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.

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.

“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.

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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.

Real-life Trolley Problem, Advance Publications-style: Sacrificing some to save others

Note: This post has been corrected, as indicated by underline and strike-through below.

The guild representing newsroom employees of Times-Picayune sister paper, pd_thumbThe Plain Dealer of Cleveland, is living a real-life Trolley Problem, Advance Publications-style.

In a meeting in a cafeteria dining room at the newspaper this afternoon, the bargaining unit of Local 1 of the Newspaper Guild apparently laid out a tough proposal to their members: accept 60 layoffs in exchange for a guarantee of no more large-scale cuts through 2019. Or, fight on, and 80 or more newsroom employees will lose their jobs when the current contract expires Jan. 31, 2013.

With a total of 168 newsroom jobs, the guild must either accept a reduction in newsroom ranks by nearly 36%, or endure a 48% or greater reduction if it fights on past the Jan. 31, 2013 expiration of its current contract, which prohibits layoffs.

“The loss of any of The Plain Dealer‘s journalists – whether it’s one-third or one-half the staff – will be a severe blow to the community,” read a post added late Thursday afternoon to the “Save The Plain Dealer” Facebook page.

Backed organizationally and financially by its local and a grant from the Communications Workers of America, Plain Dealer employees several weeks ago unleashed an advertising and PR campaign aimed at dissuading newspaper owner Advance Publications from making the same draconian changes there that it has at 13 of its 34 newspapers across the country.

“Launche03dealer-blog480d with a full-page ad in the Sunday, Nov. 12 paper and media stories on NPR, WKYC, and other outlets, the committee’s Don Quixote effort has also plastered the city with ads and produced a television commercial,” alternative weekly Cleveland Scene‘s Vince Grzegorek reported in a Dec. 5 cover story  titled “Can The Plain Dealer Be Saved?” “Its Facebook page has over 3,900 likes; the petition at Change.org has over 5,900 signatures. ‘Hot in Cleveland’ star Valerie Bertinelli lent her star power to the cause, and local leaders like Councilman Joe Cimperman have taken up the flag as well. Events have sprung up, like a “Save the Plain Dealer” party at Market Garden Brewery and Distillery this week, all aimed at getting Advance to respond to public pressure.” (Any of this sound familiar?)

But as dashTHIRTYdash founder Rebecca Theim expressed to Grzegorek, “You hope and wish that it’s different in Cleveland, but history has shown that if the Newhouses have made up their mind, that’s what’s going to happen.”

The post on the Save The Plain Dealer Facebook page Thursday asserted that the campaign has minimized the severity of the cuts. “While the forced departure of one-third of our journalists will cause deep, lasting harm to the work of news-gathering, we believe your outpouring of support for the Save The Plain Dealer campaign has helped dissuade the company from making even deeper cuts, and causing even greater community harm, as has happened at the other Advance newspapers,” the post read.

Cuts at Advance Publications Papers = At Least 1,336 Jobs

The Times-Picayune‘s newsroom was cut by 49% effective Oct. 1, although some new employees have been hired since then. (At least 14 employees originally asked to stay when the newspaper announced details about the layoffs in mid-June chose instead to leave, prompting the newspaper to “unfire” about 10 employees it originally had laid off.) About 30% of the newspaper’s total workforce was eliminated, including all of the Marketing Department except for one person, all Special Sections employees, all of the Library staff except for one employee, and the entire Human Resources staff, New Orleans’ alternative weekly Gambit reported.

Advance eliminated the jobs of 550 of its 1,100 employees in Michigan, but has said that more than half of those jobs have been offset by new hires, The Wall Street Journal reported in August.

Another 600 jobs were eliminated Sept. 30 at three Alabama newspapers Advance owns: The Huntsville Times, the Birmingham News and the Press-Register of Mobile, including 55% of the newsroom at the Birmingham paper, Alabama’s largest news organization.

The Post-Standard of Syracuse, N.Y. will shed 115 jobs Jan. 31, out of a total of 386 full-time and 26 part-time employees. The newsroom there will shrink from about 115 to 75, a 40% reduction. At the Patriot News in Harrisburg Pa., 70 of about 285 full-time employees also will be axed Jan. 31, or about 25% of the staff.

Both of those papers will move to a three-day-a-week publishing schedule, like The Times-Picayune and the Alabama papers, Feb. 1.

All told, at least 1,336 jobs have been eliminated at Advance Publication newspapers since this “digital-first” strategy began in 2009 in Michigan Feb. 2 (not including expected Plain Dealer layoffs), according to a compilation of the figures published in news reports about the layoffs. Several of the newspapers, including The Times-Picayune, have hired an undisclosed number of generally younger, less experienced and presumably less expensive employees since then. A June analysis by Poynter news analyst Rick Edmonds showed that the only way The Times-Picayune changes made financial sense was through the purging of experienced, higher-paid employees and replacing them with “young people, more tech-dextrous and a lot cheaper.”

Gambit awards dashTHIRTYdash another “bouquet”

Gambit, New Orleans’ alternative news weekly, awarded dashTHIRTYdash another “bouquet” in its weekly “Bouquets + Brickbats” feature, this time in the Oct. 30 edition, for the nonprofit’s work in providing grants to 75 laid-off Times-Picayune employees and contractors who applied for financial assistance.

Check out the “bouquet” in the digital edition of the issue by clicking here, or see it below:

Thanks, Gambit!

Checks, BTW, should be going out to recipients next week, via dashTHIRTYdash’s fiscal agent, the Contemporary Arts Center of New Orleans.

Gambit first awarded dashTHIRTYdash a bouquet June 26 in connection with one of the first benefits for the organization. Read that one by clicking here.

T-P7 online auction features offerings from Anderson Cooper, The Ellen Show, Soledad O’Brien & other notables

UPDATE, 9/20/2012: For logistical reasons and to allow everyone uninterrupted enjoyment of the great food and music we will have at the 9/29 “Black, White & Read All Over” celebration of the daily Times-Picayune, we will end the online auction at 6 PM, Thursday, 9/27. Please place your bids before then!

UPDATE, 9/12/2012, 10 AM PDT: We’ve just confirmed an awesome musical line-up for our Sept. 29 LIVE New Orleans event mentioned below. Please click here for details!

Anderson Cooper, The Ellen Show, Soledad O’Brien and Walter Isaacson – along with dozens of current and former Times-Picayune artists and photographers and New Orleans businesses – are offering one-of-a-kind items and experiences to raise money for the hundreds of Times-Picayune employees and contractors losing their jobs because of the newspaper’s decision to end daily publication Sept. 30.

The “T-P7 Talents & Treasures” auction will be a cornerstone of “Black, White & Read All Over,” the Sept. 29 send-off for the daily newspaper and fundraiser for dashTHIRTYdash, the non-profit created by newspaper alumni, employees and civic activists to raise money for the soon-to-be-laid-off employees and contractors. Anyone with an Internet connection can get a jump on the live event by bidding online at http://benefitevents.com/auctions/dashthirtydash/. Most items and experiences will be auctioned entirely online, but a handful of the highest-profile offerings will be part of a live auction held at the conclusion of the Sept. 29 event. Most have ties to the 175-year-old, Pulitzer Prize-winning daily that is older than Mardi Gras.

Offerings range from VIP tickets to Cooper’s talk show followed by a backstage meet-and-greet with the star – who developed a passionate New Orleans following with his emotional coverage of the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina for CNN in 2005 – to the circa 1932 Underwood typewriter used by legendary sports writer Pete Finney when he first came to the T-P‘s now-defunct sister newspaper, the States-Item, in 1945. Finney, 84, still reports for the newspaper.

“In most cases, we just had to ask, and usually only once, and people were more than happy to help” dashTHIRTYdash founder Rebecca Theim said about the auction’s offerings. “It really makes you stop and think about the talent that has come out of New Orleans and the Picayune - and the generosity of the city and those who love it.”

Other notable auction items include:

  • VIP passes to a live taping of “Meet the Press” followed by an on-set photo op with moderator David Gregory, donated by NOLA native and MTP executive producer Betsy Fischer Martin.
  • Original cartoons by current T-P political cartoonist Steve Kelley, who is one of the hundreds losing his job, and his two predecessors, Pulitzer Prize-winning Walt Handelsman and Mike Luckovich.
  • Breakfast, coffee or lunch with NOLA native and CNN anchor and special correspondent Soledad O’Brien.
  • Four VIP passes to ABC’sGood Morning America along with complete studio tour and “face time” during the live outdoor weather shot.
  • All expenses-paid Lake Pontchartrain fishing expedition with T-P Pulitzer Prize-winning Outdoors Editor Bob Marshall, who declined an offer to remain with the newspaper following the upcoming changes, and Capt. Dudley Vandenborre.
  • A quilt by the newspaper’s Food Editor Judy Walker, with panels made from scores of Times-Picayune t-shirts created over the years.
  • Custom “Black, White & Red All Over” millinery by eponymous New Orleans apparel designer Yvonne LeFleur.

CNN’s Soledad O’Brien

The launch of the auction marks the final stretch in a difficult three months for newspaper employees and contractors who have known since mid-June that their T-P careers – many that have been decades-long – were ending. The event on Sept. 29, the final Saturday of the newspaper’s daily publication, will be held from 6-9 p.m., at popular New Orleans music club The Howlin’ Wolf, at 907 South Peters St. in the city’s Warehouse District. General admission is $30 per person and open to the public (tickets are available at the door or online by clicking here), but free for any T-P writer, editor, artist, designer, press operator, newspaper carrier, truck driver or other employee or contractor losing his or her job.

New Orleans eateries, including Cafe Atchafalaya, Galatoire’s, a Mano, Ralph’s on the Park, Rio Mar Seafood, Liberty’s Kitchen and Whole Foods Market Arabella Station are providing complimentary cuisine in honor of The Times-Picayune staff. The Dave Torkanowsky All-Stars and surprise musical guests are providing music for free.

Event sponsors include: Smith Stag LLC, former T-P managing editor Dan Shea and his wife, current staffer Stephanie Stokes; GNO Inc.Jason Patterson, with Snug Harbor and the New Orleans Jazz Celebration; Bernard ProductionsGambit, New Orleans’ alternative news weekly; The Howlin’ Wolf, which is donating the venue; and the restaurants and musicians listed above.

Auction donations and event sponsorships for the Sept. 29 event are still welcomed. Please contact T-P alumna Rebecca Theim at (702) 622-8154 or rebecca at rebeccatheim dot com.

The public event will be preceded by a private reunion on Sept. 28 for Times-Picayune employees and alumni.