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.

New Orleans’ 2013 Mardi Gras parades take aim at radical changes, layoffs at Times-Picayune

Tonight's Krewe D'Etat takes aim at Advance.net's Chairman Steven Newhouse.

Friday (Feb. 8) night’s Le Krewe D’Etat took aim at Advance.net’s Chairman Steven Newhouse.

UPDATE: Le Krewe D’Etat lined up to parade Friday evening (Feb. 8), AP New Orleans Bureau reporter Michael Kunzelman tweeted the photograph at left. The front of the float, titled “Gone with the Wind,” features an effigy of  the iconic Times-Picayune Tower, located at the building where only a fraction of the newspaper’s employees continue to work.

2013KreweDEtatDiedOfUnnaturalCauses

Also from Krewe d’Etat’s “Gone With The Wind” float (via Laura Beatty)

Although it’s now been five months since the layoffs and changes at The Times-Picayune, New Orleanians haven’t forgotten, and some are transforming the dismantling of their beloved and previously daily newspaper into satirical centerpieces in this year’s Mardi Gras celebration. Four parading krewes satirized the newspaper’s traumatic decision to end daily circulation Sept. 30, 2012, and lay off hundreds of employees and contractors.

Le Krewe d’Etat got plenty of mileage out of its “Gone With The Wind” float, which was preceded by a sign that said, “I Don’t Know Nuthin’ ‘Bout No Internet” and poked fun at:

  • Steven Newhouse, chairman of Advance.net, the digital arm of Times-Picayune owner Advance Publications.
  • former Publisher Ashton (“Ashley”) Phelps, who unexpectedly announced his retirement two months before the radical changes coming to the newspaper were detailed in a New York Times‘ story.
  • new Publisher Ricky Mathews, who was the subject of a “Ricky, Go Home!” campaign after he assumed his role in New Orleans from Advance Publications’ Mobile Press-Register.
  • Times-Picayune food writer Brett Anderson, who was told he could either accept his prestigious Nieman Fellowship last fall or keep his job, but not both. (The newspaper ultimately relented and made good on its previous promise to grant Anderson a leave of absence to complete the fellowship).

    KrewedEtatGoneWithTheWind2013Feb8

    Le Krewe d’Etat’s “Gone With The Wind” float was devoted to satirical skewering of The Times-Picayune and its drastic changes last year.

  • Saints-loving football fans who, thanks to the paper’s new three-days-a-week publishing schedule, would no longer would get a Monday edition of the newspaper filled with Saints coverage. (T-P execs also relented on that point and began producing a post-game Saints tabloid during football season.)
  • Uptown doyennes upset by the lack of “Social Scene” columnist Nell Nolan‘s debutante coverage, which was initially slated to be eliminated. (Again, the newspaper’s management relented and kept Nolan on in a freelance capacity).
2013KreweDuVieuxBlackWhite&DeadAllOver2

Krewe DuVieux’s “Black, White & Dead All Over” float.

Carnival’s first krewe to parade each year is Krewe du Vieux, known for its “eyebrow-raising, low-brow amusement [that] often hits the mark with its rude designs and naughty details,” as Times-Picayune | NOLA.com Arts Writer Doug McCash commented in his review of this year’s parade, which rolled early (Jan. 19) to accommodate Super Bowl XLVII the following weekend. KDV had three floats aimed at the newspaper’s management: “All Out of TP?”, “Times Prickayune Fails to Deliver” and “Black and White and Dead All Over.”

McCash noted that “sexual explicitness is Krewe du View’s stock and trade, with beyond-bawdy float designs and costumes that could very well be banned in less laissez-faire communities.” And photographs of two KDV Times-Picayune-themed floats were labeled “NSFW” (“not suitable for work” viewing)  on social media accounts that dared to distribute them.

The lubricity of one of the float’s names caused the now-daily New Orleans edition of the Advocate, to make a mistake in its coverage of the KDV parade. “One float ann

2013KreweDuVieuxOutOfTP_PGVersion

Krewe du Vieux’s “Fresh Out of TP?” float.

ounces, ‘Tricky Mathews Fails to Deliver,’ a reference to the paper’s new publisher, Ricky Mathews,” the Advocate reported, not realizing that “Tricky” actually began with a “P” in the float’s name. (Note: The coarseness of the float led to the deletion of a photo of it, but you can find it on Twitter by searching for “Krewe du Vieux” and “Ricky Mathews.”) 

A float in the Muses‘ parade Feb. 7, “Canned Goods,” took aim at longtime newspaper Editor Jim Amoss, with “Famous Amoss” and his “Cold Cuts.” (A number of former and current Times-Picayune | NOLA.com employees are members of Muses.)

2013Muses_FamousAmossColdCuts

Muses “Canned Goods” float took aim at T-P Editor Jim “Famous Amoss” and his “Cold Cuts,” a reference to the more than 200 employees and contractors who lost their jobs Sept. 30, 2012 as the newspaper ended daily publication.

McCash’s review of the parade noted that “NOLA.com | The Times-Picayune was the target of one pun-filled float design” without elaborating, and went one to say none of the floats “was especially aesthetically memorable.” However, a number of former Times-Picayune staffers beg to differ.

2013KnightsOfChaosAbandonedShip

Knights of Chaos “Abandoned Ship” float satirized The Times-Picayune’s death as a daily newspaper.

Also on the evening of Feb. 7 was the Knights of Chaos, which skewered the newspaper with its “Abandoned Ship” float.

The colorful, creative and often contemptuous costumes that mark Mardi Gras Day itself are also expected to comment on the newspaper’s unpopular changes, NOLA.com reported Thursday night. Former New Orleanian Chris Johnston plans to costume Tuesday as the death of the daily newspaper, he told reporter Michelle Hunter. He will dress his 16-month-old son, Brooks, as a newspaper delivery boy, while the elder Johnston will wear a skeleton costume and carry a newspaper bag that reads, “Times-Picayune RIP.”

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.

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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.

NOLA.com news manager and 35-Year T-P employee Lynn Cunningham abruptly leaves

NOLA.com News Manager Lynn Cunningham

Newsroom employees at NOLA.com/The Times-Picayune this morning received an email that NOLA.com News Manager and 35-year Times-Picayune veteran Lynn Cunningham will leave the organization, effective today.

Cunningham steadily rose through the ranks over the years, serving for much of her tenure at the newspaper as Assistant to the Editor for Jim Amoss. Below is the email Amoss and Mark Lorando, Director of Metro Content for NOLA.com and Cunningham’s boss, sent to the newsroom staff:

From: “Amoss, Jim”
Date: December 17, 2012, 9:29:04 AM CST
To: NOLA Newsroom Staff
Subject: Lynn Cunningham

Colleagues, There’s no easy way to break the news of the departure of someone who has been as vital to our operation and as beloved as Lynn Cunningham, who has decided that today will be her last day in the newsroom. This will feel sudden, but you should know that Lynn made her decision thoughtfully, discussing it with us.

Lynn has shaped The Times-Picayune and NOLA.com in profound ways. She has been instrumental in the recruiting and hiring of the majority of our staff, has run our summer reporting internship program and made our high school internship program into an incubator of journalistic talent. She has mentored scores of us. She put together and ran our online desk in the salad days of the web, leading us into the digital world before the revolution in our industry had dawned on many of us. Lynn has been a respected leader in our midst but also our dear friend. We will miss her greatly, but she has launched us well.

Jim Amoss and Mark Lorando

 From Lynn:

Today is my last day at The Times-Picayune. After 35 years, that isn’t an easy sentence to write. But we all move on at some time, and this is my time.

One of the smartest things I’ve done, ever, was to answer an ad for an opening at The States-Item. My first job was in the editorial department. I sat near the beloved columnist Charles “Pie” Dufour, a dynamo with a zest for life and New Orleans who typed furiously on an Underwood manual, ate soup and crackers, and chatted animatedly on the phone – all at the same time.

In spite of profound changes in our industry since 1977, many similarities endure. We’re still chatting on the phone, still typing, still eating at our desks. And, most importantly, still covering this unique place that inspires us. Yet we are embarked on a new course: our phones are “smart” and we type on glass. We write from coffee shops and send pictures from the sidelines. What we thought of as “place” has been transformed: the newsroom is anywhere news is. And there are no deadlines. This grand experiment puts The Times-Picayune squarely in the vanguard, and I know you are up to the task.

Before I sign off, I want to thank Jim Amoss, who gave me the opportunity many years ago to touch so many lives at this storied institution. His trust is a special gift I take with me.

Having played a part in chronicling my hometown has been a privilege always. Farewell to each of you. I’ve been fortunate to call you colleagues.

Lynn Cunningham

8 things Cleveland can expect from The Plain Dealer’s coming “press-ageddon”

ClevelandSceneImageNOTE: This commentary was also picked up by the Columbia Journalism Review on Dec. 13.

Our take, based on the experience in New Orleans at The Times-Picayune, on what The Plain Dealer of Cleveland is in store for now that it’s in the cross hairs of Advance Publications’ digital transformation, published by the alternative weekly, Cleveland Scene: 8 Things Cleveland Can Expect from The Plain Dealer’s “Press-Ageddon”

T-P reporter to newspaper brass: “I can’t keep my mouth shut and pretend everything is OK”

UPDATE 7/24/12, 1 PM CDT: Times-Picayune Editors Meet with Reporter Who Said She Was “Pissed” (JimRomenesko.com)

_________________________________________________________________________

July 9, 2012 - Times-Picayune Reporter Kari Dequine Harden was mad as hell and wasn’t going to take this anymore.

In an email she sent to incoming Publisher Ricky Mathews, Editor Jim Amoss, Online Editor Lynn Cunningham, NOLA.com Director of Content James O’Byrne and NOLA.com Managing Producer Keith Marszalek, and later forwarded to reporters including widely followed media blogger Jim Romenesko, Dequine Harden detailed how difficult it is to work for the newspaper as its staff continues its death march toward decimated ranks, thrice-weekly publication and increased reliance on the much-derided NOLA.com.

“I take a lot of pride in my work, even after I’ve been fired and told my experience, skills, and talents are of no use after Sept. 30,” Dequine Harden wrote. “But compared to other news outlets, our website is a joke. We break news – but no one would know because of the worst news website known to man and the priority setting – whoever is doing it, is totally fucked. Embarrassing, compared to TV. And yet we are focused on digital now? Enhanced? Who is buying this crap?”

Read all of Dequine Harden’s email – along with the note she sent to Romenesko – by clicking here.

As soon as Romenesko posted Dequine Harden’s email, the closed “Friends of The Times-Picayune Editorial” Facebook page lit up with dozens of congratulatory and admiring comments. And numerous Twitter accounts spread her missive, including those of native New Orleanian and NBC’s “Meet the Press” Executive Producer Betsy Fischer Martin, Forbes.com contributors Micheline Maynard and John McQuaid (the latter also a Times-Picayune alum), Memphis Commercial Appeal columnist Wendi C. Thomas, Dillard University President Walter M. Kimbrough, Gambit and countless other journalists around the country.

“Being in this newsroom has been the best experience of my life,” Dequine Harden, 32, noted later in the day on the Facebook page. “It’s the coolest. Being around these amazingly talented and kind people has made me a much better journalist, and for that, I am eternally grateful.”

Because of her “occasional” status, Dequine Harden – who has written for the paper in some capacity for about six years, and worked weekends and holidays, and temporarily filled other shifts for the past two – is ineligible for severance and therefore isn’t signing the non-disparagement agreement required of full-time staffers who want the payouts.

“Financially, I have a lot less to lose than my colleagues. What I have to lose is about 11 more weekends and the opportunity to pitch stories, which I really don’t want to lose … But every time I think I’ve made it through the anger phase of my grief, something makes me snap (and send emails).”

In a separate message, Dequine Harden also mentioned that she’s headed on vacation and that now “may be good timing to disappear for about 10 days.”

Author and freelance journalist Jason Berry discusses Times-Picayune saga on WYES-TV’s “Informed Sources”

Freelance investigative journalist and author Jason Berry, who penned a June 12 article for The Nation about the debacle at the newspaper titled “Rolling the Dice at The Times-Picayune,” appeared last night (June 29) on New Orleans’ public television station WYES-TV’s “Informed Sources” to talk about the latest developments in the ongoing saga. (Watch the entire program by clicking here.)

Among his choice observations:

On Friday’s decision by at least eight newsroom staffers to reject the newspaper’s offers to stay: “This is like the New Orleans Saints – everyone is wondering when Drew Brees is going to sign – this is like the entire backfield.”

On Advance Publications/ Newhouse’s new direction and the resulting brain drain: “This has been an amazing disaster. Here you have a newspaper that won four Pulitzer Prizes in 20 years, and they’ve wiped out their institutional memory, they’re losing many of their best reporters and they’re making money in the process.”

On profitability: “They had about an 8% profit last year, which means the Picayune made somewhere in the $8 million-to-$10 million range, not a bad profit.”

On the single-mindedness of the Newhouse’s plan: “They made no effort to build a circulation drive, to try to draw in younger readers, or any number of things they could have done, and absolutely had no interest in doing. And so now we have this skeleton where they once had a pretty healthy, thriving newspaper.”

On the New Orleans business community’s responsibility to do more to ensure that the resurging post-Katrina city has a daily newspaper: “I think the challenge to the business community here is striking because we are becoming an international city, we have become a city of the young … the number of entrepreneurs, website developers, young filmmakers who have come here in the last several years, not to mention the resurgence of the music community, the restaurants … All of this is fodder for a good daily paper. The question is whether the business community will simply sit back, be passive, let the Picayune lumber along as this new skeleton, or whether they’ll recognize that getting behind a serious, bona fide news engine will be to the betterment of the community, which certainly it would be.”