editor on messy digital announcement: “Arrogant to think we could keep a secret in a newsroom”

JamesOByrne State Editor James O’Byrne

(UPDATE, 12/12/12, 4:41 PM CST: The Inland Press Association has deleted the tweets written about below. Two clarifications also have been made below in strike-through and underlined text. ) State Editor James O’Byrne apparently spoke to the Inland Press Association’s Executive Program for Innovative Change in Chicago Tuesday about The Times-Picayune‘s decision to end daily publication and instead place its bets on its widely derided website.

No complete coverage of the session appears to be will be available (at least not as of midnight CST), but according to several tweets from the organization’s Twitter handle, @InlandPress, manned by Chicago veteran media journalist the association’s Publications Editor Mark Fitzgerald, O’Byrne made the following comments about the summer’s wrenching changes, in which one-half of the newsroom’s employees lost their jobs:

  • Asked if he had any “regrets on The Times-Picayune transition,” O’Byrne cited the planning of the changes – which involved at least two weeks’ worth of secret, off-site meetings, the obvious exclusion of editors who later were laid off, and staff members reading about the coming layoffs and changes at the 175-year-old newspaper in The New York Times. (More about those issues here.) It was “arrogant to think we could keep a secret in a newsroom,” O’Byrne said, according to a tweet. It was the first specific acknowledgement by any newspaper or Advance Publications executive that the process was poorly handled – in addition to being unnecessarily cruel.
  • Going from a daily to three-days-a-week has “not [been] painless, not seamless in any way,” O’Byrne said, according to another tweet. The “hardest thing to do is make [a] decision to do something different. But once you’ve made that decision, you have to go all in.”
  • “It didn’t help that we became so bland,” in contrast with The Times-Picayune‘s “passionate reporting during [the aftermath of 2005’s Hurricane] Katrina” for which the newspaper won two Pulitzer Prizes, another tweet quoted O’Byrne as saying. (Update:) (Several laid-off and former staffers have taken issue with this comment on a private Facebook group created for the newspaper’s current and former rank-and-file and their supporters. One specifically cited work by current and former staffers Brendan McCarthy, Gordon Russell, Rich Rainey and Paul Rioux, on subjects including the now-infamous New Orleans Police Department’s Danziger Bridge shootings and cover-up, convicted former Jefferson Parish President Aaron Broussard, convicted former New Orleans Chief Technology Officer Greg Meffert, and landfill owner Fred Hebee.)
  • (New bullet) “The problem with seven-day papers is no one has time to read [them],” Fitzgerald quoted O’Byrne in another tweet. (A complaint of some Times-Picayune subscribers is that they don’t have time to read the “robust” content of two or three days of newspapers crammed into the-now Wednesday and Friday editions, which includes multiple days of traditional daily features, such as cartoons, horoscopes and puzzles, not to mention news reports.)
  • “Being [the] only newspaper in town had no value for us. Being the place that people go for information – that had value for us,” he added, according to another tweet.
  • In New Orleans, “post-seven-day publishing [is a] complete flip. It’s digital to print.”

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