A Rumble in the South: More Newspapers Lay Off Staff and Pare Down Publication
I recently wrote a blog post about how New Orleans will be the first large U.S. city to not have a daily newspaper, as the owners of The Times-Picayune reported that they will be going to a three-times-a-week publication schedule this fall.
A new company will take over the publication of the newspaper as well as its website, www.nola.com. That company, the Nola Media Group, will focus on producing larger newspapers on the three publication days (Wednesday, Friday, and Sunday) while ramping up their website with stories published daily. It’s a bold move, but something I believe other newspapers will adopt over time.
The move has many upset, as you can imagine. Recently the publisher announced that the paper will cut 201 jobs—32% of its workforce. Almost half of the editorial team is being canned.
In addition, all the newspapers’ other employees will be required to take new jobs at the newly created Nola Media Group — in some cases with different responsibilities, less pay or fewer benefits. Some columnists are being asked to contribute on a freelance basis. —MediaPost.com
This is not an uncommon procedure, but it sucks. I worked for a newspaper that was going through similar cuts and people were taking the offered buyout left and right. Who wants to work more for less money?
The mood in the newsroom was, as described by Times-Picayune veteran reporter mark Schleifstein in an interview with NPR as “Katrina without the water.”
It was very disconcerting and very emotional. There was a lot of crying and a lot of hugging and people streamed in all day long to meet with individual editors who provided them with a packet that was either a job offer, like mine was, or was a severance package that gave them the news as to whether or not they would still be around. —Mark Schleifstein on NPR
Advance Publications, the parent company of The Times-Picayune, is also cutting jobs at its other papers located in Alabama—The Birmingham News, The Huntsville Times, and the Press-Register. The three largest newspapers in Alabama are cutting about 400 employees. All current employees of these papers are eligible to apply for the roughly 100 jobs the company will be posting.
What a morale booster.
Last week a group was formed to oppose the changes to The Times-Picayune. The group, called the Times-Picayune Citizens’ Group, is made up of over 100 concerned civic and business leaders and have issued a press release that was all over the news last week.
The purpose? To try to keep the paper publishing seven-day-a-week. The group intends to open discussions with the current owners as well as other interested parties to champion its cause and achieve its goal.
“Now is not the time to suddenly switch to a three-day a week publication” stated Anne Milling, Founder of Women of the Storm. “It is our hope that the owners will respect the voices and desires of the community which has been so loyal to the printed newspaper for generations.” —Times Picayune Citizens’ Group
According to this story in the Wall Street Journal, Advance Publications has said it will not reverse its decision to pare down the publication schedule, which was made for financial reasons. The Times Picayune Citizens’ Group is not taking the news lying down, and is looking for solutions such as finding a new buyer for the paper, bringing in a national competitor to start a new daily in the city, and creating or working with local digital media groups to start an alternative newspaper.
While I think it’s touching that the community is rallying behind the newspaper and it’s staff, I think it’s a lost cause. I believe that people take their daily newspaper for granted. I wonder how many of the people who make up the Times Picayune Citizens’ Group are actual subscribers to the paper. Sure, the publication has been around for 175 years, but that doesn’t mean that changes shouldn’t be made.
People forget that newspapers are businesses. If a business isn’t making money, no matter how many years it has been in business, it will not survive. Heck, the United States Postal Service is in financial crisis! Who doesn’t take mail delivery for granted?
I actually think publishing a paper three times a week and increasing their online reporting is a great solution to shutting the paper down all together. What do you think?