By Dan Kennedy • The press, politics, technology, culture and other passions

A cloudy digital future for New Orleans

It’s the afternoon before Memorial Day weekend, and I’m sure most people have better things to do than to sit around reading media news. So I’ll be brief on the New Orleans Times-Picayune’s decision to cut back its print edition to three days a week.

First, taken in isolation, I think it’s a good idea. Print is inefficient and expensive, and newspaper companies ought to invest in journalism, not printing and distribution. Print ads are still far more lucrative than their online equivalent. But if the diminishing number of advertisers can be squeezed into fewer editions, then that makes a lot of sense.

It is a little strange that New Orleans will be the first major city to try such an experiment, given that 36 percent of residents are not online. But management is promising to beef up those three days’ worth of print editions, so I don’t see any harm. A daily print newspaper is a cultural artifact that doesn’t necessarily make a lot of sense anymore.

Second, and unfortunately, we can’t take this in isolation. It seems that Advance, the corporate chain that owns the Times-Picayune, is cutting not just its print edition but also its coverage of the city. (Advance is also doing the same thing at three of its papers in Alabama.)

Reporters are being laid off. Jim Romenesko yesterday heard that there has been talk of drastic salary cuts for those who stay — even though the paper has been profitable and has paid bonuses in recent years. The paper’s website is a disgrace.

This could have been an exciting day for New Orleans if it meant that the Times-Picayune was embracing a bright digital future. Unfortunately, it has all the appearance of a corporate chain trying to bleed dry one of its most celebrated newspapers.

Page-one image from “Today’s Front Pages” at the Newseum.

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  1. You hit the nail on the head. It’s too bad about the paper, but the real loss is the cutback in reporting, whatever medium it gets published in.

    That stat about who’s not online is pretty dramatic. But I’m willing to bet at least 36% of NoLa’s citizenry don’t read newspapers, either. For better or for worse, you can’t rely on one form of delivery to get everybody anymore.

  2. Mike Stucka

    Actually, I think that’s the new-and-improved web site.

    From a year ago:

    What could possibly go wrong?

  3. Ron Newman

    Didn’t both of the Detroit papers already do this?

    • Dan Kennedy

      @Ron: Almost. They put out thin papers that aren’t home-delivered several days a week, but they still have print seven days.

  4. Bill Duncliffe

    Interesting comment on the web site…that is where I found this very well done series…

  5. Pat Danielson

    A recent School Library Journal has a prescient article by a small publisher. He predicts that books will go the way of CANDLES. Coffee table books and inspirational books may still reside in our homes, but most of what we read, we will read on our e-readers. Newspapers, I suppose will go likewise.
    As a small publisher, he cannot take a book to China for printing and back for distribution unless he knows he can sell at least ten thousand copies. Therefore, he posits that an author who knows he can sell five thousand copies of his book can still produce a profit online. Authors and ideas, he says, will survive. Publishers of books of small interest or even of large interest will not. Perhaps publishers of newspapers of small interest or even of large interest will not, but maybe authors will. My sympathy to the staff at the New Orleans Times, but I look forward to finding their writing in places outside the Delta.

  6. Laurence Kranich

    I know newspapers aren’t what they used to be, and many people prefer the always-updated, faster-reading websites. But there’s still value in the daily relationship of a newspaper with its readers and its city. Once the habit is broken on Monday, Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday, it’ll be so much easier to break it for all the other days.

    At least is trying to retain the complete newspaper experience for readers. NOLA is another bullet-point based website with ads that are both too annoying and too easily overlooked. Readers won’t see that human-interest story in the lower left corner, and won’t read the full-page investigation – if it even exists anymore. These 3-day newspapers aren’t the beginning of the end, they are the end of the end.

  7. Joseph Rice

    Perhaps it is too early in this evolution to tell, but it seems as though when a newspaper has a physical plant and product, they take their readership more seriously, and vice versa. A major gaffe in a city daily would be newsmaking in itself; on the web – “Oh what do you expect, it’s the internet”. And while I am not a Luddite, I often read (and re-read) the paper during lunch, while waiting for something, and even in those places men tend to take reading material. I somehow don’t see myself easily developing the same relationship with my Nook or Kindle.

    I know it may not add much to the bottom line, but when I travel, reading the local paper gives me a sense of immediacy that all my research about the place on the web pre-trip does not.

    Oh well, another lost cultural artifact to bore our grandchildren about.

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