Why journalists should celebrate New Orleans

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Last week’s news that the New Orleans Times-Picayune would reduce print publication to three days a week and reorganize as a digital-first media company was met with hand-wringing, blame and much time spent discussing what we’re losing.

Yes, of course. Who isn’t lamenting that it’s come to this?

In the meantime, there’s been too little celebration.

Why celebrate?

Because they’re trying an alternative to the declining spiral of readership and revenue for traditional newspaper newsrooms.

Because while smaller newsrooms are regrettable, they’re the only plausible alternative to shrinking advertising.

Because while nostalgia somehow may be comforting, too much pining for how things used to be is perhaps the single biggest impediment to imagining about how things might be.

Let’s hope and expect that these changes in New Orleans are an effort to ensure profitability, not run it asunder.

If the NOLA Media Group is the most dramatic recent change to the newspaper landscape, it’s far from the only newsworthy one. Newsrooms across the country are trying all variety of ways to reduce costs and find sustainable income-expense levels. Denver is eliminating copy editors. St. Louis is losing jobs. Gannett is outsourcing janitors. The Oregon Daily Emerald is reducing its print publication to two days a week. The Chicago Sun-Times revealed leadership changes for a digital future. All that news surfaced within the last 10 days.

Yet when the Times-Pic announced the sweeping reshaping of its newsroom, the reactions were quick and derisive. Even PC Magazine, of all publications, told us why the Times-Picayune’s online move is bad for America.

The main argument goes like this: America needs the in-depth reporting that daily newspapers provide and the New Orleans market doesn’t have widespread Internet access to ensure people can get the news they want or need.

That analysis builds in two assumptions: 1, New Orleans will do less in-depth reporting and 2, it will be less accessible. As for the first, editor Jim Amoss tried to allay that fear in this memo, via JimRomenesko.com. On both counts, we’ll see.

The most intense lament is about the jobs lost, the unfortunate impact of the advertising shift away from print. Nobody wants to see more journalists lose their jobs. But they’ll all go if someone doesn’t find a reasonable money-making model.

That’s why efforts like those in New Orleans need to be applauded, encouraged.

In 2009, the Detroit Media Partnership eliminated home delivery of The Detroit News and Detroit Free Press four days a week. It wasn’t a move that everyone embraced. Many of us gritted our teeth.

Yet that change may have preserved two newsrooms from a critical tailspin and helped make possible the changes that led to AnnArbor.com and similar moves at Booth newspapers around Michigan. Most recently, those changes led to a dramatic rethinking of MLive.com and ultimately to the moves in New Orleans and Alabama.  Innovation invariably leads to more innovation.

The changes aren’t over. Not for Detroit. Probably not for New Orleans.

There’s no guarantee any of these paths will work. But you can’t hope to succeed if you don’t try.

The cacophony surrounding the New Orleans move will be of lasting benefit only if it provides some shock therapy to an industry that’s much too fond of asking “Why is this happening to us?” instead of “What can we do to change?”

So while we should be disappointed about the print publication days and jobs lost, let’s find a way to celebrate another effort to save the industry, albeit one little piece at a time.

After all, maybe it’ll work.

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One comment

  1. scottdaniel · · Reply

    Perhaps the loss of ad revenue to the Internet was inevitable. I still have to wonder, though, if newspapers had banded together at the advent of the digital age and charged for their on-line product instead of giving it away for free, if the industry would be in better shape. I was at the Ann Arbor News a few years before it went under, so I still view the loss of a traditional and storied paper like the Times-Pic. I say loss because I would assume Newhouse is going to follow its annarbor.com model, which I don’t believe is a good one.

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