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The Times-Picayune: End Of An Era


The Times-Picayune announced today that it will undergo a massive overhaul in its operations. The organization, which has printed a daily newspaper since 1837, will begin circulating print editions on Wednesdays, Fridays, and Sundays only. The bulk of the Picayune's talents will focus on and online operations, making New Orleans the largest city in the United States without a daily newspaper.

The newspaper industry is in decline all throughout the world, fighting to keep up with changing times. Major newspapers throughout the country are reducing staff and circulation, and some older newspapers like Denver's Rocky Mountain News and Seattle's Post-Intelligencer have closed altogether.

Online news has dwarfed the importance of traditional newspapers. The immediacy of the internet - which delivers up-to-the-second news to us on our computers, phones, and even our cars - has made the newspaper seem obsolete as a means of keeping up with what's going on in the world. As newspaper companies continue to lose money, talented writers and editors now see internet and TV as far safer career prospects.

And as newspapers are now almost all owned by parent companies that care not for quality journalism but merely for their bottom line, costs are cut at every corner; newspaper staffs are being reduced and resources are being drained. This is important to everybody whether we realize it or not. News is difficult and expensive to gather. Good reporters spend years nurturing sources they can trust for accurate information about politics, crime, education, and countless other important issues. Newspapers foster this kind of environment far better than web sites driven by profit can.

Life and technology continue to speed up, and the bottom line for news web sites won't have the time and patience for costly reporting. Easier to publish fluff pieces and slideshows and user opinion polls that will generate more clicks and more advertising revenue than stories that are clearly more important (The Picayune's exceptional series on Louisiana's prison system being an obvious recent example.) but which don't have the same audience. So how can newspapers work as a business model? That's a question without an answer; some papers like the New York Times are charging customers to read stories online, others like the Picayune are laying off staff and cutting their publication by more than half.

The Times-Picayune's finest hour was the days and weeks following Katrina, when a skeleton staff managed to produce and distribute the paper largely without electricity as much of New Orleans was devastated and underwater. Those brave men and women who chose to risk their lives by staying were able to keep those in and outside of the city informed as to what was going on. The paper was awarded Pulitzer Prizes that year for breaking news and for public service; this is a testament to the importance of a local newspaper.

Change is inevitable, and the strong find a way to survive, but still, this is a very sad day today for those of us in New Orleans and Louisiana who have read and loved a great newspaper for many years.

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