The New Orleans Times-Picayune, a fixture in the Big Easy since 1837, will slash its staff and production schedule, going from 7 to 3 days a week beginning this fall. The body count isn’t known yet, but estimates are that at least a third of the staff will be fired. Those who stay are expected to take pay cuts.
The Times-Picayune, which is owned by Newhouse Newspapers, is apparently taking a page from the Ann Arbor News, another Newhouse paper that cut its frequency to twice-weekly more than three years ago. The Detroit Media Partnership was the first to eliminate daily frequency in late 2008. Many smaller papers have since quietly cut money-losing Monday, Tuesday and Saturday editions.
The strategy is aimed at preserving the newspaper brand – and a viable business – by eliminating unprofitable editions. The newspaper will continue to be published on Wednesdays, Fridays and Sundays, which are typically the three most profitable days of the week.
The New York Times‘ David Carr was the first to break the story in an item published just before midnight last night. Ricky Mathews, who will become president of the newly created NOLA Media Group, confirmed the news in a statement this morning that contained the usual sugar-coating. “NOLA Media Group will significantly increase its online news-gathering efforts 24 hours a day, seven days a week, while offering enhanced printed newspapers on a schedule of three days a week,” he said. The only enhancements specified were to food and dining coverage.
All the spin-doctoring in the world doesn’t change the fact that New Orleans will soon become the second major U.S. city without a daily newspaper.
Publishers are struggling with strategies to preserve their brands while transitioning to a digital-mostly strategy, which typically requires between one-third and one-quarter the staff of a printed newspaper. U.S. newspaper revenues have plummeted to levels not seen since the Truman administration on an inflation-adjusted basis, and there’s no indication the trend is likely to turn around. The thinking in New Orleans is that frequency cutbacks can keep the brand in front of readers while enabling the cost reductions to take place and still preserving enough margin to invest in new digital products.
The Times-Picayune won two Pulitzer prizes in 1997 and two more in 2006 for its coverage of Hurricane Katrina. Former staff members include William Faulkner and O. Henry.
Update: As noted in the comments, The Birmingham News, Mobile Press-Register and Huntsville Times will also reduce frequency to three days a week. They’ll become part of a “new digitally focused media company” called the Alabama Media Group. Read more on Al.com.
Marketplace Radio’s Kai Ryssdal interviews Chris Rose, who worked at the paper for 25 years and helped it win two Pulitzers for its coverage of Hurricane Katrina.
We were interviewed on Marketplace as part of its coverage of this story.