CJR: Times-Picayune changes resemble ‘an orderly liquidation’

CJR | WWLTV | St. Tammany News
In a town rich in history and its own peculiarities, NOLA.com seems like an out-of-town visitor,” Ryan Chittum writes in a extended look at the New Orleans Times-Picayune’s new reality as an online-focused newsroom.

Rather than the reinvention the news organization’s managers and owners see, Advance’s reduction of print frequency and staff at the newspaper “looks like an orderly liquidation,” Chittum writes. He says that “Web-production quotas” have been discussed and that the newspaper’s quality has declined:

As Bobby Jindal kicked off his presumed presidential campaign in the days after Obama won re-election, the Picayune failed to get a story out for weeks. When the bureau posted a piece on that topic on NOLA.com, insiders say that editors thought it was so bad, they yanked it from the site ([editor Jim] Amoss denies this). The version up today is still fairly weak, particularly when compared to the sophisticated cover story that the local alternative paper, Gambit, ran on Jindal’s bid two weeks earlier. That piece was written by Stephanie Grace, the ex-Picayune columnist.

“It’s a shame that Ryan Chittum refused our invitation earlier this year to visit our newsroom before writing a piece filled with bad assumptions, inaccuracies and preconceived notions,” Amoss writes in the story’s comments.

Across Lake Pontchartrain in St. Tammany Parish, the St. Tammany News published its last edition Wednesday. On Friday, its former managing editor, Suzanne Le Breton, helped launch NorthShoreNews.info, an online news source. The Times-Picayune “is not a community newspaper,” she told Poynter in a phone interview. “We’re not competing with them.”

Wick Communications, which owned the St. Tammany News, announced on Valentine’s Day that the two newspapers published by its newsroom — The News Banner and the Slidell Sentry News — would cease production at the end of the month. Twenty-four jobs were eliminated in the closing.

Le Breton said the reaction to the new site, for which she is the only editorial employee currently, has been great.

“I’ve gotten so many thank-you calls,” she said. One way she planned to gauge community interest was by how local institutions like schools would respond to her request that they send in pictures: “They have this morning, believe me,” she said. “They obviously want it, they obviously need it.”

In a column bidding good-bye to her old job, Le Breton wrote that her “goal in life was to be the editor of my community newspaper.”

“It is a sad day as we all mourn the death of our paper,” she wrote. “You will see my byline again I promise, because I am not finished yet and there are still stories to tell.”

Previously: Times-Picayune cites gains as ’60 Minutes’ chronicles cutbacks | Times-Picayune says circulation is up since it cut staff, print frequency

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  • canardnoir

    Newspapers’ management are well know for being below average managers, because most lack any form of formal business education – so WHY? shouldn’t current changes represent something that “looks like an orderly liquidation”?

    And whether it’s the dysfunctional or rarely functional on-line digital format afforded by E.W. Scripps, or the new wave reporting of NOLA.com with fewer seasoned reporters backed by on-the-fly editing in an effort to “break” the news first – the on going R.I.F. at the nations newspapers are more often just providing the readership less for more.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=656715835 Andrew Beaujon

    Ryan, wonderful to hear from you. Your comment wasn’t up yet when I read the piece, and I heartily recommend readers check it out.

  • http://www.facebook.com/rchittum Ryan Chittum

    Andrew, if you’re going to quote Amoss’s (misleading) comment, I think you should quote my response, as well: “As Jim well knows, I was in New Orleans in early December and asked for
    interviews then and in the weeks afterward. I didn’t hear back from anyone for about seven weeks, at which point my deadline was nigh. My editors declined to fly me down to New Orleans again just to see the new newsroom.” http://www.cjr.org/feature/the_battle_of_new_orleans.php#comments