Government & Politics
 

Let’s hope T-P treats readers better than it treated its employees

The Times-Picayune opinion page should razz its ownership for the way it handled plans to cut staff and shrink to a three-days-a-week paper. The inside account of the T-P restructuring story, as reported by Kevin Allman at Gambit, reveals a lack of professionalism among the paper’s new decision-makers:

Gambit spoke to more than a dozen T-P employees — reporters, senior writers, columnists and editors — all of whom said they learned of their fates from The New York Times report.

“My supervisor didn’t even f—ing know,” said one reporter. “My supervisor.”

On Twitter, crime reporter Brendan McCarthy wrote, “Just learned in the NY Times that my newspaper, my employer, my morning routine, may cease to exist.”

Many daily Times-Picayune subscribers, including yours truly, felt like McCarthy. Their cherished morning routines are about to be upended.

I don’t mean to pile on the T-P during this difficult time. Newspapers throughout the country are losing revenue and downsizing because of technological changes to their business. And I’m sure the newly formed NOLA Media Group was caught off-guard by the New York Times story that broke the news about the paper’s restructuring and their new “digitally-focused” vision. You’d expect the ownership group to frame the changes in a hopeful manner and assure longtime T-P readers that what will be lost in issue-frequency will be gained in “robust” content, spread over new-and-improved digital platforms.

However, you wouldn’t expect to hear exchanges like the one Allman reported occurred in a T-P employee meeting which editor Jim Amoss presided over:

At the employee meeting, [veteran T-P reporter Bruce Nolan} … spoke to his boss . “I find this difficult to say, because you and I go back a long time,” Nolan told the paper’s editor. “I don’t know to what extent your fingerprints are on the events of last week. I really think they’re probably not much.

“But I think everyone here thinks this doesn’t feel like the old Times-Picayune,” Nolan said. “There was, over the last week, a sense of anxiety and dread, a sense of disrespect, a sense people were being kept in the dark about terribly important things. …

“To read in The New York Times this morning that a 40-year career, in my case, is ending this way … That wasn’t right. And if I have a beef with this business decision — and history will vindicate this or not; I don’t care — but this isn’t the way to do it.”

“Hear, hear!” yelled another employee, and the newsroom burst into applause.

It’s depressing to learn that the city’s top local news source, under out-of-town ownership, is treating its employees this way. Newsmen don’t like to learn their fates in someone else’s newspaper. And I realize the “industry is changing” and “business is business” and all those other justificatory cliches… but big flipping deal. As Nolan said, that doesn’t make it right. And I think most New Orleanians would agree with him.

Worse, the T-P’s botched handling of its internal restructuring reveals more than a lack diplomatic style behind closed-doors. I fear it may be an indicator that the new T-P will deal with its faithful readers in a less-than-forthright manner, as well.

For example, the T-P published a letter to its subscribers on the front page of their May 25 edition. It’s from Philip H. Ehrhardt the vice president and director of circulation and in it, he makes a remarkable promise (my emphasis):

Beginning fall 2012, we will change our printing and delivery frequency from 7-days a week to 3-days a week. Our new package of Wednesday, Friday and Sunday will contain all of the news, grocery ads, inserts, coupons, comics, crossword puzzles, horoscopes and everything else you now receive through the current 7-days of delivery.

That’s an explicit, front-page commitment to T-P subscribers that the newspaper content they receive will not diminish. And I don’t believe it for a second.

In my daily Metro section I currently receive a couple T-P editorials each day along with four opinion pieces from national and local sources (except on Mondays). I also get to read a half dozen or so letters to the editor. Is the T-P really promising to enlarge its editorial section when it converts to publishing three-days-a-week, so that I can continue to enjoy the same amount of printed opinion content on a weekly basis?

Profoundly skeptical, I called the T-P’s customer service department and asked them whether the less-frequent but more “robust” editions of the T-P coming this fall would have double the opinion columns to honor their promise of no lost content. The gentleman assisting me was courteous, but his reply was evasive: “That’s a good question. I’d have to talk to someone here who knows about those plans.”

C’mon, T-P! Don’t start compounding your mistakes. The mistreatment of your loyal employees was bad enough. Don’t worsen matters by misleading your loyal subscribers with empty promises, too.

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  • jimmy jablingis

    Of course there will be added “opinion” content; at the end of the article in the print edition will be a note reminding the reader that they can go online to see reaction and opinion to each and every article, more than is being currently offered, they might add. the opinions will be many and varied with often hundred and sometimes thousands putting in their two cents. notwithstanding the topic of the article most opinions will be telling us why Obama is an illegal president or why Bush is the devil.

    See all the opinion that you can handle and more.

  • Lying is clearly part of their MO. I don’t believe anything coming out of Advance whatever the hell they call themselves.

  • I. M.

    Here, here… there, there… digital format is EVERYWHERE!

  • Tim

    Mark,

    Haven’t seen any updates from you for a few days. I hope you’re just on vacation and you haven’t fallen vicitim to the Advance Publishing hatchet men.

    Peace,

    Tim

  • Peter A. Corby

    Open Letter to the Directors of Advance Publications.
    Please repost freely.

    To the executive management, Advance Publications.
    RE: The New Orleans Times Picayune.

    Sirs and Madames,
    I want to express my extreme disappointment and shame at the conduct of your business with the city of New Orleans.
    Further I would like to convey how shocked I am at your full commitment to a product which seems to be universally reviled and doomed to oblivious mediocrity, namely NOLA.com.

    There are two separate issues here. The first is the callous and cretinous way which your company has gutted a newspaper with one of the richest histories in America, one which is central to this singular city’s sense of identity, and which was by all accounts profitable and in a market experiencing economic growth during these lean times.

    The second is the group-think stinking decision to go all-in with the worst designed media website in the country. The true import of this dismal choice is that it does not come close to being a replacement for the resources stripped from the paper. It almost seems as if your company is pursuing a deliberate policy of reducing the availability of information to the public.

    Let me put a fine point on it: nobody likes NOLA.com. It is crap. It is ugly, intrusive, and seems designed to bury all but a few featured stories. I have committed to never visiting it again even casually and strive to convince my friends and associates to do likewise.

    Allow me to address the significance of the paper itself. The Times Picayune is a paper dating back to the presidency of Andrew Jackson, and carries forth tradition from even earlier. It embodies an archive of original source history covering such momentous events as the Civil War, the Civil Rights Movement, and of course the catastrophic failures of the federal levees during Hurricane Katrina. Great writer’s work from all eras have appeared in its pages. It facilitates the cultural life which make such a small city so significant to the nation. And it facilitates the rebuilding of this city from its near destruction in 2005.

    Now your company has long enjoyed the privilege of being a monopoly in many markets, and has apparently become quite accustomed to this state. A state which is no accident or quirk of fate, but the end product of decades of business strategy. Your industry is proud in its self proclaimed (and we fervently hope still true) role as “The Fourth Estate.” Well, if your company is the sole representative of this vital arm of democracy, does it not owe the people of its communities – or I should say markets? –
    a high degree of public service and obligation?
    Is not the abandonment of this paper which in itself is a living historical relic and ark of tradition a gross and villainous betrayal of that trust?

    No, do not think that anyone accepts the curtailed and diminished mongrel which you are offering to sell us as a replacement for what you are destroying.

    At this time I buy the paper from a vendor every day and will continue to until the changes planned are made concrete, but at that time I will cease to consume any of your products and will instead wait for your replacement to emerge, which it shortly shall do.

    God forgive your stunted souls.

    Peter A. Corby