The legendary Times-Picayune, since 1837 the major newspaper serving New Orleans, announced today it is shifting to a digital publication called NOLA Media. The move will take place in the fall, with the Times-Picayune cutting back its print publication to three days a week. The digital site, which will be enhanced, is already up at www.nola.com.
Nola.com runs the news as its lead story, under the headline: New digitally focused company launches this fall with beefed up online coverage; The Times-Picayune will move this fall to three printed papers a week
A story in today's New York Times media blog says three top editors at the Times-Picayune will be laid off in the next few weeks, and "deep newsroom layoffs are on the way." The paper, which now has a daily circulation of 141,100 and nearly 159,000 on Sundays, will publish on Wednesdays, Fridays and Sundays with what NOLA's statement says will be "a more robust paper."
While this is troubling for the newspaper industry overall, the Times-Picayune has been dealing with a unique challenge -- the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina nearly seven years ago and having a much smaller population base (and advertising base) after the storm.
The paper is following the route taken almost three years ago by the Ann Arbor News, also owned by Newhouse Newspapers. The Ann Arbor News cut its print publication to twice a week and laid off almost all of its editorial staff in the process. Various news reports say about 12 people were re-hired for the digital operation, AnnArbor.com. The paper, when it was a daily, employed about 270 people.
When the Ann Arbor paper closed, the publisher blamed it on the loss of classified advertising revenue (caused mainly by Craigslist), and a very low rate of home ownership in an area where the population is transient and young. I wonder if that spells similar outcomes for papers in other college towns like Berkeley, Austin, Boulder and ... name any other large college town.
It's sad to see a newspaper go under, although in this case, the Times-Picayune masthead will remain. Hopefully the reduced publication schedule will enable it to keep going by filling the paper with quality news and analysis content that gets enough readership to sell more ad pages. It's as simple as that, and I hope it works.
A side note... I always enjoyed saying the name of this paper. Picayune is one of those words that, for me at least, is fun to say out loud. I never knew what picayune means, but in doing some research for this post I learned a picayune was a Spanish coin and when the paper first published in 1837, it cost one picayune.