CJR’s highly critical “Battle of New Orleans” report about The Times-Picayune is live

The anticipated critical evaluation of The Times-Picayune | NOLA.com since last fall’s dramatic “digital first” restructuring is live on the Columbia Journalism Review‘s website. And NOLA Media Group Vice President of Content Jim Amoss is not happy about it.

Chittum’s lengthy piece talks unflatteringly about last summer’s “Rapture,” during which several top editors disappeared from the newsroom to surreptitiously plan the coming changes, swearing underlings of co-Managing Editor Peter Kovacs and Dan Shea to secrecy because their bosses would be purged along with 199 colleagues. He describes parent company Advance Publications’ “Michigan Model,” the seeming dry run at their eight Great Lakes State newspapers. He chronicles the pain of The Purge, June, 12, 2012, when employees found out they were losing their jobs in the most humiliating of circumstances, and the push-back editors received from some reporters the organizations sought to retain.

But Chittum spends the bulk of his report exploring the metrics and “strange finances of the move, which help explain what to many appears inexplicable, from either a journalistic or a business point of view.”

Read the report here. But also peruse the reader comments, in which Amoss takes Chittum to task, first for not accepting NOLA.com’s invitation to visit its new offices, which it moved into atop the Canal Place high-rise in January. Amoss then went on:

As reporters we choose our subjects, our quotations, the lenses to frame our work. The best put aside conventional wisdoms and derivative points of view. They allow their writing to be shaped by deep reporting and their own fresh responses to what they find. Mr. Chittum’s backward-looking and narrow take falls short of doing that. American newspaper journalism has been beset by bloodletting and decline for a decade. Those who find a path forward will do so by being innovative and entrepreneurial in their thinking. We don’t claim to have all the answers to finding a viable future for our industry. But we believe that we’re advancing the essential conversation about what kinds of bold changes will save us.

Chittum’s response to Amoss’ response:

As Jim well knows, I was in New Orleans in early December and asked for interviews then and in the weeks afterward. I didn’t hear back from anyone for about seven weeks, at which point my deadline was nigh. My editors declined to fly me down to New Orleans again just to see the new newsroom.

The report will also appear in the magazine’s March/April print edition.

CJR looks critically at NOLA Media Group’s upbeat numbers

Ryan Chittum, deputy editor of The Audit, the business section of the Columbia Journalism Review, earlier today provided what could be a CRJ_LOGObit of a preview to his upcoming expected hard-hitting assessment of The Times-Picayune | NOLA.com since last fall’s mass layoff and dramatic “digital first” restructuring.

Chittum looks critically at the seemingly cherry-picked newspaper circulation and NOLA.com unique visitor numbers touted by NOLA Media Group VP of Content Jim Amoss in a commentary published in early January on NOLA.com, and by Amoss and President Ricky Mathews at the Key Executives Mega Conference, sponsored earlier this week in New Orleans by The Inland Press Association, the Local Media Association and the Southern Newspaper Publishers Association. (Amoss’ and Mathews’ presentation was reported on earlier by nonprofit media think tank and continuing education organization Poynter Institute and the Donald W. Reynolds National Center for Business Journalism’s BusinessJournalism.org.)

Today’s CJR post is available here. Chittum’s longer and more comprehensive assessment is expected to go live on the magazine’s website next week and be featured in its March/April print edition.

Former Times-Picayune projects reporter uses acceptance of national award to call attention to newspaper’s changes

An all-expense-paid trip to New York to accept a prestigious national award for a

Cindy Chang addresses the

Cindy Chang addresses the Excellence in Criminal Justice Reporting Awards presented Feb. 4 by John Jay’s Center on Media, Crime and Justice at Columbia University.

yearlong investigation into Louisiana’s prison system should have been a happy occasion for former Times-Picayune special projects reporter Cindy Chang.

Instead, Chang found herself explaining why she and many of the other reporters, photographers, graphic artists and editors who worked on the eight-part series, “Louisiana INCarcerated,” no longer worked at the newspaper:

“This series happened because The Times-Picayune invested resources in it, plain and simple,” Chang told the audience at the Excellence in Criminal Justice Reporting Awards presented Feb. 4 by John Jay’s Center on Media, Crime and Justice at Columbia University. “I worked on it more or less full time for nearly a year. There were three other bylined reporters, a photographer/videographer, a graphics artist and about a dozen other staffers who contributed to the project.

“A month later, much of that team was laid off, along with nearly half the newsroom staff. One of the writers was laid off. The photographer was laid off. The graphics artist was laid off. The page designer was laid off. The copy editor was laid off. Peter Kovacs and Dan Shea, the two managing editors who were always the driving force behind projects, including this one, were also canned. Here’s your thanks for your great work – a pink slip! The paper/website immediately began hiring young, inexperienced and presumably cheaper replacements.

… “There are still talented people at The Times-Picayune whose instinct is to dig deep. But I fear that will become increasingly difficult as the focus shifts to frenetic blogging, quantity over quality and, eventually, pay-for-clicks.”

Cindy Chang and David Simon at John Jay criminal justice awards.

Cindy Chang and David Simon at John Jay criminal justice awards.

Chang closed her remarks by adding that the series’ team members who kept their jobs or have secured new ones will contribute their portion of the $1,000 prize money to dashTHIRTYdash. Shea has pledged to match that donation.

Chang, who the newspaper sought to retain, but who declined to stay, now covers immigration issues for the Los Angeles Times.

Other John Jay honorees included Mother Jones‘ Shane Bauer, whose article “No Way Out,” examined solitary-confinement practices in California, and writer and TV show producer David Simon, who was awarded the first “Justice Trailblazer” Award for his early crime reporting career at the Baltimore Sun and his subsequent work developing TV series and specials about crime and urban issues, including, “Homicide,” “The Corner,” “The Wire,” “Generation Kill” and “Tremé,” the latter about life in post-Katrina New Orleans. Simon also was an eloquent critic of the newspaper’s decision to end daily publication and slash its staff, writing about it in the Columbia Journalism Review and Gambit.

Not something we ever thought we’d see

Photo taken Thursday (Jan. 31, 2013) in New Orleans by state Rep. Neil Abramson, who with his wife, Kim, were leaders in the “Save the (daily) Picayune” efforts and have been supporters of dashTHIRTYdash:

TP&AdvocateBoxThursdayThe Advocate box (right) has issues available of its New Orleans edition, which is published daily. The Times-Picayune box has no papers, not because it’s sold out, but because the paper no longer publishes on Thursdays.

Is 3800 Howard Ave. headed way of HQs at Advance’s Alabama newspapers?

Birmingham News‘ and Mobile Press-Register‘s offices for sale after Alabama Media Group opens “modern, high-tech space easy for the public to access” in Huntsville and Montgomery, and moves much of NOLA Media Group and Syracuse Media Group to new digs

FOR SALE: Downtown newspaper headquarters in two of the Heart of Dixie’s largest cities. One built in 2002, the other in 2006. Instant income at Mobile facility through lease-back agreement of production plant with existing owner.

BhamNewsHQ

Birmingham News’ downtown headquarters is on the market.

Alabama Media Group earlier today announced its next steps in embracing Advance Publications’ new “digital first” playbook. It will move its remaining employees from relatively new downtown offices in the state’s largest and third-largest cities “to space … more suitable for the companies’ digitally-focused operations.”

In a tweet earlier today, Scott Walker, an anchor at New Orleans’ WDSU-TV, asked if The Times-Picayune‘s longtime headquarters at 3800 Howard Ave. will be next up on the auction block. Most NOLA Media Group employees moved to new penthouse offices in Canal Place last week, although some production and editing function remain at the old facility, along with the printing presses and circulation/delivery functions and their employees. No announcements have been made about the large portions of the building that are now empty.ScottWalkerTweet2013Jan22

NOLA Media Group’s new space also belies the “easy for the public to access” mantra adopted by other Advance locations. The offices are on the 31st and 32nd floors of the highrise at the foot of Canal Street at the Mississippi River and adjacent to the French Quarter – which is often one of the most congested and difficult-to-navigate areas in the city. Some employees already have raised concerns about their ability to quickly get to breaking news from the location, especially during high-traffic events such as Carnival and Feb. 3’s Super Bowl, which is being played at the city’s Superdome.

The report on AL.com followed by two days a similar story on Advance’s Syracuse.com offering details of the new space it will occupy along with the city’s newspaper. “Unlike The Post-Standard newsroom, where desk phones ring at cubicles and papers overflow from filing cabinets, the new location is mostly open space with a variety of work stations, but no assigned seats and no place to store documents or display personal effects,” according to a story by reporter Tim Knauss.

Beginning Feb. 3, The Post-Standard and sister paper the Harrisburg, Pa. Patriot News, will follow the lead of The Times-Picayune and Advance’s Alabama and Michigan papers, and reduce home delivery to three days a week. However, diehard print Post-Standard readers are getting a concession not being offered in other markets: it also will be printed the remaining four days a week and be available at newsstands in Syracuse’s Onondaga County.

In December, the company announced that it would move the Huntsville Times – “the birth city of AL.com 15 years ago,” Alabama Media Group President Cindy Martin told WHNT-TV - downtown from its longtime home on the city’s Memorial Parkway main drag. The company also has opened new, modern offices in Montgomery, the state’s capital.

The 110,000-square-foot home of the Birmingham News and its parking lot across the street, will be sold, AL.com reported, while the company will keep the adjacent production facility. In Mobile, the company intends to sell both the office and production plant, but wants to lease back the plant from the new owner.

The story also included another, albeit unrelated, tidbit: circulation of Advance’s Alabama  newspapers has decreased since the Oct.1 advent of thrice-weekly publication, Pam Siddall, president of Advance Central Services Alabama, told AL.com’s statewide industry reporter Dawn Kent. Sidall did not quantify the drop, but said circulation “remains above expectations.” Her statement is in contrast to those made by NOLA Media Group representatives, who have said The Times-Picayune‘s circulation has increased since its switch to three-day-a-week circulation.

Advance may have difficulty finding buyers for such large spaces, according to Kent’s report. Several large buildings are already available in Birmingham, and “we just don’t get the influx of companies that size that are looking in Birmingham,” local real estate agent Dan Lovell commented.

Times-Picayune on “60 Minutes” and Monday morning quarterbacking

The long-awaited “60 Minutes” report about the radical changes at The Times-Picayune finally aired Sunday night. To watch it, please click here.60MinutesMorley

Gambit Editor Kevin Allman provided a quick analysis of the segment last night, and non-profit media organization Poynter this morning also offered a report about it and NOLA Media Group Vice President and Editor Jim AmossSaturday commentary.

“60 Minutes” “Web Extras” also include outtakes of New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu reminiscing about his early days as a Times-Picayune newspaper carrier and Amoss dismissing fears that reporters’ future compensation will be based, at least in part, on clicks their reports elicit on NOLA.com as “a somewhat cartoonish view,” although he didn’t deny the concern.

The Huffington Post also weighed in Monday with a report that basically summarized the “60 Minutes” segment and Amoss’ Saturday commentary.

Day before “60 Minutes” report, NOLA Media Group’s Jim Amoss offers update

NOLA Media Group VP of Content/Editor Jim Amoss

NOLA Media Group VP of Content/Editor Jim Amoss

NOTE: Correction noted in strikethrough/underline below.

On the eve of a “60 Minutes” report about The Times-Picayune‘s end of daily publication and the decline of the U.S. newspaper industry overall, NOLA Media Group Editor/Vice President of Content Jim Amoss today posted an update about changes and progress made at the newspaper and NOLA.com since its radical Oct. 1 overhaul that made New Orleans the largest U.S. city without a daily newspaper.

Amoss notes that the newspaper’s three-day-a-week print circulation has increased (although he doesn’t say by how much), even after excluding free copies that continue to be delivered to households that cancelled or didn’t renew subscriptions after the change. (A commenter on Amoss’ commentary noted that it’s become extraordinarily difficult to cancel a subscription, while a commenter on a private Facebook page for newspaper supporters said an uptick could be because seven days of newsstand sales are now compressed into the three days a week the newspaper now publishes—not because subscriptions are up.) Amoss also wrote that NOLA.com viewers went from increased 7 million in 2012, to 2011 to 41 million last year, an impressive almost six-fold increase, a 17% increase. (Amoss’ statement is consistent with ones made in mid-December by David Francis, NOLA Media Group Vice President Business Manager/HR, and NOLA.com State Editor James O’Byrne during an interview on WWNO/New Orleans’ Public Radio’s “Out to Lunch” public affairs show – one of the few times anyone from NOLA Media Group or owner Advance Publications has publicly commented on the changes.)

The Times-Picayune‘s first official post-daily circulation figures are due March 31 to the Alliance of Audited Media (formerly the Audit Bureau of Circulations, the organization that compiles newspaper and magazine circulation numbers for use with advertisers), AAM spokeswoman Susan Kantor said in a recent interview. Total numbers from that report will be released some time in May, but publicly available “total average circulation” figures won’t break out free copies or digital figures from paid subscription or newsstand sales, Kantor said. AAM members, however, will have access to figures that break out paid circulation, meaning The Times-Picayune‘s paid circulation figures likely will be reported in the media.

The newspaper reported a total Monday-Friday average circulation of 127,760, and a Sunday circulation of 145,608 to the AAM on Sept. 30, 2012, the final day of daily publication, according to figures publicly available through the organization’s website.

In his commentary, Amoss went on to thank readers for their belief in NOLA Media Group and to detail how the NOLAdotComTP_logonews organization has kept its pact with them and the community.

“The TV news program ["60 Minutes"] came to town four months ago, as we were preparing our transition to printing and delivering the newspaper three days a week,” Amoss wrote. “A lot has happened since then.” The organization “refocused our news operation to produce a 24/7 digital report” as it shifted to producing print newspapers on Wednesdays, Fridays and Sundays, he noted.

“Being connected to this community fueled our work after Hurricane Katrina. It still does. Holding government and officialdom—locally and nationally—accountable in that long recovery was our mission. It still is.”

- Jim Amoss, NOLA Media Group Editor/VP of Content

The newsroom now has 155 employees, Amoss said, down from the newspaper’s self-reported 175 before the changes were announced. The organization laid off 84 newsroom employees and another 117 throughout the organization on June 12, 2012, the newspaper also reported then, although about 10 newsroom employees ultimately were “unfired” after about 14 editorial employees the organization sought to keep instead left voluntarily, according to a tally several former employees reviewed and revised for accuracy. All told, significantly more than 1,600 years of combined experience was discarded in the layoffs.

Apparently in response to widespread criticism that the newspaper jettisoned many of its most experienced (and generally better-compensated) staffers, Amoss noted that 103 current newsroom employees “are veteran journalists who have been covering New Orleans for many years,” while another 52 have been hired in the past five months, “among them some veterans from around the region.” However, at least five new editorial hires carry titles like “Staff Performance Measurement and Development Specialist” and “Community Engagement Specialist,” which prompted some former news veterans to question how much such employees contribute to the editorial product.

“Four months ago [when "60 Minutes" traveled to New Orleans to report its story], our changes were still in the offing,” Amoss added. “Readers had to accept on faith our assurances that we would maintain the journalistic excellence they have come to expect from us. That took a leap of faith … Now that we have more than three months under our belt, you have a basis for judging our performance.” The news outlet has since produced “stories and features that we believe bespeak our commitment to enterprising, in-depth journalism.” He detailed six major investigative and enterprise reports NOLA Media Group has produced, and highlighted its state capital, arts, dining, entertainment, sports and community coverage.

The two dozen online readers who had commented on Amoss’ commentary by 4:20 PM CST seemed skeptical. None were supportive of the changes, and most were highly critical.

“It’s hard to believe that the Newhouses [the billionaire media family that controls Advance] are truly interested in quality when so many of the seasoned Picayune reporters were let go, and—your explanations notwithstanding—when owners think every few days is sufficient for a hard copy paper,” wrote mctwatlnola. “The tangible, print T-P was both part of the culture and the conveyor of the rest of the culture here, and the great unifier of the populace. Mr. Newhouse let us down, quality has suffered, the website should supplement, not replace, the flagship product, and—believe me—brand loyalty will be difficult to reestablish.”

“60 Minutes” to air report about death of the daily Times-Picayune Sunday, Jan. 6

UPDATE, 1/3/2013, 3:33 PM CST: Catch a video preview of the segment, featuring an interview with New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu, by clicking here.

_____________________________________________________________________

The long-awaited “60 Minutes” segment about the death of the daily Times-Picayune will air during the show’s Sunday, Jan. 6 broadcast, the show’s communic60Minutesations director confirmed today.

Jim Romenesko broke the news this morning, noting that correspondent Morley Safer in September interviewed the newspaper’s Editor Jim Amoss and former T-P columnist Lolis Eric Elie, now a writer with the HBO show “Treme.” Also interviewed were New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu, New Orleans Archbishop Gregory Michael Aymond, and community philanthropist Anne Milling, the latter who led a high-level citizens’ group that unsuccessfully lobbied Times-Picayune owner Advance Publications to abandon its “sometimes daily” plans.

A blurb about the segment, supplied to dashTHIRTYdash by the show’s Communications Director Kevin Tedesco:

“It’s a sure sign of the digital times when the New Orleans Times-Picayune, published every day for 175 years, goes to a three-day-a-week publishing schedule. It’s a fate many more newspapers face as the Internet becomes the source of almost instantaneous news. Watch Morley Safer’s report on Sunday, Jan. 6 at 7:00 p.m. ET/PT.”

Some supporters of the effort to save the daily newspaper have been concerned that the

"60 Minutes" correspondent Morley Safer interview New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu

“60 Minutes” correspondent Morley Safer (left) interviewed New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu in mid-September

“60 Minutes” report would focus too much on the generic “dying newspaper industry” narrative many media outlets have reported, and not enough on the unique characteristics of New Orleans and The Times-Picayune, and the ham-fisted and insensitive way Advance handled the changes. The blurb above seem to suggest those fears aren’t without merit.

“60 Minutes” airs in the New Orleans market on WWL-TV on Sundays at 6 p.m., Gambit‘s Kevin Allman noted in a post today to the alt-weekly’s blog.

Times-Picayune saga at top of many of NOLA “Major 2012 News Events” lists

If anyone had begun 2012 predicting the wrenching changes that would occur beginning in the spring at The Times-Picayune, no one, quite simply, would not have believed it. The year is now ending with the newspaper and its painful transformation making many of the region’s 2012 “major news events” lists.

WWL-TV, southern Louisiana’s longtime leading television station and recipient of two of the Picayune‘s early defectors, star investigative reporters David Hammer and Brendan McCarthy, ranked the story as the region’s fourth biggest news event in 2012.

Gambit, New Orleans’ alternative weekly, made The Times-Picayune the area’s fourth most-important news maker because of its decision to end daily publication and the way it bungled just about everything associated with it. “Despite protests and letter-writing campaigns, the T-P‘s fate was sealed and New Orleans became the largest American city without a daily newspaper,” noted Gambit Editor Kevin Allman, who has owned coverage of the painful episode. David Manship, publisher of The Advocate headquartered in Baton Rouge, was named 39th on Gambit‘s Top 50 list for his newspaper’s decision to fill the void created by The T-P by staffing (exclusively with laid-off Picayune journalists) and creating a New Orleans edition.

The Times-Picayune seemed to acknowledge the toll its purge took on its photo staff in the introduction to “Our Best Photos of 2012,” which was published Dec. 28: “Even as the newspaper industry shifted under their feet, our shooters continued to cover their communities with resourcefulness, creativity, empathy and professionalism, as evidenced by this gallery of unforgettable images from the past 12 months.”

Sixteen of the 41 photos featured in the roundup – or almost 40% – were shot by photographers who were axed amid the newspaper’s transformation to a “digital first” strategy. These talented photojournalists included: Susan Poag, John McCusker, Rusty Costanza, Scott Threlkeld, Matthew Hinton, Ellis Lucia and Eliot Kamenitz.

Ryan Chittum, deputy editor of Columbia Journalism Review‘s “The Audit,” also selected one of his Times-Picayune reports as “The Best of 2012″: “New Orleans meets the Hamster Wheel — The fall of the Times-Picayune.” “The gutting of New Orleans beloved Times-Picayune and Advance Publications’ plan to turn it into a sort of major market AnnArbor.com looks set to bring journalism built on ‘motion for motion’s sake… volume without thought’ to a city built on doing the opposite,” Chittum wrote.

Beyond The Times-Picayune, the Poynter Institute noted in a Dec. 30 tweet that at least 2,000 journalists had lost their jobs in 2012. Of those 2,000, at least 1,336 – or almost 67% of the country’s total – were laid off from Advance Publications newspapers, spanning from Syracuse, New York, to Mobile, Ala.

Poynter2000Jobs2012Dec30

As of this writing, The Times-Picayune had not published its own list of top stories in 2012. Given that the newspaper will not publish another edition until Wednesday, which is Jan. 2, it seems unlikely that it will offer its round-up of this tumultuous year in its history – unless it does so only digitally, on NOLA.com. If that occurs later today, this post will be updated to reflect it.

dashTHIRTYdash website 2012 review

WordPress pushes out an automated annual report for all of its sites, which this year included dashTHIRTYdash. If you’re interested in seeing which posts generated the most traffic, or what searches or referring sites got people to the site, click the link below.

Here’s an excerpt:

In 2012, there were 41 new posts, not bad for the first year! (It was actually only about five-and-a-half months.) There were 130 pictures uploaded, taking up a total of 15 MB. That’s about 3 pictures per week. The busiest day of the year was June 27th with 1,317 views (courtesy of a mention on the popular JimRomenesko.com blog … thanks, Jim!).

The most popular post that day was Successful Fundraiser and Unexpected Visit by the New Publisher.

Click here to see the complete report.