Managers at NOLA.com | The Times-Picayune fired 28 full-time and nine part-time "content staffers" last week in the digital media company's second major newsroom bloodletting in three years. NOLA Media Group President Ricky Mathews said in a statement that the firings accounted for 21 percent of "the overall content operation's full-time employees."
James Varney, whose career spanned nearly 26 years at The Times-Picayune as a reporter, foreign correspondent and columnist, was among those fired, as was Paul Purpura, who worked a variety of beats in his 16-year tenure. John Pope, whose career began at the old States-Item in 1972, no longer will be a staff writer but will continue to contribute to the paper.
Andy Grimm, who was hired from the Chicago Tribune to cover federal courts in New Orleans, also was fired, as were reporter Ben Myers and graphics reporter/editor Dan Swenson. Benjamin Alexander Bloch, who covered coastal parishes and the Gulf of Mexico, was terminated, as was Dinah Rogers, a 24-year employee who worked as the paper's assistant photo editor. Music writer Alison Fensterstock, entertainment writer David Lee Simmons and events writer Cate Root were let go. Lyons Yellin of WWL-TV reported that "almost all" the prep sports staff was fired.
The cuts were not unexpected. In June, Advance Publications, which owns NOLA.com | The Times-Picayune, indicated NOLA Media Group would be merging with the company's Alabama Media Group to form a "Southeast Regional Media Group." Two days later, managers met with employees to talk about the company's future. "They're being pretty upfront about the fact there will be layoffs," one reporter told Gambit at the time. A report from Alabama mentioned that the new media group would be seeking "operational efficiencies."
Several reporters left the company this summer. Adriane Quinlan departed in July for Atlanta, while Rebecca Catalanello — whose series on abuse and neglect at the New Bethany Home for Girls received national praise — took a job as assistant director of publications and communications at the University of New Orleans. Grace Wilson, the website's "Community Engagement Specialist for Entertainment," departed in August. Earlier this month, longtime Times-Picayune Editor Jim Amoss stepped down to take a role as Editor-At-Large for Advance Digital, the Internet arm of owner Advance Publications. The new editor is former state and metro editor Mark Lorando.
In 2012, the paper was thrown into tumult when The New York Times reported The Times-Picayune soon would be going to a three-day-per-week production schedule. The T-P subsequently fired more than 200 people, 84 of whom worked in the newsroom, as it underwent what it called the "digital transition." At the time, Amoss promised, "We will continue to have by far the most complete and the most formidable news-gathering muscle in this community, and readers will just have to hold us accountable to that promise that I'm making."