Government & Politics

The news was sometimes buried, but the T-P helped us back on our feet

One of the obscure T-P notices that inspired this column. credit: gadbois

I saw the headline and thought about the reporters, photographers, editors and staffers at the Times-Picayune and what this means for them. I wondered how they felt reading about their fate in another publication, not their own.

Then I began to think about the news we wouldn’t be reading in the refashioned Times-Picayune and what it means for us, the community that depends on its daily newspaper.

When I first came back to New Orleans on the last day of 2005, I would walk the three blocks to Carrollton Avenue in the morning to pick up that day’s copy of the T-P. Home delivery had been suspended and vending boxes had sprouted at  intersections across the city.

Hungry for news, I stood on the Carrollton neutral ground and devoured the front page. Every day, without fail the T-P came through with vital news.  The very reason for its being was validated on a daily basis, there at the corner of Apricot and Carrollton.

Eventually the paper returned to my front porch signaling another step towards the “new normal.”

I encouraged my friends to subscribe. I wasn’t just a consumer, I was a believer.

Squandered Heritage was born in part because of a burning question that I had about the remaking of New Orleans neighborhoods, a question that was, to my mind, inconsistently addressed in the T-P.

The granular reality of the post Katrina land use issues in neighborhoods both small and large, while rarely front-page news, was regularly reflected more subtly back in the classifieds ads and legal notices.

They became a primary source of information that rewarded close study.

When the paper published over 20 pages of notices signaling the city’s intention to demolish over 1,700 structures, the only editorial mention was a piece by Judy Walker, the food writer. In a piece entitled “Hallelujah! An eyesore is on the way out,” she exulted in the pending destruction of one house that had offended her.

“In the old pre-K world, this house was on the city’s blighted and adjudicated list (whatever adjudicated means),” Walker wrote. What she didn’t seem to realize – nor did City Hall – was that the FEMA money had not been allocated to bulldoze every blighted house in the city, many of them salvageable. By law it was meant to address only those properties that had been damaged by Katrina.

Greedy for what it could get from FEMA, the city had cobbled together a catalog of every house with a code-enforcement complaint against it – this at a time when there were more than a few reasons why your property might be out of compliance as you struggled to put it back together.

But I digress.

The story as reported by Squandered Heritage made its way into print publication by way of The Wall Street Journal, but what the Wall Street Journal couldn’t provide were the classifieds that were the basis of my own reporting. For that I was dependent on The Times-Picayune. The lesson: in this brave new digital world, sometimes it takes a lot of slices to make a sandwich.

Recently my own hard-copy subscription to the T-P lapsed. Not long afterwards I received an enticement to come back:

Dear Neighbor:

We know that you have been a long-time subscriber of The Times-Picayune and we miss delivering to your home.  And to prove it, we are offering you the first month FREE to restart your home delivery.  That’s right, we will give you the first month free to enjoy all the savings from the inserts, weekly ads, coupons, and so much more…

Not once was “news” mentioned in the enticement.  The chatty e-mail referenced “inserts, ads, coupons, and so much more” as a reason to come back.

It’s a sad day when the actual news is relegated to the “so much more” bin.

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About Karen Gadbois

Karen Gadbois co-founded The Lens. She now covers New Orleans government issues and writes about land use. With television reporter Lee Zurik she exposed widespread misuse of city recovery funds and led to guilty pleas in federal court. Her work attracted some of journalism's highest honors, including a Peabody Award, an Alfred I. duPont-Columbia Award and a gold medal from Investigative Reporters and Editors. She can be reached at (504) 606-6013.

  • Alsion Reed

    I have to agree with your article but I have to say that the demise of the Picayune is mostly of its own making. While is faster to catch up, nothing compares with the early AM ritual of coffee and the paper. The Picayune has in the past few years not exactly kept up with the local news as much as reprinting stories we already hear on the National News. Many of the writers were laid off after Katrina and it went down from there. the misprints the mis information the head line catching all atarted before then. Even NOLA dot com needs to have a special spell ck app applied to their “new” warning yellow color. I dont know who is make the decisions around there but it is sad that a cty this size cant support a local daily newspaper. The Sunherald on the Coast still survives what happened to the Picayune? We all have our opinions but the management must take some responsibility in putting out a paper that the Metro and Living sections were the only real parts people read with zeal. Maybe it it time for another news, investigative, indept rag to set up shop on the corners, so that we can take that walk to the corner, get the paper, come home, have coffee and do a crossword puzzle!

  • jeffrey

    Heh. And on a related note.

    Times-Picayune announcement prompts review of ‘official journal’ law