Another giant falls: New Orleans paper may cease daily publication

Grim news in the media world:

The New Orleans Times-Picayune, which distinguished itself amid great adversity during Hurricane Katrina and its aftermath, is about to enact large staff cuts and may cut back its daily print publishing schedule, according to two employees with knowledge of the plans.

Newhouse Newspapers, which owns the Times-Picayune, will apparently be working off a blueprint the company used in Ann Arbor, Mich., where it reduced the frequency of the Ann Arbor News, emphasized the Web site as a primary distributor of news and in the process instituted wholesale layoffs to cut costs.

A request for comment late Wednesday night from the newspaper’s editor, Jim Amoss, was not returned.

The plans have been kept under wraps, but the newspaper will likely publish two or three times a week rather than daily, according to the employees. They insisted on anonymity because the plans were still being worked out before an official announcement.

Mr. Amoss, the longtime editor, will assist in the transition before leaving. Two managing editors, Peter Kovacs and Dan Shea, both of whom were reportedly excluded from all meetings in recent weeks about the developments, will be leaving as well.

Ashton Phelps Jr., the longtime publisher of the newspaper, announced his retirement in March and will be replaced by Ricky Mathews, the publisher of the Mobile Press-Register and president of Advance Alabama/Mississippi.

The Times-Picayune, which has published since 1837, was bought by the Newhouse family in 1962 and later merged with the afternoon daily. Up to now, the paper has avoided some of the deeper cuts in the industry, in part because the newspaper played such a critical role in the coverage of Katrina and its aftermath.

When the hurricane approached, dozens of the staff decided not to evacuate and rode out the storm at the newspaper. The presses lost power, but the newspaper used its Web site to post updates throughout the storm. It was also a big moment for citizen journalism, with besieged residents using the site to post updates, look for loved ones and direct rescue personnel.

After three days of online-only publication, the paper began publishing a print edition, and its follow-up coverage was praised as being deep and meaningful, especially in a city that was short on good information and rife with rumor and chaos. The paper shared the 2006 Pulitzer Prize for public service with The Sun Herald in Biloxi, Miss. The paper’s staff was also awarded a Pulitzer for its breaking news reporting.

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  1. The topping irony is that in what’s arguably the biggest story of its 175 year history, the Picayune chickened out and allowed itself to be scooped.

    For good and ill, what’s made New Orleans noteworthy is its sense of identity — a sense that the TP did much to promote over the years. Catholics of our day, struggling to retain or recover their identity, know how disorienting the experience can be. This is a sad day for my hometown.

  2. So be it. Any business that doesn’t give it’s customers a reason to patronize it deserves to die.

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