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Times-Picayune begins a new era today, but readers still irate

Sunday marked the end of a longtime tradition when the Times-Picayune was delivered as a daily paper for the last time. Staff and readers alike have been anticipating this day since Advance Publications’ announcement in May that it would be taking the paper in a new direction.

Today begins a new era at the paper, which started a three-day delivery cycle with the focus turning to the online product, Nola.com. On Monday, an editorial from Times-Picayune staff reminded readers of its past excellence in reporting and their commitment to keep providing quality news. But comments from readers on Nola.com as well as the paper’s Facebook page were far from supportive, with many people writing they had canceled subscriptions.

“Adios, TP. Cancelled my subscription yesterday. Hopefully once the Newhouses’ grand experiment crashes and burns, the TP will rise from the ashes. In the meantime, you can keep your huge banner ads, company-wide generic news templates, and a format that STILL crashes my browser half the time. Goodbye,” wrote one commenter.

Another wrote: “Times Picayune, it’s been nice. Cancelled my subscription Saturday. Like my father told me, either you do something 100% or don’t do it at all. 3 days a week? No thanks.”

And yet another appealed to the higher forces, asking whether a price increase had ever been considered. Nola.com editor James O’Byrne sagely responded: “The economics of the newspaper business can’t be resolved by a price increase. The cost of the newspaper basically covers the cost of the paper and ink, and the fuel necessary to deliver that paper to your door. It does not begin to cover the cost of actually producing the quality journalism that you expect. The cost of journalism has always been borne by the advertisers. Thus, when advertising revenue drops, as it has precipitously for print newspapers everywhere, there is no way to make up that cost through subscriptions. A different approach to news-gathering and disseminating is required …”

Like publishers across the country, Advance Publications has chosen to turn its focus to digital. Since the announcement in May, it has redesigned all its sites to be more user-friendly and more aesthetically appealing. But the Times-Picayune site has received mixed reviews, from some who say it’s an improvement to others who still think it’s mediocre at best.

Meanwhile, the Syracuse Post-Standard in New York and Harrisburg Patriot-News in Pennsylvania, both also owned by Advance, will drop down to a three-day print cycle in January. According to Poynter, 230 employees of the Patriot-News will find out by the end of this week whether they still have a job. Meanwhile, the Utica Observer-Dispatch reported today that the Post-Standard will lay off 115 full-time and part-time employees.  So far, the response from readers in Syracuse and Harrisburg haven’t been as vitriolic.

In a city where 36 percent of residents reportedly don’t have reliable Internet access, the demise of New Orleans’ daily certainly created angst. There was a petition through Change.org, demanding Advance keep the paper intact, while Louisiana’s senators and governor appealed to Advance to change its course. Community members even begged Advance to sell the paper.

Despite these pleas, Advance has moved forward, which is very much in line with what newspapers are doing all over the country. Meanwhile, The Advocate in Baton Rouge, La., has launched a daily New Orleans edition in an effort to fill the new hole and scoop up the print loyalists. But the Advocate may also score readers among the bitter masses. It’s obvious many readers feel betrayed and are bereft over the loss of their beloved daily. Indeed, the Huffington Post recently reported that at a local coffee shop in New Orleans, one man noted he would start buying the Advocate and “quit” the Picayune.

But Advance has made some amends along the way. For instance, the Times-Picayune will offer a special New Orleans Saints print edition during football season that will be delivered Monday mornings. Additionally, a special edition with comprehensive coverage will also hit the streets following Super Bowl Sunday.

Meanwhile, an early Sunday edition of the paper will be available on Saturday mornings, and will include sports updates, breaking news and coverage that will also be found in the regular Sunday edition, reported TheTownTalk.com.

Although Advance’s decision to embrace change and forge a digital future should be applauded, New Orleans is now the largest city in the country without a daily paper. And that is just kind of sad.

–Katrina M. Mendolera 

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