday circulation is flat. It’s not a huge growth, but Mathews said the paper’s circulation had been tracking down four percent to seven percent the past few years.

“We’re not kidding ourselves,” he said. “We’re trying to slow the decline.”

However, the numbers are dramatically climbing online and on mobile. NOLA.com had 3.4 million unique visitors a month in 2011. In 2012, it had 4.2 million. NOLA.com’s mobile platforms combined had more than 12 million page views in December 2012.

“Our readers have a voracious news appetite and we have to feed it,” Amoss said.

That task falls to the newsgathering operation.

“And let me dispel the notion that we have gutted our newsroom,” Amoss said.

He said the paper went from 181 staffers to 155. The organization, he said, also reinvigorated itself by hiring experienced journalists who were well versed in the digital world.

Mathews said, “One of the fundamental changes in the newsroom is our reporters and photographers no longer live in a print world. They are competing in the digital space in ways we’ve never done before.”

Added Amoss, “Our goal as journalists is to focus on our audience, to engage with them, to respond to them. That requires a culture change on the part of everyone in the newsroom.”

The company was split to further promote the idea of “digital first.” The NOLA Media Group includes content, human resources, sales and marketing employees. In January, it moved to the top two floors of One Canal Place in downtown New Orleans.

“We felt like the physical move was extremely important,” Mathews said. “We wanted to change a culture and move away from the print-centric culture.”

The newsroom is a reflection of the change. Mathews on Tuesday gave conference attendees a photo tour of the newsroom. The outside walls are glass windows and provide a 360 degree-view of the city.

Reporters have MacBooks and iPhones, but don’t have assigned desks.

“It helps control clutter,” Mathews said. “We worked hard to make it feel clean and be as paperless as possible.”

The newsroom also has a video studio. Mathews said they hired videographers and people with a TV background to help produce content.

The space also focuses on collaborative efforts, with several meeting spaces, white boards and creative spaces.

The collaborative efforts paid off during the Super Bowl, when NOLA.com’s coverage racked up 1.9 million page views in two weeks. It published 614 stories, 1,317 photos and 93 videos.

The Super Bowl, Amoss said, is just one example of coverage NOLA.com plans to continue providing.

“Our embracing of the digital future is in no way a diminishment of the kind of journalism we’ve always been committed to as a news organization,” Amoss said.

Carlie Kollath Wells is a New Orleans-based freelance reporter. She founded NewinNOLAblog.com, a website for new residents in New Orleans, and previously worked for the Northeast Mississippi Daily Journal, Retailing Today  and Drug Store News.

We have made it easy to comment on posts, however we require civility and encourage full names to that end (first initial, last name is OK). Please read our guidelines here before commenting.

  • http://www.facebook.com/LikeSteveHaas Steve Haas

    Why is slabbed always first in all reporting? They provide better sourcing to original work on the issues, have better commenters and let the readers come to their own conclusion. Truly slabbed reports and you decide. Oh well back to slabbed for Tommie’s headlines today…

  • Jayne Dough

    Did he have slides on the laughable coverage of the Playboy Playmate party … covered by, of all people, the art critic? That was a real winner.

  • Guest

    Did he have slides on the laughable coverage of the Playboy Playmate party … covered by, of all people, the art critic? That was a real winner?

  • Jayne Dough

    To work their fingers to the bone and get no recognition and watch supervisors guiltlessly take credit for that work.

  • Jayne Dough

    Correction, JIM AMOSS, you gutted the newsroom STAFF, then hired practical teenagers to replace them, most of whom could seamlessly have moved to the digital wonderworld if they had been given a chance. The fact that you keep denying that fact guts them even further. You are dispicable, and you deserve the legacy with which you are left, as has been proven in the satyrical Mardi Gras floats that stabbed you and your joke of an operation in the gut. You and you alone are a traitor.

  • laynebruce

    It’s interesting that the NOLA group does seem to have a more cohesive strategy for going forward than what is taking place in Alabama. We were also told on Monday that the NOLA strategy is not being positioned as the future for all newspapers, particularly community journalism. That may seem revisionist at this point, but Advance and the New Orleans management team now seems sensitive to the fact they are so far on their own with this strategy and that print and institutional journalism remains critically important nationwide.

  • canardnoir

    Excellent point! Ralph

    Perhaps there were far too many old, seasoned, sleuths, connected to the old guard of City government and parish politics – so they just got rid of ‘em! And maybe hired some cheaper help and contract labor within that process?

  • canardnoir

    Good thing that you escaped that NE Mississippi rag before it corrupted your take on decent journalism…

  • canardnoir

    Did anyone point out that The Advocate / Baton Rouge, La. 7-day a week publication quickly moved into the New Orleans area, and possibly absorbed some of the T-P’s former readership?

    But that’s probably not important.

  • http://twitter.com/carlie_kollath Carlie Kollath Wells

    Barbara – Amoss discussed the Super Bowl coverage in multiple slides. But, he also talked about a few other projects.

    He spent a few slides discussing the “I’ll kill them all” series that tracked Kyle Joekel. It was a multi-day series and he showed how it was played online and in print.

    Other projects he mentioned:

    analysis of drunk drivers and what the PD is doing

    teacher evaluation series

    state’s restaurant inspection process

    sports – Saints bounty saga

  • Barbara Selvin

    I saw nothing in this account that reflected any concern with producing the kind of hard-hitting coverage the print-centric Times-Picayune did so well — the kind that really served its readers. Lots of hits on Super Bowl coverage? Not exactly a journalistic home run.

  • http://twitter.com/ralphpoore Ralph Poore

    Amoss said, “Our goal as journalists is to focus on our audience, to engage with them, to respond to them. That requires a culture change on the part of everyone in the newsroom.” So what was the goal of the previous newsroom culture?