The New Orleans Times-Picayune will become the largest daily metropolitan newspaper to cut back print publication when it shifts to a three-day-a-week print cycle this fall in a move that represents not only a disservice to the New Orleans community but to the journalism community.
In recent years, financial conditions in the newspaper industry have certainly been dismal as the internet tries in earnest to deliver the fatal blow to the print newspaper industry. However, the Times-Picayune, operating in the black, need not have hastened the decline by reducing its print publication and reducing its workforce by a third.
The Times-Picayune’s purported plan is to emphasize and improve its online presence, but the cutbacks seem more like the sacrifices of good papers and people in an effort to save on expenditures in the short term. The reality is that whether the paper’s product is online or in a person’s hands over breakfast, fewer journalists means the quality of the content will likely suffer. Of course, products of poor quality often aren’t associated with successful business ventures.
Still, the implications of this transition go beyond the journalism community. Esquire magazine’s Charles Pierce correctly observes that the Times-Picayune acted as an invaluable public service to residents of New Orleans, particularly those in the Ninth Ward, during the paper’s Pulitzer Prize-winning coverage of Hurricane Katrina.
Although the assumption is that everyone has access to a computer with internet and a television, but if New Orleans were hit by another disastrous hurricane, disabling power, then what could residents do without mass sources of information flowing into the community?
Despite the horrid thought of such a scenario, the famed Newhouse family’s Advance Publications Inc., the owner of the Times-Picayune and three major Alabama dailies (The Birmingham News, The Huntsville Times and Mobile’s Press-Register) also adopting a reduced print publication schedule, at least seem to have adopted as part of their mission statement a full dedication to their online content and presence.
Whether or not Advance’s emphasis on electronic journalism will pay dividends is yet to be seen, but its firm commitment to a future plan for the changing times should be commended in an industry lacking clear direction.
Some newspapers, such as the McClatchy Company’s Sacramento Bee, are tinkering with paywalls on their websites, meaning readers would have to pay for some or all access to online content, but are naive as to specifics. Sadly, the newspaper business seems almost doomed to fail if the newspapers themselves don’t have a strategy for the future to help resist the changing tides of print journalism.
Nevertheless, before print journalism completely succumbs to the internet, it would be nice if this generation of media moguls continued to strive for ingenuity in developing new ways to increase the profits of print newspapers or to finally figure out the viable business model for online journalism before severing ties with the morning editions of their newsprint.
After all, the newspaper survived the advent of great new technologies like the radio and television, and therefore we shouldn’t deprive our communities of their daily local media namesakes this prematurely.