WWL-TV has obtained a copy of the letter sent to Steven Newhouse yesterday by Tom Benson — owner of the New Orleans Saints, the New Orleans Hornets and WVUE-TV — indicating Benson's interest in purchasing The Times-Picayune.
In the letter, Benson writes, "I would welcome the opportunity to speak to you about my interest in purchasing The Times-Picayune, with others. If this is something that is an option, we can initiate this at your earliest convenience."
Past attempts to discuss potential purchase of the paper have been rebuffed by the Newhouse family.
Benson is one of the two potential buyers alluded to by Gambit in a story yesterday, which included this photo of a "Save the Picayune" sign that Benson and his wife Gayle are now displaying on their lawn:
Tomorrow's New Orleans City Council agenda has two medium-biggish items: selection of an interim councilperson for District E, and consideration of an ordinance to create an new economic development district in the Carrollton-Palmetto neighborhood. But there's a third item of interest on the agenda.
More than two months after word leaked that Advance Publications planned to scale back print publication of The Times-Picayune this fall, the council appears likely to take a stand in the form of a resolution — publish seven days a week or sell the paper to someone who will:
45. RESOLUTION — NO. R-12-284 — BY: COUNCILMEMBERS CLARKSON,
GISLESON PALMER, GUIDRY, HEAD AND HEDGE-MORRELL
Urging the Times-Picayune to take any and all necessary
actions, including sale of the newspaper, to ensure the
uninterrupted continuation of seven-day-a-week print
publication of its newspaper for the benefit of its loyal
readers in New Orleans, the Gulf Coast region, and
throughout the country.
Such resolutions are more symbol than substance, of course — and the Newhouse family and local executives have already said no, no, no on more than one occasion, most recently July 10 in response to a letter from some heavy-hitting community leaders.
Things have been largely quiet behind the scenes since then, though a spokesperson for the Save the Picayune crowd says they may redouble their efforts soon — and that there are indeed two credible potential owners ready to sit down and talk with the Newhouse family, who owns the paper.
In any case, the Save the Picayune group has managed to get one of its lawn signs in the front yard of a certain football team-basketball team-TV station owner:
The New Orleans Digital News Alliance is a collaboration between four local websites: My Spilt Milk (the cultural-criticism site recently started by former OffBeat editor Alex Rawls), NOLA Defender, Uptown Messenger and the non-profit newsroom The Lens. As announced by Rawls:
Each site has a distinctive mission. NOLA Defender refers to itself as an alt-daily that provides hyperlocal coverage of politics, crime, and culture in Southern Louisiana; Uptown Messenger covers the people and events of New Orleans' Uptown neighborhoods, reporting on government, crime, schools, business and culture; The Lens is the city’s first nonprofit, public-interest newsroom; and My Spilt Milk takes a timely look at New Orleans' culture with an emphasis on music. Collectively, we provide valuable information and perspectives on the Crescent City.
The Lens, along with cultural website NolaVie, also will be collaborating with WWNO.org, the online arm of NPR affiliate WWNO-FM, which made the switch from classical music to a daytime NPR news format.
But there's another name in the game that may upend the way New Orleans gets its online news. It's called NOLA Beat — and you'll be hearing more about it later this week.
Sources in the newsroom say those reporters who were un-laid off in recent days include Benjamin Alexander-Bloch, Paul Purpura and Mark Waller. At least two have indicated they will accept the new company’s offer. A fourth veteran reporter, who had been offered a job on the digital side of the operation, will likely continue in a traditional reporting role.
Explaining the change of plans, a newsroom source told Gambit, “We’re losing a lot of institutional memory.” Two weeks ago, another source had described the mood in the executive suite as "shitting bricks" due to the number of people who had found other jobs, and how soon they were leaving.
Nineteen reporters from downtown and The Times-Picayune’s various bureaus — most of which have been decimated — have been summoned to the newsroom on Howard Avenue tomorrow for a meeting where they expect to learn the details of their new beats.
A few of those changes that will be announced in the near future:
"No. You're a 175-year-old restaurant that's won numerous culinary awards. People here generally like your food, at least most of the time. Why would you do that?"
"Don't worry. You won't miss a thing. If anything, the food will be more robust and beefed-up. Have you met our new chef? He's from Mississippi by way of Alabama. He's awesome. He once helped a guy restore a piano."
"And we've got some other exciting replacements. We're letting go about one-third of the staff, some of whom you know. But we're going to hire some new people for the take-out window."
That was received dismissively by Steven Newhouse, chairman of Advance.net, who told The New York Times, "We have no intention of selling, no matter how much noise there is out there" — so today the group delivered a second letter.
Sent via FedEx to 22 members of the Newhouse family, it asks the Newhouse family to sell the paper outright. A source with knowledge of the letter's composition tells Gambit that the demand to seel isn't just loose talk, but that the Citizens' Group — which includes some of the city's most powerful and wealthy citizens — has lined up a potential buyer for The Times-Picayune.
A copy of the letter — which was not sent to Times-Picayune executives — was forwarded to editors at the paper this morning from Si Newhouse, the family patriarch and chairman and CEO of Advance Publications. It arrived on the day that David Newhouse — who left his position as editor of the family's Patriot-News earlier this year to join the Advance Digital arm of his family's company — arrived in New Orleans for meetings with T-P editors and new NOLA Media Group president Ricky Mathews.
(David Newhouse, like Mathews, apparently is fond of staying at the Windsor Court Hotel — where a "Save the Picayune" lawn sign, like the one pictured above in a Mid-City window, was delivered to him today — gift-wrapped.)
"In the end, we fear our community has already made its judgment on the three-day publication plan and the damage already realized cannot be undone," the letter states. "But the relationship between your family and our community does not have to end sourly. If your family does not believe in the future of this great city and its capacity to support a daily newspaper, it is only fair to allow us to find someone who does."
The letter's signatories: Archbishop Gregory Aymond, Gayle and Tom Benson, Ralph Brennan, James Carville, Tulane University president Scott Cowen, Xavier University president Norman Francis, Archie Manning, Wynton Marsalis, Mary Matalin, Wendell Pierce, Cokie and Steven Roberts and Loyola University president Kevin Wildes. (One absent name: Women of the Storm founder Anne Milling, who has been a leader in the Save the Picayune movement and still sits on the paper's advisory board.)
Under the jump: the complete letter to the Newhouse family (with a list of the family addressees), along with a secondary attachment with the names of local civic organizations opposed to the business plan ...
Times-Picayune employees who have been invited to join the newly formed NOLA Media Group have until Friday to file their paperwork with T-P vice president David Francis. Tonight, Gambit has confirmed that several of the reporters that the paper hoped to retain will not be continuing with the new company.
• Sources say award-winning investigative reporter David Hammer has accepted a job at WWL-TV. (Disclosure: WWL-TV regularly features Gambit reporters on its morning newscasts, and Gambit political editor Clancy DuBos contributes political analysis and commentaries on the station.) Hammer did not return a call from Gambit. Reached tonight, WWL-TV news director Bill Siegel had no comment, but did not deny the story. Hammer's hire is expected to be announced within the next week.
• Several sources have confirmed to Gambit that health care and political reporter Bill Barrow, who often reports on the Louisiana legislature while it's in session, has accepted a job at the Associated Press' Atlanta bureau. Barrow had no comment tonight.
At lunch today, I fired up the NOLA.com iPad app to read about Frank Fradella's court appearance. That story wasn't on the front page, but this one was — click to embiggen:
"Everybody's laughing, and riding, and cornholing except Buster. ... "
Whaaaa? I thought it was some kind of spam (turned out it wasn't, but dummy text from the sitcom Arrested Development). It had clearly been up there for an hour; the timestamp was 12:39 p.m. and the time on my screenshot was 1:42 p.m. But it was odd, so I sent it out over Gambit's Twitter feed and forgot about it.
Late this afternoon, it got picked up by media reporter Jim Romenesko in a post titled "What's Going On, NOLA.com?" And it got a response from NOLA.com editor James O'Byrne:
"Approximately 5 or 10 minutes"? Hardly.
It's still on the front page of the site, more than 7 hours after it was posted:
Users of the site will see a redesigned homepage and navigation system beginning Tuesday, June 26. We're excited about these upcoming changes and we believe the improved experience will enable you to more easily find the content you're looking for, whether it's breaking news from The Oregonian, event listings from across the state or high school sports news about your school.
The Oregonian is one of the newspapers in the Advance Publications chain, just like The Times-Picayune. Its website, OregonLive.com, has the same relationship to the paper that NOLA.com does to the T-P.
Meanwhile, one of the city's alt-weeklies, Willamette Week, asks the obvious questions:
WW emailed Oregonian publisher N. Christian Anderson III asking if Monday's announcement would have any bearing on The O, its publication schedule, corporate structure or staffing levels.
His response is as follows:
Do you honestly think I would tell in you advance if any changes were going to be announced?
Of course not; that's what David Carr is for.
Mathews and NOLA.com editor James O’Byrne were the guests at a small after-work group hosted by entrepreneur and real estate developer Sean Cummings. Cummings had invited the techies to Loa, the bar in his International House hotel, for a meet-and-greet where Mathews and O’Byrne could explain the NOLA Media Group’s strategy to shift to a three-day-a-week Times-Picayune and a beefed-up online presence at NOLA.com in a new digitally-focused company.
Word of the digital plan had leaked out before the paper had planned to announce it (ironically, in digital form -- a blog item by The New York Times’ David Carr), and O’Byrne and Mathews were still batting cleanup, trying to get hold of what Mathews called “the master narrative.” Despite the civic shock, Mathews said, the NOLA Media Group had known all along that cutting back The Times-Picayune would be a tough sell in a traditional (if not hidebound) city that loves its institutions -- even if it doesn’t always support them.
“We could have had this play out exactly the way we wanted to, which is announce a new company and talk to your employees simultaneously, and we’d still be in the same spot -- with a really visceral reaction from the community,” Mathews said. “The way to change that is to be talking. I’ve been talking till I don’t have a voice any more, explaining to people what we’re doing.”
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