‘I’m not going to read the paper online’: New Orleans photographer documents locals reading The Times-Picayune

As New Orleans prepares for life without a daily newspaper, the nonprofit New Orleans news organization The Lens wanted to illustrate how central The Times-Picayune is to the community. Lens Managing Editor Steve Beatty, a Times-Picayune alum, first talked Sunday night with Bevil Knapp, a former Times-Picayune photojournalist, about documenting locals reading the paper Monday and Tuesday — days it will no longer be available in print after Advance Publications reduces the printing schedule and staff later this year.

Knapp, whose husband still works at the paper, began the project at the landmark Morning Call coffee shop and then went to another coffee shop, Fair Grinds.

“And every one in there had a newspaper, it was just wild,” she said by phone. “It was so neat to see that many people who love the paper and they do their morning crossword. I said, ‘How are you gonna get your morning crossword?’ He said, ‘I’ll have to go online and print it out.’ ” Knapp is skeptical that readers will develop the online habit. “The group of people in that photograph had been going to that same place 20 years,” she said. “They meet every morning and have their coffee and read their paper so the people at the coffee shop — this is their ritual.”

While walking through the French Quarter, Knapp ran into Monsignor Crosby W. Kern, who reads the paper every day, and “he said he was very upset.” His 96-year-old mother reads the paper daily, Knapp said, “and now she’s not going to be able to get her news.”

Everywhere she went Knapp asked people how the changes would affect them “and to a person they were upset. ‘I don’t know how I’m gonna get my news. I don’t go online. I’m not going to read the paper online,’ ” they told her.

Knapp also went to Wilbert “Mr. Chill” Wilson’s barber shop. “I walked in there and he said, ‘Oh my gosh, The Times-Picayune helped make me what I am today. I wouldn’t be here if not for The Times-Picayune. They’ve done so much for me and for our community.’ ” Wilson helps with community benefits and is getting ready to do one for a young person who needs a heart transplant, Knapp said. “He calls the paper and he’ll ask them if they’re interested in covering it, and he calls the TV station. That’s how it works,” Knapp said. “All these things are layers and layers of impact, the fallout from losing our daily paper.”

Wilbert “Mr. Chill” Wilson, shown above reading The Times-Picayune, has framed articles about himself on the wall of his barber shop. (Photo by Bevil Knapp, republished with permission)

The city has endured so much tragedy, Knapp said, and “the spirit of resilience is so great here that we need that paper. That paper speaks volumes about us and our community and helps define us and helps keep us going. How great is it to wake up and read a success story about somebody who lost everything in Hurricane Katrina — two family business and five properties — and they’ve rebuilt their home and they’ve rebuilt their lives in the 9th ward… It lifts your spirit. It helps carry us. I think it makes us better. It gives us a sense of community.”

That community includes The Lens, which has been publishing in New Orleans for two and a half years though it is still awaiting IRS approval of its 501(c)(3) status 21 months after applying for it.

“By total coincidence,” managing editor Beatty told me by phone, The Lens’ main funder “came through with a new two-year grant” the same day that The Times-Picayune announced it would be cutting back.

“It’s a bittersweet time for me and my colleague editor,” Jed Horne, who was part of the Pulitzer Prize-winning team for its Hurricane Katrina coverage,” Beatty said. We “want to scoop the Picayune and beat them to the punch on stories they’re not doing, but we don’t want them to go out of business.”

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  • Anonymous

    Ok Beth!   Your post valid and noted. 

    Still I remain comfortable with my original assertion, which you somehow thought was about the TP and profits and Journalism.  The people in the article are wrapped in a  Rockwellian portrait of the grill, the 96 year old Mom and the barber shop are all as I noted, irrelevant.  Julie Moos uses the cliche rhetorical  tactics that leftist writers have used to emotionally manipulate readers for decades. Oh the “victims” of this evil world!  An  identity that many in New Orleans are comfortable with. Victimhood.

    Still as you “keep  your chin  up” ( Really Beth, your  rah rah sounds like Robert Young in “Father Knows Best” of the 1950′s) a small few will reject this self imposed “sadness” and charge on. That’s what “tough cookies” do!You may find this W$J article useful in your championing of New Orleans.   http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052702303506404577446751755988324.html  Doesn’t matter how you get there (artificially/tax induced or not)….just get there.Cheers from LA

  • Anonymous

    The print edition is profitable!  Why not keep offering it daily as a community service and builder of good will when you’re making money on it?!?!  It’s advertising for their precious website, fercripessake, and how many forms of advertising are actually revenue generators themselves!?!?  

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=596902471 Beth Donze

    Dear mewcomm: How does wanting to maintain a daily printed edition of a newspaper – and documenting that preference in a series of photographs — translate into being “the Victim?” What photographer Bevil Knapp did is journalism at its best: documenting history for future generations. On a related note, does being “high tech” magically make one smarter or more informed? I guarantee you that those who read printed versions of newspapers are MUCH more informed than those who click over a few headlines. Your second paragraph is entirely off base and only shows that you haven’t been to New Orleans lately. The city’s on fire (in a good way) and is attracting scores of young professionals who want to be part of our continued rebuilding effort. We invite you to come and see the progress our great city has made in SEVEN SHORT YEARS before you run off your mouth. It’s not perfect, but show me a city that is. Just FYI, since you seem misinformed: The demise of the printed Times-Picayune was a corporate decision of CHOICE and not of NECESSITY. The print version of THIS particular paper was doing quite nicely, by most accounts was turning an 11-15 percent profit. Do you really think advertisers will look fondly on running ads in a three-times-a-week paper containing recycled news? (oddly, there seems to be no interest in carrying “exclusives” in this three-times-a-week paper as a carrot for subscribers or advertisers). What is even more confounding is that the Newhouses (the T-P’s owners) so not seem interested in setting up a subscription “pay wall” for the so-called “robust” digital platform. In other words, the product will continue to be given away for free. How is this model profitable or sustainable? Good luck with keeping up with current events in your “globalized all connected world.” We in New Orleans, despite our sadness at these events, are keeping our chins up and remain optimistic about our city and region’s renaissance. You have NO IDEA what tough cookies we are.

  • scott allan

    Times are a changing you will read the news where ever it may be sad but true. :)


  • Barbara Selvin

     Hard to argue that New Orleans hasn’t been a victim of hurricanes and corruption. For the rest, its low-tech atmosphere simply makes it special.

  • Anonymous

    “I’m not going to read the paper online’  Ok. Don’t. No one will force you to do so.

    The good news is, technology and economics will force change on those who refuse to adapt or they will be left in the dust.  It is the reality of a globalized all connected world.

    New Orleans is usually portrayed as the Victim. A low tech city, with little to offer in the  knowledge worker era. An increasingly irrelevant city to anyone seeking a 21st century career. This hand wringing piece illustrates why.