David Carr reported on Wednesday night that big, bad changes were coming to the New Orleans Times-Picayune, and this news was confirmed in a memo sent to staff members on Thursday morning: The paper will be cutting staff and it will only publish three days a week.
We don’t know the extent of the staff cuts, though the memo does confirm they are coming. We do know about the decision to stop being a daily newspaper. The Times-Picayune, which won a Pulitzer Prize (and shared another) for its coverage of Hurricane Katrina, will only publish on Wednesdays, Fridays and Sundays. A new company, called the NOLA Media Group, will run NOLA.com and the newspaper; a second new company will print and deliver the paper. Both companies will be owned by Times-Picayune owner Advance Publications (a.k.a. Newhouse family).
Head a bit east and you’ll find the same story happening with Newhouse papers in Alabama. The three newspapers published in Birmingham, Mobile and Huntsville are going to the same schedule of printing three days a week (also Wednesdays, Fridays and Sundays). Just like in the memo announcing the Times-Picayune changes, the memo discussing the Alabama papers mentions that staff cuts are looming.
I have long been of the opinion that more and more newspapers are going to have to do away with the notion of print editions arriving seven days a week. For as long as a publication has a large enough audience share to warrant the print edition, it makes sense to keep printing; at least until the digital audience becomes a large enough segment to make it financially sustainable (and so this segment needs to be large not only in numbers but also in ability to create profit, which is of course the major problem facing so many of these publications) (so I am saying here that once enough people are regularly visiting/relying on the online editions rather than the print edition, and once these papers have found some sort of financial stability through online ads and subscriptions and a paywall — the former being much easier to accomplish than the latter). The key here is these publications figuring out how to monetize online content, so that newspapers can shift to being online-only without having to also drastically reduce staff and costs (as we are seeing happening in New Orleans and Alabama).
In an ideal world, papers would be able to find enough profits online so that they could live without a published edition while still producing the same quantity and quality of journalism; unfortunately, in the real world, newspapers (and staffers, and surrounding citizens) are forced to make severe changes owing only to economics. It is a shame for these employees and for these readers.