Inside the News Room

The Lens makes changes but continues focus on in-depth, public-service journalism

Like all news outlets in New Orleans and across the country, The Lens is constantly re-evaluating its mission and goals, as well as the resources available to meet them. And like other newsrooms, we sometimes have to make difficult decisions.

Regrettably, this is one of those times.

Because of unexpected drops in revenue, The Lens is scaling back some of our work in order to focus on our core mission of providing unique, public-interest reporting on public policy regarding New Orleans and coastal Louisiana.

But make no mistake: We remain viable and committed to bringing you the kind of public-service journalism you’ve come to expect from our staff of award-winning journalists. We have new data-driven features we’ll roll out soon. And we’re planning for insightful coverage of key events in 2015, such as the 10th anniversary of Hurricane Katrina and the 5th anniversary of the BP oil spill.

As a reader-supported nonprofit newsroom, similar to public television or public radio, we appreciate your continued contributions and support.

Here’s a look at our changes, followed by a look at a coming story that demonstrates our dedication to singular coverage, as well as a host of our recent accomplishments.

After today, we won’t produce our daily What We’re Reading newsletter of top stories from various news sources. And with the end of the school year, we’re putting our Charter School Reporting Corps on hiatus. We’re also sharply reducing our state political coverage.

We hope these popular features can return to The Lens, and we’ve instituted an aggressive fundraising effort to make that happen.

Many people, including those in the charter school movement, have told us how valuable our charter-schools coverage has been over the past few years. In many cases, a Lens reporter has been the only member of the public at these meetings. That oversight has shaped how these boards operate and spend public dollars, and we’re proud we could make that happen.

But it costs a lot — in time and money — to do this work. In addition to paying the freelancers to cover these meetings, we must coordinate coverage for more than 40 boards and edit the stories.

Again, readers have told us that our daily roundup of news, regardless of source, directs them to important stories. But it takes about 20 hours a week for one of our staffers to find those stories and write the daily post.

We will continue to send a weekly digest of Lens stories. If you subscribe to What We’re Reading, we will give you the opportunity to sign up for this email instead.

Likewise, our coverage of state politics and legislative news that affects New Orleans has been widely praised. We will continue to monitor issues in Baton Rouge that affect our city and the coast, but we can no longer dedicate a reporter to that beat.

Unfortunately, we are not able to keep all of our staff members involved in  this work.

Despite these challenges, The Lens continues to boast a strong, experienced newsroom that provides investigative reporting and information that other outlets aren’t, and we do it in ways that best serve readers.

Our staff remains committed to the kind of outstanding reporting that has won us praise from our readers and awards from our peers. Here are highlights of our recent work:

  • Rather than simply repeating Mayor Mitch Landrieu’s claims on his accomplishments regarding the reduction of blight, we have checked them. We’ll soon publish a story that showcases our ability to work differently: We visited and photographed about 300 properties that have been declared remediated by the city, and we’re putting the finishing touches on an interactive map to show you what we found.
  • We continue to use social media to point users to the most interesting news about New Orleans, regardless of where it comes from.
  • Our live blogs give people a front-row seat at important public meetings, providing the blow-by-blow rather than a digest.
  • We are the most transparent news outlet in New Orleans, telling you exactly how we reported the story, highlighting documents and hosting live chats to enable you to ask us questions. When we get something wrong, we admit it and prominently correct the error on the story for all to see. Indeed, the post you’re reading now is another example of being honest and transparent with our audience.
  • This week, we launched the first part of our contracts database, called The Vault. We uploaded nearly 5,500 agreements with the city of New Orleans and made it easier to find out where the city is spending its money. In the coming months, we will add contracts and other features that help people figure out who’s doing business with whom.
  • We have trained our staff in reporting and writing stories for radio. You’ve probably heard our stories on WWNO-FM, whether they are 5-minute features or short explainers providing context behind the day’s news. Our work has also been used on NPR’s nationwide broadcast.
  • Other news outlets in New Orleans and across the state continue to republish our stories.
  • In the coming weeks we will roll out more data-oriented projects. Who’s buying and selling property? How much are public employees paid? Who’s donating to whom? We’ll help you find those answers.

As always, we thank you for your continued support, readership and encouragement. We believe the difficult changes we’re implementing, along with our aggressive fundraising, will ensure The Lens’ long-term viability so that we can continue to serve the community we all share.

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About Steve Beatty

Steve Beatty is the publisher and chief executive officer of The Lens. He worked as an editor for The Times-Picayune for 15 years, leaving New Orleans just before Katrina to take a position as an editor at The Atlanta Journal-Constitution and quickly rising through the ranks to be an editor of the newspaper’s watchdog investigative team. He returned to New Orleans in May of 2009. He can be reached at (504) 655-2375.

  • TheGambler

    If you want to be a real news organization, how about you start by not burying the lede?

    “We are not able to keep all our staff members involved in this work”? In the 14th paragraph?

    How about: Our revenue is down so we had to lay off some good people.

    Nice press release.

  • nickelndime

    More later, but yeah, TheGambler know

  • JohnInTucson

    “Ain’t no free.” — NRBQ

  • nickelndime

    The nonprofit charter boards in New Orleans will be glad to see the charter school corps and THE LENS involvement go. THE LENS didn’t actually land any major blows, but it was an outside, generally uncontrollable presence. And then, there were the bloggers who had a chance to sound off and stir the gumbo. No longer will these charter boards need to concern themselves with posting agendas or timely meeting notices or anything else for that matter. Yes, in too many instances, THE LENS freelancer was the only outside individual present at board meetings, and if THE LENS believes that these nonprofits have been set on the right path and will follow the straight and narrow, then have I got a great real estate offer designed especially for THEM.

  • AmyGeorge

    I hope that you can figure out a way to continue your education coverage, even if in a revamped capacity. I’ve found it immensely helpful.

  • nickelndime

    AmyGeorge, you are a gem. You gots charisma, Girl! What THE LENS should be figuring out is how to capitalize on what is happening in EDUCATION in this city. Instead, this is where it has decided to make “cuts.” Which makes me wonder, since these nonprofit charter boards are comprised of the wealthy, politically connected, and influential in this city, has THE LENS stepped on some influential toes and instead has decided to throw the baby out with the bath water? What!? THE LENS has go pay freelancers to cover board meetings snd then has to EDIT! It has finally happened. THE LENS has made me fall out of my chair and has me rolling on the floor!

  • nickelndime

    “Never count your money when you’re sitting at the table. They’ll be time enough for counting when the dealing’s done.” Well, I’ll be damned if THE LENS didn’t do exactly that. I said, TheGamber “know.” I couldn’t have been any clearer.

  • HalfFullClass

    The loss of the charter school reporting corps will save you some money @ the dry cleaner. Less rolling on that dirty floor and less laughter.
    The minutes and budgets of the CMOs will go back under a rock.
    The students will be left to the reform experiments of the big “FOs” favorite operators (kipp, renew, first line, collegiate academics, choice, algiers, crescent city…)
    There will be fewer single school CMOs while the big FOs gobble up the buildings and the money. Our students will be taught by 5 week wonders and LDOE/BESE will celebrate their success.
    My class will remain half full of students 3-4 years below grade level but the bank accounts of the top heavy administrators will be at full capacity.
    A sad day for our students.

  • nickelndime

    HalfFullClass, you’ve seen my floor!!! I am rolling on it right now. Admit it. You roll too. HAHAHA. Cerealousy, you have described the forthcoming effects of the lack of vigilance. THE LENS facilitated public awareness, and that will be a loss for everyone, in the bigger picture. There is a lot of material in this city. Sometimes, its makes sense to just ROLL, cuz it’s like the weather. You can’t do too much about it, except cover up. See you on the flip side!

  • DawnYawn

    Didn’t this say the Charter School reporters are freelancers?

  • DawnYawn

    A very hard decision, indeed!, for all involved. On the positive side, I like that The Lens has lifted the curtain on the wild Charter School antics: the unconstrained, unchecked, runaway Charter School hijinks. Those wacky Charter schools, where will they cut the corners of the law next?

  • nickelndime

    There are about 40 curtains hiding the charter boards and the resultant schools, and that’s part of the dilemma and part of the reason for the existence of the charter reporting corps started by THE LENS. Eight years into the charter movement in New Orleans, and this is the tip of the iceberg. Charter authorizers, e.g. OPSB, State/RSD, BESE, are doing a rotten job, and if they were being graded, they would have “F-.”

  • Dina L

    Freelancers get paid too…. they just don’t get job security or benefits. “Full-time” freelancers are not immune to being on the chopping block when revenue is down.
    Which is a trend that seems to have been plaguing the Lens for a while now…maybe “rethinking” the business staff, rather than editorial staff is what’s needed here.

  • nickelndime

    Professional, certified, credentialed, licensed, vested “teachers” have become the “new education” freelancers. WOW! That’s just terrific. If every overpaid charter administrator with those 6-figure salaries (or the nonprofit boards – networks/CMOs who are these administrators’ bosses) contributed $ $,$$$.$$ to THE LENS, nothing would be on the chopping block. But they wouldn’t do that! Of course not, because THE LENS and the Charter School Reporting Corps were the only outside control (observers, media coverage, etc.) there was. Gawd forbid that anyone from the public would show up (given maybe 1-2 exceptions) at these “done-deal”/choreographed (“Dances with Wolves”) board meetings. OK – move everything out of the way, my chair is shaking and I am getting ready to roll, cuz it’s so damn ludicrous. Are you with me, HalfFullClass? You know I hate to roll alone. HaHahaha