Friday, December 21, 2012

UPDATE: Life at The Times-Picayune

Posted By on Fri, Dec 21, 2012 at 5:14 PM

As the year wraps up, we will be updating several stories from 2012. In Parts I and II: Alex Woodward reported on the arson fire at the offices of Women With a Vision, as well as developments on Freret Street.

In Part III:

Throughout the year, Kevin Allman reported on the changes at The Times-Picayune and its online arm, NOLA.com, as the two became a new company, NOLA Media Group, under the watch of new publisher Ricky Mathews.

The Dec. 17 resignation of Lynn Cunningham, The Times-Picayune’s online editor — a veteran of the paper since 1977 and the right hand of editor Jim Amoss — was the cap on the paper’s most dramatic year in recent history as it launched into what was euphemistically known as “the digital transition.”

That digital future is expected to take physical form next month as the rechristened NOLA Media Group moves into its new digs at the top of the One Canal Place office building — a semi-virtual newsroom with “workstations” for reporters and editors who drop by. Under the new system, most of the staff are expected to be out in the field with laptops and smartphones, filing stories by Wi-Fi with minimal supervision (and copyediting). Gone will be the days of reporters’ desks groaning under layers of papers and detritus; each will have a small shelf for a few books and personal effects. As for the messy-but-necessary research material contained in filing cabinets and reference tomes, some reporters have been told to take what they need and store it at home. A dumpster has been installed in the newsroom for the rest.

While the paper’s new home-delivery competitor, Baton Rouge’s The Advocate boasts of numbers beyond publisher David Manship’s most optimistic expectations (13,500 paid circulation, with another 8,000 papers on newsracks around the city), The Times-Picayune also is claiming victory. Earlier this month, while appearing on WWNO-FM’s “Out to Lunch” program, business manager David Francis told host Peter Ricchiuti that circulation of the T-P had actually increased since the paper went to thrice-weekly publication in October.

Meanwhile, the newsroom staff, which had written an open letter in June to Cunningham and Amoss, asking, “Will there be quotas for online entries?” (no formal answer was ever forthcoming), ended the year nervous about their role in drawing traffic, or “clicks,” to NOLA.com. A “Staff Performance Measurement & Development Specialist” position has been created; the job description included monitoring reporters’ and editors’ “amount of content created each day” and “[setting] standards for measuring performance aimed at achieving content and business goals.” (“I don’t know how to get more clicks without doing more stories every day,” one longtime reporter told Gambit.)

None dare call it quotas — but few in the newsroom doubt that quotas, or something like them, is coming in 2013. As for Cunningham's resignation, it is unlikely to be the only high-profile departure from the new company in the near future. Other newsroom employees who stuck out the original changes at the paper are also weighing their options.

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