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.

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

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.”