‘Save the TP,’ group demands
11th June 2012 · 0 Comments
By Christopher Tidmore
Emotions have hit a boiling point at the prospect of New Orleans losing its daily newspaper. The decision by the Newhouse publishing group to reduce print and home delivery of the Times-Picayune to thrice weekly spawned a public protest last Monday at the 3000 Block of Carrollton Ave.
Said organizer Anne Rolfes, “Our message is clear: Publish Every Day or Sell the Paper AND LET SOMEONE ELSE DO IT!”
At the rally came news of the formation of the Times-Picayune Citizens’ Group, an association of 50 business and civic leaders and organizations with the stated purpose of ensuring “the continuation of the delivery of a high quality, seven-day-a-week newspaper, with access to the entire community.”
Citizens Group member and Tulane University President Scott Cowen noted, “In the next several years, the city will host an unprecedented amount of national and international visitors and media, including the NFL Super Bowl, NCAA Women’s Final Four, NBA All-Star game, commemoration of the 10th anniversary of Hurricane Katrina and celebration of the city’s 300th birthday. These events, along with the downtown opening of two new $1 billion-plus hospitals, deserve a more robust approach to news delivery.”
“Now is not the time to switch suddenly to a three-day a week publication,” stated fellow member Anne Milling, Founder of Women of the Storm. “A daily Times-Picayune has been the backbone of the community in our post-Katrina environment and provides the foundation for all civic dialogue and discourse. 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.”
“I can and have accepted change in my life. But I do not think this is a good change,” echoed Leah Chase, Chef at Dooky Chase, and a founding Group member. “People like Sheila Stroup, Judy Walker, Doug MacCash, and Brett Anderson provide me with information about the things I love, and I can relate to what they write about. For people my age, this will be a terrible loss.”
Ruthie Frierson, Founder and Chairman, Citizens for 1 Greater New Orleans, said, “The Times Picayune has been key in providing concerned citizens with in-depth information necessary to address critical needs in our community. Losing this daily resource, which provides current and timely information, would make it more difficult for citizens to stay informed and to affect good government and community improvement”
In an interview with The Louisiana Weekly, Michael Hecht, President and CEO of Greater New Orleans, Inc., and one of the organizers of the TP Citizens Group, observed, “A quality and consistent news media outlet is imperative to maintaining the economic growth we’ve experienced in the Greater New Orleans region since Katrina.”
When asked if Advance Media, the Newhouse Family Corporation that owns the TP, should not rule out turning the 175 year old paper into a non-profit organization, to keep it publishing daily, Hecht replied, “Multiple alternatives should be explored, for-profit and not-for-profit included. At this point compromise is not a solution. Having a source of information that can be readily accessed by all members of our community, and that can represent the richness of our culture, community, and economic vitality should not be an aspirational goal, it should be common sense.”
Congress enacted provisions in the tax code five years ago that would allow media companies to allow daily newspapers to transform from for profit companies to non-profits seamlessly, and would allow large tax deductions for the donating media firm. Advance Media could choose that route rather than attempting to boost profits by reducing publication schedules and laying off staff.
Hecht said that the Newhouse family is sending a terrible message about our city by reducing the output of the TP. “New Orleans was recently named the ‘#1 Fastest Improving Economy in the Nation’ by the Wall Street Journal. The drastic reduction of our paper is not only inconsistent with this economic renaissance, it also sends a negative — and erroneous — message to the rest of the world about our resurgent community’s viability.”
Even as far as London, UK, this reporter received questions as to why New Orleans was losing its daily newspaper. The reduction in daily printing has made international news, and by all indications, has dealt the Crescent City a blow in potential visitors, who have wondered aloud to the author, “Is it because you haven’t recovered from Hurricane Katrina?”
Even during Queen Elizabeth’s Diamond Jubilee, questions abounded when this reporter said he hailed from New Orleans. “Why would your newspaper do that?” one lady asked.
“Newspapers don’t reduce printing. They have a job to do,” another man observed.
“Is it really alright in New Orleans?” a third asked, rendered perplexed as to why a media company would make such a decision.
The TP has enjoyed a market penetration of better than sixty percent, the third highest for a newspaper in the United States. It is a profitable newspaper right now, noted Jack Shafer of Reuters. He sees the print reduction as part of a more nefarious scheme. “My view is that the Newhouse family is devising a long-term liquidation plan for their large chain of newspapers. The cutback daily home delivery at some of their Michigan papers before they dropped the bomb on the Times-Picayune and their Alabama titles. I think that they sense no growth at any of these newspapers so they’re going to extract as much value as they can from then until one day–poof!–they fold them.”
“What they’re telling the market by printing on the three days of the week that most advertisers advertise is that the papers exist to please advertisers, not readers.”
Using more than words, on Friday, June 8, all five of the Ralph Brennan Restaurants began to offer a “Save The Picayune specialty drink.”
They will not promote on-line to protest the Newhouse’s direction.
This article was originally published in the June 11, 2012 print edition of The Louisiana Weekly newspaper