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