NEW ORLEANS — As you may have heard, plans are afoot by Advance Publications to scale back the 175-year-old New Orleans Times-Picayune newspaper from a daily into a three times a week version with an increased focus on their website. (Much more about that here and here and here.)
The problem is, around here, the Times Pic isn't a business. It's family. As Crescent City resident Harry Shearer wrote today:
"The newspaper business lives off the benefits of free speech, which all citizens enjoy, but none more than news outlets, who put out so much of it. The First Amendment offers government protection against almost all lawsuits from angry politicians, lazy ballplayers, and dim-witted celebrities whose exploits may be reported to their dismay. Should there be a societal expectation that the proprietors of such privileged enterprises owe a little something back—perhaps a calm acceptance of a lower profit margin than could be attained, say, in the car-leasing business? The TP, after all, is still reported to be profitable. On the other hand, Advance has signaled—by this stumble-footed decision—that they don't understand the New Orleans market. You can't care about what you don't understand."
On Monday, hundreds of dismayed New Orleanians –and one seriously sweaty MaddowBlogger— sweltered in the parking lot of the Rock N Bowl in 93 degree heat to protest what's happening. Here's what a few locals told me:
Sherry Alexander, journalism professor, Loyola University: "There's such disparate kinds of people here. There's poor people, a lot of poor people, and a lot of people that can't read very well at all, and the Times-Picayune has served to bring us all together, and I'm afraid with people getting their news from all different sources we won't have this in common anymore."
Jewel Bush, communications coordinator, SEIU:"I think every writer who grew up in New Orleans had that same starry-eyed vision of having a byline in the Times Picayune. I think, I equate it with like a part of New Orleans, like Schwegmann's, like this grocery store that is now defunct. And it's just a piece of New Orleans."
Kathryn Parker, the Prevention Research Center at Tulane University: "The investigative journalism is unbelievable. I mean, think about all the indictments that have come as a result of the coverage of the Times Picayune, and when we lose that, I feel like, you know, our leaders won't be held accountable, our police department won't be held accountable, and we just desperately have to have that to be a functioning city, to get better, to recover."
Naomi King, communications and training coordinator at the Prevention Research Center at Tulane University:"I have to say it's mind boggling to me that Houma, Louisiana and Thibodaux, Louisiana, and Morgan City, Louisiana are going to have daily papers but not New Orleans."
Bill Borah, lawyer: "You know, it's a perfectly well-read paper, I mean amazingly—go talk to people. Don't just throw the baby out with the bath. Recognize the problems that print media has, but you don't have to do what they're doing. I think it's short-sighted, and I think it'd do great harm for the city."
Lolis Eric Elie, former Times Picayune writer and now a staff writer for HBO's Treme, told the crowd: "I think this is yet another example of New Orleanians attempting to take back our city from people who would otherwise seek to destroy it."
And finally, Kermit Ruffins, trumpeter and consummate New Orleans showman told me: "I just can't imagine the elderly people, and the poor people that's not able to get their paper no more. Imagine not getting their Sunday morning paper… I used to go through that every Sunday morning, me and my little brother. Hopefully, we can do something to stop this tragedy. And this city is known for coming together and making good stuff happen, so I don't ever doubt that we can change what's about to happen."