dashTHIRTYdash to distribute grants to 75 laid-off Times-Picayune staffers with almost 1,568 total years at newspaper

Seventy-five laid-off Times-Picayune employees, who worked for the newspaper for a combined total of almost 1,568 years, will receive direct cash grants from dashTHIRTYdash in the charity’s first of two planned distributions.

dashTHIRTYdash, a non-profit created by newspaper alumni and civic activists to raise money for the hundreds of Times Picayune employees and contractors who lost their jobs Oct. 1, has raised approximately $60,000 to-date. The money came from individual donations, benefits held by New Orleans restaurants and businesses, an online auction that attracted donations from some of the country’s biggest names in news and talk, and a Sept. 29 New Orleans fundraiser underwritten largely by the community.

The layoffs, which the newspaper reported in June reduced its total staff by one-third and its newsroom by almost one-half, came as the 175-year-old Times-Picayune ended daily publication in favor of a thrice-weekly edition and decided to focus on its website. NOLA Media Group, the newspaper’s new parent company, has since hired some new, primarily younger and less-experienced employees.

The grant applicants’ average tenure with the newspaper was 20.6 years.

“It’s clear that members of this group were among the most experienced working at the newspaper,” said dashTHIRTYdash founder and former Times-Picayune reporter Rebecca Theim. “Because of the stage many of these people are in their careers, they may face considerable challenges securing new employment, particularly if they want to remain in New Orleans.”

The odds may be even more formidable if they hope to continue their careers in the newspaper business: in the past five years, U.S. newspapers have eliminated almost 40,000 jobs, or more than 11% of total industry employment, according to Paper Cuts, the recognized industry source on newspaper layoffs and consolidations.

“We realize the assistance dashTHIRTYdash is able to provide each individual is nominal, but we hope it will help make a mortgage or rent payment, go toward equipment or training needed for a new job or business, or help meet some other important need,” Theim added. “More than anything, we want the former employees and contractors to know their work at the daily newspaper was deeply appreciated.”

Of those applying for assistance, 41% came from the newspaper’s pressroom and packaging operations, while 28% came from editorial (including the newsroom, and photography and graphics/art/design staffs). Those departments were the hardest-hit by the layoffs, according to figures in a June 12 Times-Picayune article.

The size of grants each applicant will receive depends on whether he or she was full-time, or a part-time employee or contractor. Eleven were part-time, and 64 worked full-time. More information about how the money is being allocated is available at http://dashthirtydash.org/2012/08/23/formula/.

The fund anticipates making at least one additional disbursement. The deadline for applying to receive money in that second distribution is Dec. 1. Any former employee or contractor who applied for a grant in the first disbursement will be contacted regarding his or her desire to be included in the second. Any laid-off T-P employee or contractor who did not apply for the first distribution may apply for the second distribution by completing the form at http://dashthirtydash.org/dashthirtydash-grant-application/ and submitting it as directed.

Individuals, companies or organizations are encouraged to continue to donate to dashTHIRTYdash, which will include additional contributions in its second distribution. Donations may be made securely by credit card at https://donationpay.org/dashthirtydash. Alternatively, contributions by check should be made payable to the “Contemporary Arts Center of New Orleans” – with “dash30dash” written in the memo line – and mailed to CAC, c/o Glenn W. Gruber, Associate Director/CFO, 900 Camp St., New Orleans, LA 70130-3908. (The CAC is serving as the fund’s fiscal agent, making dashTHIRTYdash contributions tax-deductible.) More information is at http://www.dashTHIRTYdash.org.

Major Contributors To-Date

Contributions have come from a wide cross-section of the community. The largest contributions, in descending order of size, to-date are:

  • Anonymous gift via the Greater New Orleans Foundation, Inc.
  • Former Times-Picayune Managing Editor Dan Shea, and Stephanie Stokes, the newspaper’s “Inside Out” editor: (including auction proceeds)
  • New Orleans jeweler Mignon Faget, who is donating 10% of the sales of her Times-Picayune-themed pins and double old fashioned glasses
  • Times-Picayune “Social Scene” columnist Nell Nolan, former Times-Picayune political cartoonist Steve Kelley, local actress Ashley Nolan and Mid-City Theatre, which donated proceeds from a September stage production in which the trio starred. The donation was made in memory of communications strategist and civic activist Diana Pinckley, the late wife of longtime Times-Picayune reporter John Pope
  • Ralph Brennan Restaurant Group (Red Fish Grill, Jazz Kitchen®, Ralph’s on the Park, café b, café NOMA and Heritage Grill), which donated 100% of the proceeds from its “Save the Picayune” signature cocktails created shortly after the news of the paper’s coming changes broke in late May
  • The Avenue Pub, which donated 100% of its June 28 bar proceeds, and included beer donated by NOLA Brewing Co. and Crescent Crown Distributing
  • Former Times-Picayune Outdoors Editor Bob Marshall, whose Lake Pontchartrain fishing expedition proved so popular in the fund’s online auction that he agreed to provide two additional ones to requesting runner-up bidders
  • The New Orleans law firm of Smith Stagg LLC, which was a sponsor of the Sept. 29 fundraiser
  • LaPetite Grocery Restaurant and Bar, which donated 30% of its sales from a special June 26 benefit dinner
  • Slim Goodies Diner, which donated 20% of its July 1 receipts, and also collected about three dozen direct donations solicited from customers

“We’re deeply grateful to the businesses, organizations and individuals who not only donated to this important cause, but also often provided a way for people in the community to also rally behind those who were losing their jobs,” Theim said.

Sept. 29 Fundraiser Largely Underwritten by Community

The Sept. 29 fundraiser and accompanying auction raised the most money for the charity. It was also billed as a send-off to the daily Times-Picayune and occurred on the newspaper’s final Saturday of daily publication. All laid-off employees and contractors were invited to attend for free. The Howlin’ Wolf donated its Warehouse District facility for the event, which drew more than 300, including Times-Picayune staffers and alumni from seven decades and about 10 U.S. states, spanning from Hawaii to New York.

Restaurants and eateries that donated cuisine to the Sept. 29 fundraiser included: a Mano; Cafe Atchafalaya; Galatoire’s; Ralph’s on the Park; Rio Mar Seafood; Liberty’s Kitchen; Martin Wine Cellar Catering; and Whole Foods Market Arabella Station.

Musicians who organized or donated entertainment included: Jason Patterson, of Snug Harbor and the New Orleans Jazz Celebration; keyboardist and WWOZ host David Torkanowsky; longtime former Radiators guitarist Camile Baudoin; jazz pianist and vocalist Matt Lemmler; the Charmaine Neville Band; swing harmony group The Pfister Sisters; jazz saxophonist and bandleader Martin Krusche; and singer and guitarist John Rankin.

Celebrities who contributed experiences or items for the online auction included: Anderson Cooper; The Ellen Show; TODAY Show; “Meet the Press;” CNN anchor, special correspondent and New Orleans native Soledad O’Brien; “Good Morning America;” ABC-TV and NPR veteran political analyst and New Orleans native Cokie Roberts; and notedauthor, New Orleans native and States-Item alum Walter Isaacson. The auction also featured art work, photography and other items donated or created by Times-Picayune employees and alumni and New Orleanians.

In addition, Rock ‘n’ Bowl donated its facility for a Sept. 28 reunion that attracted almost 200.

Thanks to the businesses that have supported us

It’s hard to believe that it’s only been nine weeks since the boom was lowered at The Times-Picayune and about six weeks since the launch of dashTHIRTYdash. A few people have asked for a complete list of the businesses that have lent their support to the fund thus far, so please find that list below, in alphabetical order. To all 18 of you to-date: thanks so much for your support – it means a great deal to many of the hundreds of employees, freelancers and contractors who are losing their jobs or significant portions of their income because of the changes coming to the newspaper:

The Avenue Pub, 1732 St. Charles Ave., New Orleans  
The Brylski Company, 3418 Coliseum St,, New Orleans  
Contemporary Arts Center of New Orleans, 900 Camp St.  
T-P alumnus Chuck Cook, now news content advisor for student media at The University of Southern Mississippi  
Crescent Crown Distributing  
Euclid Records, 3401 Chartres St.  
Gambit
Howlin’ Wolf New Orleans, 907 Peters St.  
LaPetite Grocery Restaurant and Bar, 4238 Magazine St., New Orleans  
Mia’s Balcony, 1622 St. Charles Ave., New Orleans
Mignon Faget, 3801 Magazine St., New Orleans; Canal Place, First Level, New Orleans; Lakeside Shopping Center, Metairie  
NOLA Brewing Co.  
N’Tini’s Steaks and Martinis, 2891 Highway 190, Mandeville  
Plum, 5430 Magazine St., New Orleans  
Ralph Brennan Restaurant Group (Red Fish Grill, Jazz Kitchen®, Ralph’s on the Park, café b, café NOMA and Heritage Grill)  
Rio Mar Seafood, 800 South Peters St., New Orleans  
RockNBowl, 3000 S. Carrollton Ave., New Orleans
Slim Goodies Diner, 3322 Magazine St., New Orleans  
Wohl & Co. (Kit Wohl)  

Successful fundraiser and unexpected visit by new publisher

LePetite Grocery will donate 30% of its receipts from its June 26 dinner hours to the fund.

La Petite Grocery Restaurant and Bar in Uptown New Orleans Tuesday (6/26) hosted the first of several fundraisers this week at local restaurants and bars for dashTHIRTYdash. La Petite will donate 30% of Tuesday’s dinner proceeds to the fund and also politely solicited diners for additional, direct donations to the fund. (Please see text at bottom of the image, left.)

Although we don’t yet have a final report on the evening, business was reported as very “robust” (to borrow a new favorite word in the newsroom) and many Times-Picayune staffers joined friends and family at the restaurant.

The evening’s only real drama occurred early, when incoming Times-Picayune Publisher Ricky Mathews and David Francis, the Picayune‘s VP and GM, accompanied by another man, entered the restaurant. A sharp-eyed and quick-Facebook-posting Times-Picayune staffer waiting at the bar for a friend almost spit out her cocktail when she saw them.

“Ricky Go Home” fliers have been posted around town.

Mathews, who has encountered every manner of scorn and ridicule in NOLA because of the plans to reduce the Times-Picayune’s daily publication to thrice weekly, lay off one-third of its employees and reallocate remaining resources to the newspaper’s widely derided website, recently wrote about the changes on the front page of the newspaper in an article titled “The Times-Picayune and NOLA.com are here to stay.” He also spoke about them with NOLA.com Editor James O’Byrne at a recent gathering of New Orleans tech industry professionals. Mathews also has been the subject of a grassroots “Ricky Go Home” campaign. (He’s coming to New Orleans from Times-Picayune sister newspapers in Alabama.)

After taking a seat at a table near the bar, Francis, Mathews and the other man abruptly left only a couple of minutes later, according to the T-P staffer, who will lose her job on Sept. 30 along with about 200 other employees, but asked that her identity not be disclosed because of concerns about her severance. The employee asked the maître d’ why they left so quickly and the maître d’ responded that Francis and Mathews “said they had an emergency and kind of giggled when they said it.” Francis had made the dinner reservation, the maître d’ told the staffer.

Based on how quickly the trio left, the staffer believes their selection of La Petite on the same evening as the dashTHIRTYdash benefit was purely coincidental. As soon as they opened their menus and saw a flier promoting the benefit, they thought better of dining at the restaurant, at least on that particular evening, she speculated.

Before talking to the staffer, it never would have occurred to me that Mathews’ and Francis’ dining selection was anything other than reconnaissance at best, superciliousness at worst. (Reporters, even former ones, are big on conspiracy theories and evil lurking around every corner.) Before speaking to her, I had sent the following email to Mathews and Francis, and copied outgoing Times-Picayune Publisher Ashton Phelps and Editor Jim Amoss. Mathews, Frances and Amoss all have opened the email, according to “read” receipts I’ve received, but I haven’t received any responses yet.

Incoming Times-Picayune Publisher Ricky Mathews’ Page 1 banner editorial in the June 17 edition of the newspaper.

Subject: May we count on you to make a dashTHIRTYdash contribution in light of your aborted LaPetite dinner?

Dear Messrs. Mathews and Francis:

I’m a Times-Picayune alum and one of the primary organizers of dashTHIRTYdash, the fund that’s raising money to benefit newspaper staffers who will lose their jobs as the paper makes the changes Mr. Mathews and others have been writing and speaking about so much recently.

Because you’ve both been in the business for so long, I know you understand the challenges many of these dedicated individuals face, particularly if they want to stay in the business or remain in their beloved New Orleans. For that reason, I assume you support our grassroots efforts to make their upcoming unemployment a little more comfortable as they chart a course to the next chapter in their working lives.

We were disappointed that you and your companion could not stay for your dinner reservation tonight at LaPetite Grocery, which you no doubt knew is hosting the first of several dashTHIRTYdash fundraisers this week. I hope the emergency that you mentioned to the maître d’ as you left before having dinner wasn’t too serious.

Especially given that you were unable to stay and show your support of the fund, may we count on you to make direct and personal contributions to dashTHIRTYdash? If so, please make your checks payable to the Contemporary Arts Center of New Orleans, which is serving as our fiscal agent, and write “dashTHIRTYdash” in the check’s memo line. You may then mail your checks to dashTHIRTYdash, c/o The Contemporary Arts Center of New Orleans, Att’n: Glenn W. Gruber, Associate Director/CFO, 900 Camp St., New Orleans, LA 70130.

Because the CAC is also our 501(c) sponsor, any donation you make to the fund is fully tax-deductible.

I understand that some may find our modest effort amusing, or even comical enough to elicit a giggle or two, but I’ve been once again amazed by the generosity and kindness of New Orleanians as they rally behind these wonderful people. We raised several thousand dollars before we were even formally capable of accepting contributions, so I’m hopeful we’ll do some genuine good for these dedicated, soon-to-be-former staffers of  the wonderful publication you will continue to helm.

I thank you both in advance for your consideration of my request.

Sincerely,

REBECCA THEIM, Times-Picayune Alum (1988-94)

Next up on the dashTHIRTYdash fundraising circuit is a triple header Thursday night (June 28): a pub crawl along St. Charles Avenue at The Avenue Pub, Mia’s Balcony and The Irish House. The venues are donating anywhere from 10% to 100% of the proceeds from various offerings throughout the day and evening. Then on Sunday, July 1, Slim Goodies Diner, 3322 Magazine St. also in the Lower Garden District, will contribute 20% of its 6 AM-3 PM breakfast/brunch receipts to the fund.

UPDATE, 6/27/2012, 10:12 AM CDT: No responses to my email, although I did receive a “read” receipt at about 10:30 PM CDT last night that Francis also had opened his copy of it. Phelps’ copy to his Times-Picayune address generated an automated response asking that any emails be re-sent to his personal address, which I did.