The Times-Picayune, the state’s largest newspaper, announced Thursday it will soon become a three-day-a-week printed publication rather than daily as it moves much of its content online.
The move, slated for some time this fall, would make New Orleans the largest city in the country without a daily printed newspaper, the Poynter Institute, a journalism think-tank, reported. The printed Times-Picayune will be delivered and available in retail outlets on Wednesdays, Fridays and Sundays, according to NOLA.com.
The Birmingham News, The Huntsville Times and the Press-Register of Mobile, which are also owned in Alabama by Advance Publications Inc., a Newhouse family company, announced on Thursday they too will transition to a three-day circulation pattern.
In 2009, Advance shut the Ann Arbor News but created AnnArbor.com, a news website that still publishes print editions on Thursday and Sunday.
The Times-Picayune said a new company, the NOLA Media Group, is being formed to oversee both The Times-Picayune and its affiliated website, NOLA.com.
The cutback in publication days follows similar moves made by other newspapers as the industry has struggled through tough economic times, in part caused by consumers’ move to online media.
The newly configured digital Times-Picayune will likely result in employee reductions, the newspaper’s leadership said.
“Many current employees of The Times-Picayune and NOLA.com will have the opportunity to grow with the new organizations, but the need to reallocate resources to accelerate the digital growth of NOLA Media Group will necessitate a reduction in the size of the workforce,” Ashton Phelps Jr., longtime publisher of The Times-Picayune, said in a statement.
Phelps announced in March his plans to retire. Ricky Mathews, the new company’s president, and Phelps’ successor, said the changes coming in the fall were necessitated by the upheaval in the newspaper industry.
The announcement on Thursday came somewhat hastily after a New York Times article broke the story Wednesday night, followed quickly by a flurry of posts onto blogs and social media with many Times-Picayune employees openly dismayed at both the nature of the news and its well-guarded secrecy.
“Stunned,” tweeted Danny Monteverde, a crime reporter with The Times-Picayune. “We found out with the rest of the country when the NYT broke the news. Sure hope it’s inaccurate. All of it.”
“For us, this isn’t about print versus digital, this is about creating a very successful multi-platform media company that addresses the ever-changing needs of our readers, our online users and our advertisers,” Advance Publications’ president of local digital strategy, Randy Siegel, told
The Associated Press. “This change is not easy, but it’s essential for us to remain relevant.”
Siegel didn’t say how much money the reduced print runs in Louisiana and Alabama would save, nor how many staff members would be laid off or hired in the new online units.
Despite an improving economy, upheavals in the news industry are still all too common as newspapers try to adjust to reductions in revenue that may never resurface again, said one former Times-Picayune business reporter, Keith Darcé.
“The new business model is that the revenue stream is pretty tiny and doesn’t support much of a newsroom at all,” said Darcé, speaking Thursday from San Diego, where he works as a public relations manager for Scripps Health.
It’s a move that may turn out to be the next trend in newspaper journalism, said Darcé, as newspapers trim costs and adjust to smaller revenue streams.
“I just think what’s happening at The Times-Picayune might be one or two steps ahead of where most other papers are,” remarked Darcé, who left The Times-Picayune in 2006 to work for The San Diego Union-Tribune. “The Union-Tribune hasn’t cut circulation days yet, but I think it’s inevitable,” he said.
“Everything everyone is doing is basically sort of an experiment. Nothing’s proven yet. No one yet knows if any of it’s going to work or if it’s just going to be a complete failure. I think what Advance is doing is going to grab the attention of people,” he added.
The Times-Picayune was also hobbled by the severe economic after-effects of Hurricane Katrina, say analysts.
“Advertising is suffering at many newspapers, and the Picayune has had difficulty because the population didn’t come back after Katrina,” said Steve Myers, a managing editor at the Poynter Institute.
In 2005 the advertising research firm PQ Media issued a report analyzing Katrina’s financial impact on 26 different media, including all forms of local and national advertising. The study concluded local advertising was hardest hit and was estimated to lose $470 million in revenue in the 12 months following Katrina.
Print circulation has been dropping steadily over the years at the four newspapers affected by Thursday’s announcement, according to the Audit Bureau of Circulations. On average, the four papers’ circulation in the half year through March fell about 6 percent from a year ago, AP reported.
Nonetheless, The Times-Picayune remains one of the nation’s most successful newspapers. Of the top 50 large-sized markets, the newspaper has the highest rate of readership of its daily edition in the U.S., according to Austin, Texas-based Scarborough Research, a firm that tracks the industry.
The Times-Picayune’s average paid circulation was 133,557 in the six months through March, down 49 percent compared to March 2005, a few months before Hurricane Katrina hit.
Anne Milling, a longtime member of the advisory board to The Times-Picayune, told The Associated Press that an online-focused model wouldn’t work in New Orleans. She said she and other supporters were exploring bringing in new owners committed to a daily paper, or even starting a new daily publication.
“We always do things differently,” she said. “It’s part of our tradition: You wake up with a cup of chicory coffee and read the newspaper.”
Associated Press writers Cain Burdeau and Janet McConnaughey contributed to this report
“Our goal, is to keep publishing the paper in print,” Manship said. “We are going to continue to do that. That’s our longtime goal.
“At the same time, we are aware of the increased presence of the Internet,” he continued. “And we are continuing to upgrade our Internet site on a regular basis, and continue to provide the reader with many options for how he wants to receive the paper.
“The way people get their news is changing and we will need to offer them many ways to receive it, whether it is in the printed form, over their computer or through some form of mobile device,” he said.
The Manship family-owned Advocate sells about 100 copies a day in New Orleans, and Manship said the newspaper may begin putting more copies around town via vending racks, but added, “I don’t think that home delivery in New Orleans is a possibility.”
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