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For New Orleans, a Daily That’s No Longer Daily
On Saturday night at the Howlin’ Wolf club in downtown New Orleans, they gathered to say goodbye. There were newspaper hats, brass instruments, toasts, rants, old friends who had not seen one another in years and recent co-workers who might not be seeing one another for a while.
New Orleans is famous for marking death with a celebration, and this was no different. More than 300 current and former colleagues, family members and well-wishers gathered to raise a final glass to The Times-Picayune’s 175-year run as a daily newspaper.
“A lot of these people might not have come back for a regular funeral, but they came back for this one,” says Rebecca Theim, a former Times-Picayune reporter who founded DashThirtyDash (from the newspaper code -30- marking the end of a story), the organization that held the event as a way to raise money for laid-off staff members. “Everyone’s scattered to the winds. But we came back for this.”
In May, the parent company of The Times-Picayune, Newhouse Media, announced large-scale cutbacks as well as plans to reduce publication to three times a week in favor of an expanded Web site. Saturday’s edition represents the official end of the old publishing schedule, and made New Orleans the largest metropolitan area in the country without its own daily newspaper. Citizens are waiting to see whether or not a streamlined and primarily digital Times-Picayune, together with a collection of blogs, television and radio, can serve the purpose the paper once did.
While The Times-Picayune remains the largest news-gathering organization in the state, many are worried that the reduction in staff will jeopardize big investigative projects like the eight-part series on the Louisiana prison system it published in May. And others are worried that an increasingly digital news landscape will leave the large number of city residents who do not have regular Internet access in the cold.
Daily newspaper devotees will still have something to hold on to, however. The Baton Rouge Advocate has begun printing a daily edition in New Orleans, with several former Times-Picayune employees heading up a New Orleans bureau. The executive editor, Carl Redman, says The Advocate does not expect to reach the sort of circulation The Times-Picayune enjoyed, but hopes to break even financially
“We’re responding to a lot of people in the community who said, ‘We want a hard copy daily newspaper,’ and we have a press that prints them,” he said. “So let her rip. Let’s see what happens.”
For many, neither The Advocate’s New Orleans bureau nor any expanded Web presence can replace the institution that was the daily Times-Picayune. Kathy Anderson, who worked for the paper as a photographer for 26 years, remembers going to the French Quarter for an assignment years ago. She saw two homeless people sitting on a bench with a newspaper and arguing the finer points of a political column — something it is hard to imagine happening with a tablet computer.
On Sunday morning, remnants of Saturday’s party gathered at the St. Louis Cathedral on Jackson Square, where a special Mass included prayers for the city, the paper and those who lost their jobs. New Orleans is a city bound to its traditions, and The Times-Picayune was one of its oldest.
“We really lost something that was a constant in our lives,” said Christian Champagne, a political satirist and comedian in New Orleans. “Even in my earliest memories, I’m reading the paper every day with breakfast. It may be too much to say it was a friend, but I remember going through the bad times in my life, and the paper was there. It may have been just a paper, but it was ours. Now that ritual is gone.”