I started Wednesday morning reading an online article addressing concerns over a New Orleans institution possibly being sullied. Reports of a Confederacy of Dunces film adaptation starring Zach Galifianakis caused red alerts among the book’s legion of fans, not because of the actor attached, but the possibility the project could cheapen the Crescent City artistic landmark.
Tonight I read about another New Orleans institution being not only sullied but possibly decimated. The likelihood of major cuts to the New Orleans Times-Picayune’s staff and print product represents a far greater blow to the Crescent City than even the most disastrous Confederacy of Dunces adaptation. Ignatius Reilly, himself, would rail against the Newhouse Family, owners of the Times-Picayune, for even entertaining the idea of gutting the proud paper. It would be a grave injustice to his constitution, no doubt.
Make no mistake, if the details of the New York Times’ report come to fruition a major American city will lose a significant voice.
Carr’s report saddens me, in particular, because one of my first memories is of reading the Times-Picayune’s sports page. I sat in the back seat of my parent’s Ford Escort reciting Major League Baseball box scores. From there, my dreams of becoming a sportswriter were birthed, in no small part due to the Times-Picayune.
Ironically, I learned about the Times-Picayune’s peril tonight while at work. I noticed Carr posted a link bearing the words New Orleans and newspaper on his Twitter feed. What I read after clicking the link left me angry, shocked, saddened, and fucking pissed.
Just one week ago on this site, I praised the Times-Picayune for its exhaustive, eight-part series on Louisiana’s prison system being the largest per capita in the world. Not only was reporter Cindy Chang’s reporting and writing excellent, but the graphics and video that accompanied it added pop to the story. The series showcased a triumphant blend of old and new journalism.
At the same time I came across Chang’s first story I also noticed the Times-Picayune’s “Midas gold” redesign. The site looked cheap, generic, and like dog shit, to be blunt. I also found it lacking in the user friendliness department. A first-rate newspaper deserves a better web site … a much better web site, I thought.
I bristled and paused before writing first-rate newspaper in the previous paragraph. The Times-Picayune is a first-rate newspaper no more. Not because of its staff, but because of the limitations (i.e., the Times-Picayune, like everyone else in the business, did more with less). Yet, the newspaper has had more than its share of shining moments in recent years.
I am reminded of the Times-Picayune’s reporting in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, when reporters exhibited courage to stay behind and tell the story, even as they dealt with a myriad of uncertainties and constant stress. This coverage later included the Times-Picayune’s work with ProPublica and PBS Frontline on the Danziger Bridge investigation. Who will capture the local people’s voice on important stories like this if the Times-Picayune withers?
I’m also reminded of the “Amen” front page after the New Orleans Saints won their first and only Super Bowl two years ago. In times both good and bad, the Times-Picayune captured a slice of New Orleans’ “laissez bon temps rouler” essence. I hesitated to write the word captured in past tense. I want to believe this is not a formality, that this like Confederacy of Dunces may or may not happen, and that a New Orleans institution will remain intact.
The Times-Picayune‘s troubles are not fiction though, I’m afraid.
PS: New Orleans alt-weekly The Gambit just posted its story on the extent of the Times-Picayune‘s troubles, and it is pretty bleak. The reporting staff will likely suffer at least a 1/3 reduction, according to the article.
T-P STAFF DESERVED BETTER
It is apparent from Times-Picayune reporters’ Twitter posts (as well as The Gambit‘s) that Wednesday night’s New York Times’ report blindsided them.
Just learned in the NY Times that my newspaper, my employer, my morning routine may cease to exist: mediadecoder.blogs.nytimes.com/2012/05/23/new…
— Brendan McCarthy (@bmccarthyTP) May 24, 2012
Again, all knew something was coming, but NO ONE we spoke to in the T-P newsroom was directly informed about reported cuts to paper.
— Gambit (@The_Gambit) May 24, 2012
I’m taking a shot of Makers and going to sleep. Or at least trying to….
— Jeff Duncan (@JeffDuncanTP) May 24, 2012
It is one thing to be laid off from a newspaper — sadly, not an uncommon occurrence in today’s struggling print journalism industry. It is another thing entirely to learn from a New York Times article your job is in jeopardy.
Where is the dignity in that? The Times-Picayune reporters deserved better.
PS: This Gambit tweet sums up my feelings.
Newhouse gotta do what Newhouse gotta do, but the level of callousness here is breathtaking even by 2012 corporate standards.
— Gambit (@The_Gambit) May 24, 2012