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June 13, 2012 11:56 AM   Subscribe

In May of 2012 the owners of the Times-Picayune, the daily newspaper of New Orleans, announced that they would be cutting its physical publication down to three days a week and shifting their focus to online content. The decision was criticized by many, Warren Buffett among them. Yesterday the Times-Picayune upper management held meetings with their employees to find out who would be let go and who would be allowed to stay on. By the end of the day more than 200 employees were dismissed, almost a full third of the overall staff.

The one with which the food loving denizens of New Orleans seem most concerned is Brett Anderson, a man whose writings are lauded by the likes of Anthony Bourdain and Donald Link.

Anderson is not the only favorite being let go. Local weekly paper The Gambit has run a piece on all the familiar names that have found themselves unemployed, as well as those allowed to remain but with new job titles.
posted by komara (94 comments total) 4 users marked this as a favorite

 
Mr. Amoss did not deny a concern raised by returning reporters that they would be compensated based on page views or other gauges of online popularity, emphasizing only that their base salaries would be comparable to what they earn now and “they’ll be operating in a digital world, and how they do will be evaluated.”
posted by KokuRyu at 12:02 PM on June 13, 2012


This was the exact route that the Ann Arbor News took a couple of years ago. Publication (actually, printouts of the online content) twice a week, and an "online presence".

They also got rid of most of their experienced staff. The online content is now written by 22 year olds with no knowledge of the community (most of whom think that a spell checker is the only tool necessary to edit an article) , and a slew of unpaid "contributors" with some axe to grind or private agenda.

Take the terrible content, top it with poorly moderated, hateful, racist, classist, homophobic comment sections and there you have it... the news of the future.

The sad thing is, you can't wrap fish or line the bottom of a bird cage with online content.
posted by HuronBob at 12:02 PM on June 13, 2012 [22 favorites]


HuronBob:

"In 2009 Advance Publications, which owns The Times-Picayune, shifted to twice-weekly printing for The Ann Arbor News and started to focus more on its website".

Apparently they seem to think it's working out just fine.
posted by komara at 12:06 PM on June 13, 2012


top it with poorly moderated, hateful, racist, classist, homophobic comment sections

That's all newspaper comment sections.
posted by smackfu at 12:07 PM on June 13, 2012 [6 favorites]


The online content is now written by 22 year olds with no knowledge of the community (most of whom think that a spell checker is the only tool necessary to edit an article) , and a slew of unpaid "contributors" with some axe to grind or private agenda.

Take the terrible content, top it with poorly moderated, hateful, racist, classist, homophobic comment sections and there you have it... the news of the future.


Aside from our little island here, and a handful of other places, this is true of a lot of establishments.
posted by cashman at 12:08 PM on June 13, 2012 [1 favorite]


After work, many staffers gathered at Wit's Inn, a Mid-City bar where the drinks were flying so furiously a harried bartender with a cigarette tucked behind his ear was permanently in the weeds. (Colleagues from the Chicago Tribune phoned the bar and opened a tab for their compatriots.)
While small consolation, that was very nice of the Trib.
posted by zamboni at 12:10 PM on June 13, 2012 [7 favorites]


It could be worse. They cut ~60% of (print) publishing and only cut 33% of staff.
posted by mrgrimm at 12:13 PM on June 13, 2012


Apparently they seem to think it's working out just fine.

Guess that depends on how you define it. I'm sure, at the moment, the ad revenue from all those clicks on the comment section is working out just fine. But the public opinion is that the publication (if you can still call it that) is pretty much poorly written crap. Word on the street around here from some people that might have an inside line, is that the "paper" is struggling financially and may not make it.
posted by HuronBob at 12:13 PM on June 13, 2012


a man whose writings are lauded by the likes of Anthony Bourdain and Donald Link.

This is an unfortunate sign of the times.

As a side note, appealing to my intellect/emotion with Anthony Bourdain does not resonate as strongly as it once did. He's turned into a cartoon version of himself.
posted by Fizz at 12:13 PM on June 13, 2012 [1 favorite]


Take the terrible content, top it with poorly moderated, hateful, racist, classist, homophobic comment sections and there you have it... the news of the future.

Not disagreeing, but OTOH the article in today's online AA News about cuts to the Ann Arbor school district's budget is way better than any article I ever see about school district budget issues in my local big-city rag that still has a dead-tree presence (and which has just gone behind a paywall). But, in any event, not many daily newspapers anywhere have any survivable business model anymore unless they're the Gray Lady or the Washington Post or the Los Angeles Times. Even the NY Times has taken some catastrophic staffing hits in the past 5 years.
posted by blucevalo at 12:17 PM on June 13, 2012 [1 favorite]


If you want a picture of the future, imagine a hand computer program robo-signing a pink slip - forever.
posted by The Card Cheat at 12:19 PM on June 13, 2012 [4 favorites]


.
posted by girlmightlive at 12:22 PM on June 13, 2012


It could be worse. They cut ~60% of (print) publishing and only cut 33% of staff.

It is worse, mrgrimm. By the paper's own reporting, 84 of the 169 people in the newsroom got the boot. That's half of the department that defines the Times-Picayune as a news organization.
posted by Longtime Listener at 12:22 PM on June 13, 2012


The sad thing is, you can't wrap fish or line the bottom of a bird cage with online content.

You could tile the bottom of your bird cage with iPads set to online news sites.

(Wait a moment...are applications open for the next Turner Prize?)
posted by yoink at 12:22 PM on June 13, 2012 [4 favorites]


This was posted at Gambit on Monday:

Pushback at The Times-Picayune as cuts loom
RickyGoHome.com was registered last week. Its opening page features a slideshow of new publisher Mathews along with a rogues' gallery of New Orleans' enemies (former FEMA director Michael Brown, NFL commissioner Roger Goodell, the Atlanta Falcons, a mosquito and Edward Pakenham, the director of British forces during the Battle of New Orleans). Under a "Wanted" poster, the site states:
If you want details about Ricky Mathews’ life and times, it’s easy enough to find. Born in Alabama. Worked at newspapers in Alabama and Mississippi. But the most important thing about Ricky Mathews from a New Orleans’ perspective is that he has the gall to move to town and dismantle our newspaper. Even Hurricane Katrina couldn’t do that.

Ricky Mathews doesn’t know us. He doesn’t know our city. Yet he is attempting to dismantle a lifeline and a common thread. Ricky, please go home.

Mr. Mathews has tried to portray this move as a response to the inevitable decline of the newspaper, but it’s simply not an accurate portrayal of New Orleans. The Times-Picayune is profitable. With input from staff and community leaders who have stepped forward to help, the paper could be even better and more profitable in the future.

Mr. Mathews has ignored creative ideas and concrete solutions. He is clinging instead to a one size fits all digital idea that does not fit New Orleans.

Ricky go home. And give us our newspaper on your way out of town.
Meanwhile, [Ed] Asner got word of the flyers that were posted in the T-P newsroom over the weekend, which featured an image of his character Lou Grant asking questions like "What the hell is an 'enhanced' newspaper?," "What the hell is a 'robust' Web site anyway?" and "A 3-day-a-week newspaper in New Orleans? When did Ted Baxter become an executive at Advance Publications?"

Asner, a longtime political activist, dropped a note of support for the employees to Michael Tisserand, a writer (and former Gambit editor) who was one of the organizers of last week's "Save the Picayune" rally. The note:
"To the employees of the Times Picayune - I've been on strike and I've always identified with the working press, knowing they're not fat cats and knowing job security is zilch. Freedom of the press belongs to the man who owns one. I identify totally with your plight and hope that a decent resolution may be arrived at! Sincerely, Ed Asner"

posted by zarq at 12:23 PM on June 13, 2012 [10 favorites]


What I don't understand is that despite all of the hand wringing from Warren Buffet, the City Council to Tulane University, no one appears to be willing to step up with the money that is apparently needed to keep the paper afloat. Maybe they're all waiting for FEMA?
posted by Leezie at 12:24 PM on June 13, 2012 [2 favorites]


the article in today's online AA News about cuts to the Ann Arbor school district's budget...

Ironically, I agree with you regarding Danielle's articles. I spent about two hours with her last week in an interview for an article she was writing. I was pleasantly surprised as to the quality of the finished product. I guess it would be right for me to tweak my original remark a bit, there ARE a few of the young writers that they've hired that do a good job, I was a bit hasty with that broad brush I was using.
posted by HuronBob at 12:26 PM on June 13, 2012


Man, working for a newspaper conglomerate has done more to make me a fucking communist than six years of leftist college classes. Actually producing newspapers is so clearly unimportant to the people I work for. They would prefer not to do it, all things being equal. Local newspapers have an actual function in making democracy work (No one else is going to keep an eye on the city council and the school board.), and we're losing them so fast it makes my head spin. Every time I hear someone say that newspapers are dying, all I can do is answer bleakly, "Yeah, it's because newspaper owners are killing them."
posted by Snarl Furillo at 12:28 PM on June 13, 2012 [17 favorites]


That's all newspaper comment sections.

And why is that? That's what I want to know; why are newspaper comment sections candy for bottom-feeders?

Best and most telling part of the Gambit piece is at the end:

Outside Wit's Inn, someone called up NOLA.com on a smartphone and tried to watch a video of Amoss that had been posted earlier in the day — a video addressed to the paper's readers, in which Amoss promised the new, smaller news operation's future might be digital rather than print, but it would be just as bright.

The video, however, was not formatted to play on smartphones.

posted by kgasmart at 12:30 PM on June 13, 2012 [1 favorite]


If you want a picture of the future, imagine a hand computer program robo-signing a pink slip - forever.

God lord! The Desk Set was prophecy! *Spoilers inside*
posted by GenjiandProust at 12:32 PM on June 13, 2012 [1 favorite]


That's all newspaper comment sections.

It's really not. It all the ones that allow anonymous comments. Make people put their names to it or tie in a Facebook identity and the civility goes up. The stupidity stays about the same.
posted by cjorgensen at 12:33 PM on June 13, 2012 [1 favorite]


Ricky go home. And give us our newspaper on your way out of town.

That's lovely but Ricky didn't just ride into town on his black stallion, kick his way into the T-P headquarters, shoot the CEO and declare himself Sheriff. He was hired. By people who ran the newspaper. Also, the one way to save the paper was to actually buy it every day. But not enough people did. Such is the market. Part of the problem is that people want to be 'given' everything now instead of pay for it and then they want to complain when what they are 'given' is shit.
posted by spicynuts at 12:33 PM on June 13, 2012 [4 favorites]


-30-
posted by PapaLobo at 12:34 PM on June 13, 2012 [9 favorites]


It's a good thing that New Orleans isn't know for it's history of civic corruption, the kind best exposed by strong investigative journalism.
posted by OmieWise at 12:40 PM on June 13, 2012 [9 favorites]


Part of the problem is that people want to be 'given' everything now instead of pay for it and then they want to complain when what they are 'given' is shit.

And the other part of the problem is that too many people believe that everything should be for sale and that money spent still only entitles a buyer to shit.
posted by octobersurprise at 12:40 PM on June 13, 2012 [3 favorites]


HuronBob: "This was the exact route that the Ann Arbor News took a couple of years ago. Publication (actually, printouts of the online content) twice a week, and an "online presence".

They also got rid of most of their experienced staff. The online content is now written by 22 year olds with no knowledge of the community (most of whom think that a spell checker is the only tool necessary to edit an article) , and a slew of unpaid "contributors" with some axe to grind or private agenda.

Take the terrible content, top it with poorly moderated, hateful, racist, classist, homophobic comment sections and there you have it... the news of the future.

The sad thing is, you can't wrap fish or line the bottom of a bird cage with online content.
"

You just gave me a great idea for a crossover with Zynga.
posted by symbioid at 12:42 PM on June 13, 2012


“We think the best chance to keep it going as a quality news operation is to enhance the digital product,” [Advance's chairman] said. And he said that talk of local owners buying The Times-Picayune missed something: “We have no intention of selling, no matter how much noise there is out there.”

nota bene: I really am a freakin' conspiracy theorist of a communist

Advance Publishing: Writing and printing the newspaper isn't profitable; we have to cut those sections. But the newspaper is too profitable to sell; we won't entertain offers.

Sure, guys. I'm sure your plan isn't to suck every dollar you can out of one of the most storied and valuable civic institutions in a distressed community, damaging it beyond all repair in the process, and THEN sell it.
posted by Snarl Furillo at 12:49 PM on June 13, 2012 [4 favorites]


Make people put their names to it or tie in a Facebook identity and the civility goes up.

Not by very much. I've tried to read Facebook-authenticated comment sections and the majority of people will attach their names and photos (and sometimes even the little tags that tell you where they went to high school and college) to comments that are so beyond hateful and vitriolic it's mind-warping.
posted by blucevalo at 12:51 PM on June 13, 2012 [2 favorites]


And the other part of the problem is that too many people believe that everything should be for sale and that money spent still only entitles a buyer to shit.

I would love to hear the steps that get you from "too many people believe that everything should be for sale" to "and that's why so many newspapers are closing!" Do Mayan prophecies feature anywhere?

The grim economic realities for newspapers are hardly difficult to grasp. Just look at the endless griping when a paywalled link sneaks into a Metafilter post. People love good content; people hate paying for good content. Newspapers never actually made money because people were happy paying for the news; they made money because advertisers--especially classified advertisers--needed eyeballs and were willing to pay for them. Having lost the vast majority of their classified advertising, newspapers have become a very dicey proposition. Readers, by and large, are not willing to step into the financial breach left by the loss of advertising revenue.

I'm just not seeing the part where believing that "everything should be for sale" comes into this picture.
posted by yoink at 12:51 PM on June 13, 2012 [1 favorite]


Why don't all those who have been laid off just create a different paper to fill in the other 4 days of the week?!
posted by mangasm at 12:58 PM on June 13, 2012 [2 favorites]


But, in any event, not many daily newspapers anywhere have any survivable business model anymore unless they're the Gray Lady or the Washington Post or the Los Angeles Times. Even the NY Times has taken some catastrophic staffing hits in the past 5 years.

By pretty much all accounts printed in accounts of this downsizing, the Times-Picayune was still profitable. This jibes with what I heard over time, having lived a long stretch of the past few years in New Orleans and talking with people from the TP. It's a widely read paper, one with one of the highest "penetration" rates--as in, the rate at which it's seen and read by people in the metro area, even if they don't subscribe to it--out there in the U.S. Apparently, this may have more to do with taxes, the age of the newspaper chain's ownership (Donald Newhouse) and future of family ownership (whether the rest of his family cares to stay in the business, or cares to), etc. This is why some think a new company was set up to handle the New Orleans, Birmingham and Mobile operations.
posted by raysmj at 12:58 PM on June 13, 2012 [2 favorites]


Leezie: Advanced has reportedly made it clear that the new NOLA.com operations (now in with the Mobile and Birmingham papers, which are also seeing layoffs-or at least the B'ham newsroom saw a 60 percent cut yesterday) are not for sale, under any circumstances.
posted by raysmj at 1:01 PM on June 13, 2012


the Times-Picayune was still profitable.

Yes, but how profitable.

In a lot of cases, it's not a matter of, the publication is no longer profitable - it's that the publication is no longer as profitable as it once was, and its owners require it to be.

This is five years old, but still:

Bad as 2007 has been, the publicly reporting companies still produced an average operating-profit margin of nearly 16 percent in the first half of the year--a level many businesses can never hope to achieve. Still, the average profit margin has been in steady decline since 2002, when it was 22.3 percent.

posted by kgasmart at 1:02 PM on June 13, 2012


Although you can easily figure it out for yourself, just wanted y'all to know that nola.com is the current T-P presence on the web. Spend five minutes on that site and you let me know if you think this is a good idea.

Bonus article: site designers respond to overwhelming majority of people bitching about the colors.
posted by snapped at 1:04 PM on June 13, 2012


Does anyone know how much they charge for a daily copy of the Times Pic? Sunday? I don't know about you, but I stopped buying papers when they went above .50/day, and $1.50 on Sunday. Of course because I live in the burbs, and more than 15 miles from the City of Publication there was always an upcharge to get an actual paper (ironic since the paper is actually printed in the 'burbs), so today a daily newspaper is $1.50 and a Sunday is $4.00. I guess where I'm going with this is if the paper cost me .50 I'd buy it everyday. Multiply that by X and tell that to your advertisers, they'll come back...eventually.
posted by Gungho at 1:17 PM on June 13, 2012


Do Mayan prophecies feature anywhere?

Yeah. Your mom's favorite Mayan prophecies.
posted by octobersurprise at 1:24 PM on June 13, 2012


Lagniappe means zilch to the new carpetbagger overlords, apparently.
posted by Benny Andajetz at 1:24 PM on June 13, 2012 [1 favorite]


kgasmart: None of the Advance publications are big money makers, from what a Times-Pic staffer told me *long* before this crisis began. (The benefits of being a Mr. Curious, with a communications background, and thus thinking to ask about this. By his account, it did better than any publication in the Advance chain in 2010, a lousy year for all the other papers, in part due to full-page ads taken out by BP and other entities during the Gulf/Deepwater Horizon spill will-they-or-won't-they-plug-the-hole coverage. Note that I didn't double-check the info, just passing this along as I heard it. So ... take it for what it is.)
posted by raysmj at 1:26 PM on June 13, 2012


Local news was pretty much universally worthless before the internet. It's just now officially worthless.
posted by downing street memo at 1:29 PM on June 13, 2012


(No one else is going to keep an eye on the city council and the school board.)

Everyone always says this. But, magically, people keep on keeping an eye on the city council and the school board. My city has any number of local blogs profitably covering our government; maybe NOLA can't support as many as DC has, but they can certainly support a few.

Relax, folks. Business models change. Things are already taking the place of newspapers. It'll be OK.
posted by downing street memo at 1:34 PM on June 13, 2012 [3 favorites]


Advanced has reportedly made it clear that the new NOLA.com operations (now in with the Mobile and Birmingham papers, which are also seeing layoffs-or at least the B'ham newsroom saw a 60 percent cut yesterday) are not for sale, under any circumstances.

I'm not saying that they should buy it. Lord knows the City Council can't run a city, let alone a newspaper. I'm saying instead of moaning and wailing about how we need a big paper, someone step up with some money - a loan, or maybe a giant collection plate at all of the local churches, ANYTHING - so that people put their money where their sentiment is. Obviously, the hand wringing isn't working.
posted by Leezie at 1:56 PM on June 13, 2012


I thought the implication was there that people have inquired about buying, but obviously I didn't make that clear enough.
posted by raysmj at 1:58 PM on June 13, 2012 [1 favorite]


It'll be OK.

Not necessarily.

Local bloggers might get paid in DC, or even a New Orleans, but in small town America, there aren't exactly people lining up to give you money to go cover a school board meeting. And unless you're an obsessive, covering local government (as in, actually going to the meetings rather than sniping from afar after the fact) is pretty unrewarding, not to mention time-consuming. People are going to want to be compensated for their efforts. Without that compensation, who makes the effort?
posted by kgasmart at 2:01 PM on June 13, 2012


I'm saying instead of moaning and wailing about how we need a big paper, someone step up with some money - a loan, or maybe a giant collection plate at all of the local churches, ANYTHING - so that people put their money where their sentiment is.

And do what with it, though? The paper is profitable. It doesn't need additional revenue; its owners just want additional revenue. If the city offered them, I don't know, a low-interest loan or hell even a development grant on the conditions that they reinstate one day of printing or a certain number of editorial staffers, I doubt they would take it. They would rather make up that money in cuts than cut it with strings attached.

My city has any number of local blogs profitably covering our government; maybe NOLA can't support as many as DC has, but they can certainly support a few.

DC is not a predictive model for media in the rest of the country.
posted by Snarl Furillo at 2:04 PM on June 13, 2012 [2 favorites]


Ricky didn't just ride into town on his black stallion, kick his way into the T-P headquarters, shoot the CEO and declare himself Sheriff.

Sounds like something Fist Wingsuit would do. Especially in T-P headquarters.
posted by Kirth Gerson at 2:13 PM on June 13, 2012


.

Because I think this is just Step One towards demise.
posted by bearwife at 2:17 PM on June 13, 2012 [1 favorite]


It is worse, mrgrimm. By the paper's own reporting, 84 of the 169 people in the newsroom got the boot.

Am I the only person who thinks 169 people in the newsroom is a lot? Unless this is the size of the Sunday NYT, daily, that seems like a ton of people.
posted by msalt at 2:19 PM on June 13, 2012


Gungho: The T-P is $1.25 daily and $2 on Sundays.

This whole thing is terribly sad, and terribly stupid. As has been mentioned previously, the paper was profitable, and I'm hearing that Newhouse has refused several offers of buyouts. So it's not a failing paper struggling to survive.

The T-P was an absolute lynch pin of the community. I really don't think I'm exaggerating here. Obviously the outstanding Katrina coverage comes to mind, but there have been numerous examples of excellent journalism since then as well. The recent Louisiana Incarcerated series was linked here.

The staff losses aren't going to end with those that have been fired. I know personally at least one "star reporter," byline seen frequently on the front page, who was invited to stay but who is instead deciding between two offers he's already had since the news originally broke last month. I suspect many other employees will do the same if they are able. There are serious concerns about the viability of this business model, and fears that the paper won't exist in anything like its current state within a couple years.

So sad, so terrible, so stupid.
posted by CheeseLouise at 2:21 PM on June 13, 2012 [1 favorite]


Relax, folks. Business models change. Things are already taking the place of newspapers. It'll be OK.

It's always so easy for people who don't actually work in the news media to say that. Must be nice.

Local news was pretty much universally worthless before the internet. It's just now officially worthless.

This is so untrue. I meet so many people every day, every week, to whom this is just completely, utterly untrue.
posted by girlmightlive at 2:27 PM on June 13, 2012 [6 favorites]


Msalt, I believe the New York Times has upward of 1,000 in its newsroom. Putting out a newspaper is a very labor-intensive business.
posted by Longtime Listener at 2:29 PM on June 13, 2012


Am I the only person who thinks 169 people in the newsroom is a lot?

According to the latest Census, that's about 1 person per 6,909 residents. Doesn't seem like a lot to me.
posted by girlmightlive at 2:31 PM on June 13, 2012


It's always so easy for people who don't actually work in the news media to say that. Must be nice.

I don't understand this. Why make it about me? It turns out that there was never any real demand for local news. It was cross-subsidized by ads and classifieds. Those are gone, and the media has to shift to a new model. There are plenty of examples of profitable media businesses; they just aren't local newspapers, by and large.
posted by downing street memo at 2:36 PM on June 13, 2012 [1 favorite]


Yeah. Your mom's favorite Mayan prophecies.

You must be one of those 22 year old know nothing talentless hacks Mathowie hired to replace the Pulitzer winning commenters he laid off last week.
posted by spicynuts at 2:37 PM on June 13, 2012 [1 favorite]


downing street memo: " Relax, folks. Business models change. Things are already taking the place of newspapers. It'll be OK."

The problem is, bloggers have little to no oversight, rarely have any review system, and no obligation to be either objective or maintain ethical or quality standards. Reporters at newspapers do, theoretically, at least. Most newspapers (and I'm not including the Rupert Murdoch rags here) won't print stories without some sort of internal review for quality and reporting standards. They won't allow a journalist to say anything which might get the paper sued. And they try to keep their reporters from printing outright lies. Even the worst newspapers do their best to keep from being sued, and most believe they have an obligation to the public to maintain a certain pride in their work.

A great comparison of bloggers vs. media can be seen in how they handle gifts from publicists. Employees at The New York Times (and CNN, and all major networks) are not allowed to accept gifts from anyone they have reported about in the past, or might in the future. If they accept gifts they can be fired. This prevents companies and sources from buying good media coverage. Bloggers have no such restriction on graft and no obligation to report such a relationship, either. Therefore there is a potential for corruption.

There are valid arguments to be made that most modern newspapers are run by corporate conglomerates and/or serve only their own interests or that of their advertisers. But meanwhile, even in the age of wikileaks, magazines and newspapers still are our best source for long-form and investigative journalism, because as a company that has both money and lawyers on tap as well as a built-in audience, they can provide reporters with the clout, protection, support and resources they need to produce such stories.

So sorry, no I won't relax. And respectfully, that suggestion coming from someone who has taken the screen name of "downing street memo" is really rather ludicrous. Remember who first published that leaked memos? Exactly who was it that showed the public that government public statements weren't the truth? When Michael Smith and the Times were trying to get the word out about the truth of Bush's Iraq War, to whom did they turn and why? How was the story reported? And what's going to happen the next time we need them?
posted by zarq at 2:37 PM on June 13, 2012 [10 favorites]


Once again, I am mentally thanking my old boss for laying me off from the newspaper in 2001 rather than right now. I loved working at a newspaper, but...

The whole thing makes me sad. It's just irritating to think that this is probably what is going to win and survive when it comes to journalism any more.
posted by jenfullmoon at 2:40 PM on June 13, 2012


Zarq, we've now been in "death of newspapers" world for what, 10 years?

In those 10 years, has there been any shortage of quality journalism? I'd argue the opposite; we have more quality journalism than we possibly know what to do with. We are all infinitely more informed about the machinations of the world than our counterparts in the 70's would've been. It's seriously no contest.

The industry is going through a painful period, brought about not by corporate greed or the usual bleating, but a real fundamental change in the delivery model of information. Incumbents are shaking themselves up or going out of business; new entrants are replacing and supplementing them. At no point has the dystopia of no one covering city council meetings come to pass. Doesn't that make anyone else stop and think about whether the crisis - as in something with implications to people outside the media industry - is real?
posted by downing street memo at 2:44 PM on June 13, 2012 [1 favorite]


Employees at The New York Times (and CNN, and all major networks) are not allowed to accept gifts from anyone they have reported about in the past, or might in the future. If they accept gifts they can be fired.

Well, they have restrictions on what sorts of gifts and how much they can receive. They still get gifts and/or press junkets, no?

In those 10 years, has there been any shortage of quality journalism?

I would argue, yes, there is a definite shortage of quality journalism, but no, it is not a new development.
posted by mrgrimm at 2:54 PM on June 13, 2012


mrgrimm: " Well, they have restrictions on what sorts of gifts and how much they can receive. They still get gifts and/or press junkets, no?"

For gifts the restrictions are usually stringent. If you buy a wallet at Barneys and try to send it to Paul Krugman as a thank you, for example, he's required to turn it down. If you send someone products for a story they're working on, there are rules about whether the products can be kept afterwards. For example, if I send five bottles of super-duper floor polish to a reporter at CNN, for a story she's doing on the air, and the bottles are going to be shown on the air, they usually can't keep them afterwards. They have to send them back to me, to avoid any possible impropriety. However, we've given books to producers at the same network before they've interviewed an author so they can properly prepare for an interview, and not gotten them back (or asked for them) afterwards. The book has been used, and they can keep it.

People do skirt the rules. But most journalists really will do the honest thing.

I can't speak from personal experience for how they handle press junkets. I've run them for trade editors in the past, but not for mainstream journalists.
posted by zarq at 3:05 PM on June 13, 2012 [1 favorite]


I work at a small-city paper, and some of the stranger side effects of the wreck of newspapers include that many of the spokespeople our reporters contact regularly used to work here, as crossing over into a PR role is fairly natural for former reporters, and that there's a glut of talented photographers, graphic artists, etc. locally.

A sidebar: many newspapers are eliminating their libraries (formerly morgues). News librarians do everything from research to web work to managing the paper's preservation, making sure the hard copies get processed into microfilm, making sure the microfilm is stored safely, making sure digital versions of the paper are preserved in the best formats with the most comprehensive metadata and enhancement.

While I still work at the paper, our two-person library went to one and a half, then one, and then none when our former editor told (full disclosure) me that the "archiving" process would be automated starting immediately, six months ago. Almost daily, staff members come to me with problems they have noticed with our new "archive." I don't have so much as a contact person at the company to which my job was outsourced and can do nothing about the errors.

We're losing history hand over fist, all over the country.
posted by Occula at 3:16 PM on June 13, 2012 [11 favorites]


Impassioned, I forgot to say that the entire library staff of the Times-Picayune was included in the layoffs, a soon-to-be former librarian told the news library listserv this morning.
posted by Occula at 3:20 PM on June 13, 2012


downing street memo: " In those 10 years, has there been any shortage of quality journalism? I'd argue the opposite; we have more quality journalism than we possibly know what to do with. We are all infinitely more informed about the machinations of the world than our counterparts in the 70's would've been. It's seriously no contest.

I'm truly not convinced of this -- especially at a local or regional news level in smaller US cities. Having a 24-hour news cycle does not mean we're better informed. It often means we're hearing the same stories over and over again, and/or hearing news that isn't based locally. It means that many local newspapers have closed bureaus in other cities, like their Washington, DC bureaus, and reporting from our nation's capitol is increasingly based on fewer sources. Newspapers that increasingly rely on syndicates to deliver the news aren't engaging in journalism. They're parroting someone else's work rather than reporting it directly. And the consumer is worse off for it.

We do have more access to quality journalism sources because of the internet. A story that shows up in the Chicago Reader can be read by people all over the world. And that's great. But there has been a cost.

The industry is going through a painful period, brought about not by corporate greed or the usual bleating, but a real fundamental change in the delivery model of information. Incumbents are shaking themselves up or going out of business;

Agreed.

...new entrants are replacing and supplementing them.

Taking their place, yes. Replacing them with equal or higher quality reporting, no.

At no point has the dystopia of no one covering city council meetings come to pass. Doesn't that make anyone else stop and think about whether the crisis - as in something with implications to people outside the media industry - is real?"

I'm a publicist who works with media in local markets throughout the United States and Canada. I can tell you from personal experience that newspapers' ability to cover local events is becoming more and more limited -- because I routinely work on events in local markets that involve local businesses and often a charity angle, that won't necessarily get covered because the papers don't have the manpower. It's not that the events I'm working on aren't newsworthy -- I've been doing this for many years, and have run or been involved with similar events that did get covered in the past. So I know there's potential interest.

So things happen, and don't get covered. And what does get covered is often poorer quality. This has become increasingly common. Because fewer people can't be everywhere.
posted by zarq at 3:26 PM on June 13, 2012 [3 favorites]


Here's an interesting editorial that disagrees with what I just said about Washington DC. :) It makes other good points, too:
...But in a newspaperless society, it turns out, it is quite easy for politicians and parties to get away with a lot. Not just outright corruption, not secretive backroom deals, but actual public legislative actions that would have seemed outrageous a generation ago.

There’s a flood of ALEC-drafted bullshit streaming into Republican-controlled state legislatures daily, and nationally, for the most part, we only ever hear about the worst bills after they’ve passed. I am not talking about big, famous bills on hot-button issues, like Arizona’s “harass the immigrants” bill, but random, penny-ante bits of cronyism and corporate welfare that happen because the people passing them know they can get away with it. Like telecom “deregulation” and most of the other items listed here. And then, things like Michigan’s bizarre and undemocratic emergency manager law are passed — and, because they’re law (supported by one of our two major parties), they’re the status quo, and quite difficult to get rid of.

...

This wouldn’t be a problem, for society at large, if there were a commonly available substitute for what the good old middle-tier city dailies did, but there really isn’t. There is local TV news, which is, practically without exception, useless — a police blotter combined with a weather report — and there is radio — nowadays more likely than not nationally produced material, whether it’s ‘quality’ public radio or canned morning zoo talk — and the Internet, which is full of wonderful news sources and sparkling commentary and very little city hall reporting. And what city hall reporting there is (and there is some, and some of it is very good) is not directly, physically connected to the place where you also get your sports news and your comics and your crossword puzzle — it’s off on some other site entirely that you have to know about and specifically want to visit in order to read it.

People self-selecting news sources are still searching out good and important journalism, but without the sort of forced topical juxtaposition of a physical paper covering a community and the world, it’s easy to skip past the “unsexy” local news in favor of whatever stupid thing Michele Bachmann said today, can you believe it! What is likely needed to save newspapers is dedicated billionaires — future Hearsts, Rupert Murdochs and even Mort Zuckermans — willing to lose money. Google could probably re-create some of what made newspapers a particularly useful civic tool, without saving the papers themselves. But I’m not hugely optimistic, in the short term, that anyone will notice the people who are, indeed, trying very hard to shine a light on the actions of craven political actors locally as opposed to in Washington.

posted by zarq at 3:39 PM on June 13, 2012 [1 favorite]


While I still work at the paper, our two-person library went to one and a half, then one, and then none when our former editor told (full disclosure) me that the "archiving" process would be automated starting immediately, six months ago. Almost daily, staff members come to me with problems they have noticed with our new "archive." I don't have so much as a contact person at the company to which my job was outsourced and can do nothing about the errors.

Hooray for the parasitic atavism of late capitalism!
posted by junco at 3:40 PM on June 13, 2012


now we know what the last season of treme will be about.
posted by cupcake1337 at 3:58 PM on June 13, 2012 [2 favorites]


Sadly, this sort of thing is happening all over the place.
56 sub-editting/production jobs have been shipped from Australia to NZ by Fairfax as part of a cost-saving measure, for The Newcastle Herald that's half the newsroom.

It's terrible for morale, and for the quality of the paper. Most regionals are staffed by inexperienced "kids" straight out of school as it is, and now there will be no one to coach or guide them, and little of the house experience needed to craft a better paper that fits in with the local community.

.

I guess all the copy can be replaced with quick churn presser re-writes, wire service copy and reprinted lifestyle section from the parent newspapers. And dreck about the celebs-du-jour.

It's sad.
posted by Mezentian at 4:17 PM on June 13, 2012


At no point has the dystopia of no one covering city council meetings come to pass.

This is actually a serious problem in some areas. I moved from the heart of D.C., with several super-local publications, an alt-weekly, and the Washington Post to just outside of Philadelphia. The alt-weeklies rarely cover the suburbs, aside from cultural events, and while there are some regional smaller newspapers their websites are difficult to navigate and often are not up to date. The Philadelphia Inquirer does some reporting, but they've had staff layoffs and they appear to be partnering with the regional smaller newspaper for most of their regional coverage. (Unless the issue is very big, like school laptops taking snapsnots of children at home.) Many of their blogs are not really edited, with serious typos or other issues of haste; it doesn't seem give a lot of support towards longer pieces or research outside of the really big stories. The closest thing I can find to a crime blotter is the local Patch websites, which are also poorly organized and frankly hard to trust, as much of the content is generic or not placed in context with other stories or events.

And I suspect that the access I do have to local news, which includes local governance information on some fairly big issues, is more than many communities have. Often times I don't know where to turn to follow up on permit hearings for the planned redevelopment of the block I live on, or important issues like the aftermath of Hurricane Irene. I also have access to constant internet access and four libraries, two of them academic, which puts me in a much better position than many people in my area, who presumably do not work at academic libraries during the day time. Are there resources I don't know about, for news? I'm sure there are, I'm still kind of new here. I don't know what the solution is, or what the future will look like. But from out here, it looks kind of bleak from the facts and citation side.
posted by jetlagaddict at 4:25 PM on June 13, 2012 [1 favorite]


*snapSHOTS obviously not snapsnots, which sounds horrific


(this is why I write anonymously on the internet for free, my journalism career having ended after a brief run of restaurant reviews in the school paper....)
posted by jetlagaddict at 4:28 PM on June 13, 2012


I guess all the copy can be replaced with quick churn presser re-writes, wire service copy and reprinted lifestyle section from the parent newspapers. And dreck about the celebs-du-jour.

That's part of the problem. Whenever I get a newspaper that isn't the New York Times or Wall Street Journal (or similar), I'm surprised by just how boring and uninteresting most newspapers are. While working for newspapers, I had plenty of assignments to cover, for instance, a beer can collecting convention or Dr. Seuss day at a local elementary or the weekly Angry Person. Those sorts of stories are easy and require the shortest amount of time to do, and that's what papers have been reduced to. I rarely read any stories I photographed, simply because they weren't very interesting. I tried and tried to get the paper to cover some more interesting stories, but it was an uphill battle all the way that ended in a disappointing quick hit to accompany my pictures. In one case, the pictures never ran, but an editor told me that for a year or so kids would come up to him in high schools asking when the story was going to run. The pictures were some of my favorite pictures from my time at the paper, covered an aspect of local culture that I haven't really seen elsewhere, and the paper WOULD NOT assign a writer to work on the story in spite of repeated inquiries from youth (a useful and under-newspapered demographic) not involved with the story who were excited to read about it.
posted by msbrauer at 4:32 PM on June 13, 2012 [1 favorite]


Relax, folks. Business models change. Things are already taking the place of newspapers. It'll be OK.

You're obviously entitled to whatever opinion you like, but telling other people to "relax," much less when you can neither see or hear them, is condescending and rude.
posted by liketitanic at 4:42 PM on June 13, 2012 [2 favorites]


At least we weren't asked to chillax.
posted by Mezentian at 4:48 PM on June 13, 2012 [4 favorites]


What I don't understand is that despite all of the hand wringing from Warren Buffet, the City Council to Tulane University, no one appears to be willing to step up with the money that is apparently needed to keep the paper afloat.

The Times-Picayune makes decent money, and it's very popular. That's one reason everyone (I live in New Orleans) was so shocked by the layoffs. The new owners aren't satisfied with good profits, they want to increase them indefinitely. They don't feel any public responsibility.

Maybe they're all waiting for FEMA?
Really? Really? You had to go there? You know that making FEMA/Katrina jokes about New Orleans is roughly equivalent to making 9/11 jokes about New York, right?
posted by Nibbly Fang at 5:09 PM on June 13, 2012 [2 favorites]


I don't understand all the hand-wringing and complaining. This seems like a perfectly reasonable way to deal with the new realities facing the newspaper world:

They need to get rid of all of the useless fluff like gathering and reporting news, printing and distribution, and having a unique editorial voice. That stuff is way outside of a newspaper's core competency, which is obviously selling ads. On the internet. Good luck guys!
posted by Anoplura at 5:14 PM on June 13, 2012 [1 favorite]


When we had a major flood in my hometown, the Times-Picayune sent t-shirts to the staff of our paper that said "We publish come hell and high water." They've had a place in my heart ever since. It meant a lot to know we weren't invisible. I'm glad this ridiculousness is visible as well. What a shame.
posted by epj at 5:26 PM on June 13, 2012 [2 favorites]


If you want your local paper to stay strong, it's always a good idea to buy the suckers when you can.
posted by ersatz at 5:34 PM on June 13, 2012


You're obviously entitled to whatever opinion you like, but telling other people to "relax," much less when you can neither see or hear them, is condescending and rude.

Not my intention.

Well-intentioned progressives - which make up the bulk of this community - tend to mistake moments of economic disequilibrium for permanence. So when a bookstore chain closes, everyone freaks out about where they'll get their books; when an auto plant closes - something I'm intimately familiar with, incidentally - people freak out about the destruction of manufacturing forever.

These kinds of panics among well-intentioned people have happened throughout history; the original Progressives formed, in part, in reaction to the broad move from farming to manufacturing in the late 1800s and early 1900s. A host of do-gooders designed things ostensibly to fix the problem, but what really fixed it was rising living standards that really were the result of industrialization.

Now we're in this new moment, with a move from an industrial economy to a knowledge/service economy, and those in the mold of the turn-of-the-century do-gooders bemoan that shift as well. My point is that these moments aren't permanent. Print media made money in a certain way; that revenue stream was destroyed by a better alternative (the internet), now media needs to figure out a way to make money on the internet. Like I said above, lots of internet outlets are profitable in a broadly construed way; as time goes on, more will become profitable and we'll all be better off for it.
posted by downing street memo at 5:48 PM on June 13, 2012


As noted, similar changes are happening in Alabama at the Advance partners - The Huntsville Times, the Birmingham News, and the Mobile Press-Register. Some related comments and a link on THOSE cutbacks:

All reporters and photographers will have company-issued laptops and cell phones, filing content to al.com rather than for the next day’s print edition.

Just in case you had the hope that the less-often-printed newspaper editions might compensate with higher quality and more content.

Plus, they’re expected to shoot photos and videos and participate in social media. One staffer said the editors will “dip” into the “rivers” of posts for the Sunday, Wednesday and Friday newspapers.

Remember those pesky agreements you made when you signed up for your Facebook, twitter, pinterest, etc accounts? They are about to be mined for news gold. I think that most of the photographers have been laid off... I suspect most of their time will be spent on sports since those are the only live events that require the best photo coverage.

For the past few months, early shift reporters have been instructed to post just about anything every 15 minutes from 7 to 9 a.m. to al.com to drive traffic. Often, the posts would be based primarily on media releases.

This is already hitting. I noticed one morning this week that the top eight stories on AL.com were about the Auburn shooter.

Journalists are also now being instructed to participate in the often unruly comment sections following most stories, a directive that is already meeting resistance.

Yeah, this is a GREAT plan to maintain objectivity and breed success.

linky
posted by insulglass at 6:10 PM on June 13, 2012 [1 favorite]


Going forward, you're going to see most major daily newspapers fold and go out of business. If the local TV stations in those markets are smart, they'll hire the laid off talent that has a following and let them write for their websites.
posted by tylerfulltilt at 6:14 PM on June 13, 2012 [1 favorite]


Yeah, this is a GREAT plan to maintain objectivity and breed success.

A cunning plan indeed.

I can see no downside to that at all.
Posting every 15 minutes? Comments? Engaging in social media?

Journos ... sorry .... journo's taking their own photographs has been a thing for at least 20 years, and I've seen increasing trends to getting print journalists to shoot video and audio for other uses, radio journalists too.

Job ads seem to be increasingly asking for that sort of multi-media training.

I'm not sure when one is supposed to consider what one is writing about when one is preparing three different versions of the same story under strict deadlines, especially when the text you need to vomit up needs to be run via the inhouse SEO guidelines yo you can get extra hits.

Then, at the end of the day, the managing editor (probably a trumped up salesperson with delusions of grandeur) can look at the stats and decree that stories on Topic X don't get enough eyeballs and might have to be dropped if they don't start hitting their KPIs.

And don't to forget to include ad-words we can increase the UB CPM.
posted by Mezentian at 6:37 PM on June 13, 2012


The Some-Times Picuyane
posted by Tavern at 6:54 PM on June 13, 2012


My point is that these moments aren't permanent. Print media made money in a certain way; that revenue stream was destroyed by a better alternative (the internet), now media needs to figure out a way to make money on the internet.

But the Times-Pic does have a revenue stream. It's currently a profitable paper. It's just not profitable enough for its owner's tastes.

Everyone always says this. But, magically, people keep on keeping an eye on the city council and the school board. My city has any number of local blogs profitably covering our government; maybe NOLA can't support as many as DC has, but they can certainly support a few.

Late in the thread, but this is just not true. I work at a small daily newspaper. We actually publish two dailies, one for the west side of our rural county and one for the east, shading into the next county. We publish 12 newspapers per week. We have three general assignment reporters and no investigative reporters. I don't care so much about our shitty equipment, our shoddy website, and our dearth of trained photographers, but I do care about the stories we are missing, and they are legion. We more or less have to take at face value what public officials tell us, because none of our reporters actually have time to investigate anything. We cover public meetings, but we don't do any kind of follow up on things that are assigned to committees or do any kind of real fact checking. A local soldier died in an odd non-combat incident while serving overseas last year; we covered the funeral and more or less printed the press release his branch of the service gave us. I suspect there's a story there, but we sure as hell don't have the staff to report it. Ditto the teenager who died in a gun accident, the sole murder our county had last year, and the way the economy is imploding around here. We aren't getting replaced by blogs, unless you count the gossip website that caters to rural communities and Facebook. We have a monopoly on local news, and, as Ted Turner would say, we're fucking it up.

But the thing is, we're profitable. We are making our parent company money hand over fist. We sell ads. I wish I could show you the Craigslist for my area; it looks like a Prodigy bulletin board circa 1998. There is money being made out here, but none of it gets reinvested back into the paper's core business. It gets sucked up into our parent company's debt service machine. Meanwhile, our editorial staff just tries to keep our heads above water while our parent company steps on our shoulders trying to get to dry land.
posted by Snarl Furillo at 7:11 PM on June 13, 2012 [9 favorites]


I may be nit picayuning here, but it seems to me that as long as the consumers of the product can't tell the difference between a tasty gumbo which tastes of the love that went into the creation, and some crawdad gut stew thrown together by the first passer-by, then folks is just getting what they is willing to spend their money on.
posted by stirfry at 7:17 PM on June 13, 2012


Isn't that the McDonald's (etc) business model stirfry (eponysterical?).

And I think we can all see how much richer our lives have been made by large chain fast food franchises.
posted by Mezentian at 7:29 PM on June 13, 2012


You must be one of those 22 year old know nothing talentless hacks Mathowie hired to replace the Pulitzer winning commenters

I should be so lucky!

Relax, folks. Business models change. Things are already taking the place of newspapers. It'll be OK.

I'm pretty relaxed right now already, but if you were here beside me you could always relax me more, baby.

Anyways, I can't tell if your assurances that everything will be "ok" are the product of an amazing sense of privilege or of an amazing naïveté, but I take as much comfort from them as I would from any random dude on the internet and I thank you for your efforts.
posted by octobersurprise at 7:34 PM on June 13, 2012 [1 favorite]


.
posted by lester's sock puppet at 7:43 PM on June 13, 2012


Meanwhile in the comments section of al.com, the regulars are cheering the fall of the state's three largest daily newspapers and attributing it somehow to them being a part of the librul media.

Maybe we just don't DESERVE newspapers down here. Jesus fucking Christ.
posted by BitterOldPunk at 8:41 PM on June 13, 2012


Everyone deserves newspapers.

Everyone.
posted by Mezentian at 8:49 PM on June 13, 2012


Meanwhile in the comments section of al.com, the regulars are cheering the fall of the state's three largest daily newspapers and attributing it somehow to them being a part of the librul media.

I just... words fucking fail me.
posted by tyllwin at 9:03 PM on June 13, 2012


BitterOldPunk: "Meanwhile in the comments section of al.com, the regulars are cheering the fall of the state's three largest daily newspapers and attributing it somehow to them being a part of the librul media."

Ugh. Idiots.

On the other hand, if the New York Post were to fail, I'd definitely cheer.
posted by zarq at 10:46 PM on June 13, 2012


As long as they don't fire Chris Rose. I love that guy!
posted by newdaddy at 3:53 AM on June 14, 2012


I can't tell if you're serious or not, but Rose left the paper in 2009.
posted by CheeseLouise at 5:52 AM on June 14, 2012


Oh no!

I was semi-kidding. We have his book and love it. But the real story is that Chris Rose and I share a name (that is, "Chris Rose").

So what happened to him? Where is he now?
posted by newdaddy at 7:21 AM on June 14, 2012


He did a column at the Gambit for awhile, and now he does video opinion pieces for the local fox affiliate.
posted by CheeseLouise at 7:44 AM on June 14, 2012


Brett Anderson invited to not leave the Picayune; Finney not re-signed as sports columnist; we have always been at war with Eastasia from BlogOfNewOrleans, part of The Gambit, June 15, 2012
posted by the man of twists and turns at 1:33 PM on June 15, 2012


Times-Picayune Citizens' Group formally asks Newhouse family to sell the paper
posted by the man of twists and turns at 6:33 PM on July 9, 2012


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