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Times-Picayune’s new tabloid launch met with uncertainty

When Advance Publications announced a year ago that they would be cutting the Times-Picayune’s daily frequency back to three days a week this month, the people of New Orleans rallied to save their beloved daily.

In a city where an approximate 36 percent of residents don’t have reliable Internet access, it’s no surprise that residents sent petitions and formed groups dedicated to keeping the newspaper intact. Despite their best efforts, the Times-Picayune cut roughly 200 employees last June in anticipation of its transition, which ultimately came to pass in October when the paper ceased to be a daily.

Given the city’s love for its daily paper, one might assume that the Times-Picayune’s announcement last week that it would launch a supplemental, tabloid newspaper this summer would appease the loyal, reading masses of New Orleans. But for local bookstore owner Tom Lowenburg, the debut of the new paper is no great concession.

Last Monday, Advance revealed that a paper called TPStreet would be published Mondays, Tuesdays and Thursdays, which are days when the Picayune isn’t being printed. The new paper, which will focus on breaking news, sports and entertainment, will not be available for home delivery and will only appear in newsstands and stores. “I’m pretty skeptical about whatever this announcement is, the idea that they’re going to have a sports and entertainment sort of thing, that’s not what a daily newspaper is, it’s really not,” said Lowenburg, who hosted several discussions last year at his store Octavia Books to save the paper.

In the announcement, the Times-Picayune noted that current staff would be providing the news that would go into the supplementary edition. “The fact that they may issue some puny little tabloid in a newsstand that’s not even delivered is not meeting the responsibility that a good city daily paper needs to do,” said Lowenburg. “What they’ve done is decimated their workforce, and they’ve gotten rid of their most experienced reporters who are covering this kind of information. They can put stuff online, it doesn’t mean they’re operating as a full newspaper.”

Despite some amends made by Advance, which included a special New Orleans Saints print edition during football season delivered Monday mornings and an early Sunday edition that’s available on Saturday mornings, reports show that many disgruntled readers dropped the paper and instead subscribed to The Advocate’s New Orleans edition, which launched in response to the Picayune’s demise as a daily, garnering 10,000 subscribers in a matter of days.

Competition only promises to get rougher for the Picayune. Earlier this week, The Advocate was sold to John Georges, a wealthy Louisiana businessman, who has said he plans to continue to invest in giving New Orleans “a truly local, seven-day home-delivery newspaper.” Just this past week, several prize-winning staffers from the Times-Picayune joined The Advocate’s New Orleans edition, including Martha Carr, who was named managing editor of the paper, Gordon Russell, who is now managing editor of investigations, and reporters Claire Galofaro and Andrew Vanacore.

Up until this point, The Advocate’s New Orleans edition hasn’t met the full needs of a local paper, noted Lowenburg, who subscribes to both the Picayune and The Advocate and hopes to see reporting amped up in the area. “But it does come every day and it has a fair amount of coverage,” he said.

Lowenburg isn’t the only reader to receive the announcement of TPStreet with a measure of skepticism. Comments left in response to the announcement of the new paper were majorly negative: “This is really sad…we warned that the business model was never going to work in this tradition rich city. The Times-Picayune ruined that tradition by not listening to the most important people – their customers. That’s basic business. Now they are going to experiment with something new…continuing to reveal more weakness and basically admitting that their model is failing. I still subscribe, but, the Times-Picayune has already soured my taste. It’ll be nice to see what The Advocate has planned with new local ownership. I’m ready to jump ship,” wrote one reader.

David Coates, managing editor of newspaper content at Vocus Media Research Group, isn’t surprised the readers of New Orleans aren’t happier with this latest turn of events. “The people of New Orleans are a proud and loyal group and if you are disloyal to them – in many of their minds the Times-Picayune cutting back its print editions was disloyal – then I think they may show their displeasure by not buying it at the newsstand,” he said.

Although Advance has cut back frequency in favor of online in other areas of the country, including Syracuse, N.Y., and Ann Arbor, Mich., with little incident, New Orleans, which is still suffering the after-effects of Hurricane Katrina, is a different story. “For a long time this has been a one newspaper town and [Advance] thought they could cut back to almost nothing and people would stay loyal to them and I think they found that’s not how it works,” said Lowenburg.

–Katrina M. Mendolera

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