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.

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.

Last major investigation produced by Times-Picayune before purge wins prestigious national award

Several winners to donate share of prize money to dashTHIRTYdash

Louisiana Incarcerated,” the eight-part expose about the state’s prison system and the LAIncarcerated_LOGOlast major investigative project produced by The Times-Picayune before last year’s mass layoff, has been named the 2012-13 winner of the prestigious John Jay/H.F. Guggenheim Prize for Excellence in Criminal Justice Reporting.

Several members of the team that produced the report have indicated they will donate their share of the $1,000 prize money to dashTHIRTYdash. Currently, 59 applicants are awaiting a second distribution the non-profit will make once enough donations are received to sufficiently undeLAIncarcerated_screen_shotrwrite it.

Of the core team that produced the series – reporters Cindy Chang, Jonathan Tilove, John Simerman and Jan Moller, photographer Scott Threlkeld, and graphics artist Ryan Smith – only one remains with the newspaper. Of the larger group of 13 who were significantly involved with the project – Chang, Tilove, Simerman, Moller, Threlkeld, Smith, managing editors Peter Kovacs and Dan Shea, photo editor G. Andrew Boyd, city editor Gordon Russell, political editor Tim Morris, designer George Berke, and copy editor Katherine Hart – seven were laid off (although one was subsequently rehired).

JohnJay_LOGOThe award, sponsored by the country’s preeminent academic institution on criminal justice, honors investigative, feature and enterprise journalism that significantly enhances public understanding of criminal justice issues. It is administered by the Center on Media, Crime and Justice at John Jay, and judged by a panel of leading journalists and educators.

“Louisiana is the world prison capital,” an introduction to the series begins. “The state imprisons more of its people, per head, than any of its U.S. counterparts. First among Americans means first in the world. Louisiana’s incarceration rate is nearly five times Iran’s, 13 times China’s, and 20 times Germany’s. The hidden engine behind the state’s well-oiled prison machine is cold, hard cash.” The series fueled public support for passage of a state bill making some nonviolent offenders eligible for earlier parole, according to the news release announcing the award.

CindyChang

Former Times-Picayune projects reporter Cindy Chang is now at the L.A. Times

Chang, who now covers immigration for the Los Angeles Times, will travel to New York to accept the award Feb. 4. She’ll likely rub elbows with David Simon, creator of the HBO series “Treme,” about post-Katrina New Orleans. Simons, a former Baltimore Sun reporter, also created HBO’s “The Wire” and is being recognized for his career contribution to criminal justice journalism.

Credit card donations to dashTHIRTYdash may be made securely online at https://donationpay.org/dashthirtydash. Donations by check should be made payable to the organization’s fiscal sponsor, the Contemporary Arts Center of New Orleans – with “dash30dash” written in the memo line – & mailed to the CAC, c/o Nanette R. Saucier, Director of Accounting & Financial Services, 900 Camp St., New Orleans, LA 70130-3908.

Times-Picayune newsroom “in triage, in mourning” Gambit editor tells “Informed Sources”

Kevin Allman, editor of New Orleans’ Gambit alternative weekly, who has exhaustively and compellingly covered the changes at The Times-Picayune, appeared last night (July 20) on New Orleans’ public television station WYES-TV’s “Informed Sources” to talk about the latest developments. (Watch the entire episode by clicking here.)

Some of what he had to say:

On Thursday’s largest mass departure from the newsroom, which included veteran City Hall reporter Frank Donze, fellow City Hall reporter Michelle Krupa, and health care and state politics reporter Bill Barrow. (Friday’s night’s going-away party at the Ugly Dog Saloon also feted soon-to-depart crime reporter and Pulitzer finalist Brendan McCarthy, business reporter Jaquetta White, St. Bernard community news editor Kim Gritter, special projects reporter Cindy Chang, Kenner reporter Mary Swerczek Sparacello and managing editor Peter Kovacs.): “What they’re losing right now is a lot of institutional memory. The whole list of people going down the line that are leaving, I don’t think they (newspaper management) expected to leave.”

State of the newsroom:The newsroom is in triage, the newsroom is in mourning. They’re afraid they’re going to be missing stories in the next couple of months, both because the man and woman power isn’t there, and because there’s no one really in charge, they don’t see where they’re going, they still have not been addressed by this new publisher.” Incoming publisher Ricky Mathews has editorialized on the front page of newspaper and met with fellow executives and major advertisers, but has not yet spoken to the rank-and-file.

Shifting control of the backstory? “The NOLA Media Group feels like it’s getting control of what they call the narrative again,” boosted this week by the high-profile hiring of Larry Holder from CBSSports.com to cover the New Orleans Saints. “Some changes may be coming to NOLA.com, which I don’t think anybody likes very much. So I think they think they’ve got a long-range plan that come October, they might be in pretty good shape.”