In the wake of the decision by the New Jersey-based owners of The Times-Picayune to publish only three print editions a week starting Oct. 1, many have asked if Gambit will become a daily paper, or begin home delivery. While we're flattered, the answer is no — for two reasons. The first reflects our mission. We are not, at heart, a daily paper. Our business is weekly print coverage of, with an intense focus on, New Orleans arts, entertainment, culture and politics — and daily web coverage as well. The second reason is practical. The Newhouse family has the infrastructure — the staffing, the trucks, the presses, the plant, the delivery people — to produce a daily paper. We do not, and the amount of capital required to launch such a venture from scratch is staggering.
Steven Newhouse, who runs the branch of the family business that includes The Times-Picayune, has concluded that a daily newspaper is not tenable in New Orleans. We disagree. Our daily paper is not dead — yet — but Mr. Newhouse has chosen to hasten its demise. It's New Orleans' bad luck that our city has become the latest laboratory for the Newhouse family's ongoing experiment in digital-age publishing.
If you want to see the future of The Times-Picayune, take a look at what the Newhouses did to their paper in Ann Arbor, Mich. AnnArbor.com, which is the name of the twice-weekly newspaper as well as the web site, hardly resembles a newspaper at all. And if Ann Arbor represents the future under Newhouse ownership, The Times-Picayune's future is bleak — and bland. And, worst of all, shallow.
That's why so many New Orleanians, including we at Gambit, object so strongly to Mr. Newhouse's decision to pull the plug on the T-P. New Orleans is unique among American cities — culturally, economically and in almost every other way. There are enough stories to be told in this town to fill a dozen daily papers. Sadly, starting this fall, we will not have even one.
At the end of the day, The Times-Picayune is Mr. Newhouse's company. Gutting it is his decision, even if it's the wrong decision. What Mr. Newhouse fails to grasp from his insular perch in New Jersey is that New Orleanians are passionate about their newspapers (including Gambit). When plans leaked about the owners' intentions, people wrote letters, made phone calls, sent emails, held rallies, established Facebook groups and even hung signs on telephone poles and freeway overpasses urging Mr. Newhouse to "Save the Picayune" — or sell it to someone who gives a damn.
That last request triggered the most outrageous comment yet, one that showed just how indifferent Mr. Newhouse is to the consequences of his decision. Last week, when asked if he would consider selling, he dismissively told The New York Times' Campbell Robertson, "We have no intention of selling, no matter how much noise there is out there."
Noise? Is that what he thinks New Orleanians have been pouring out from their hearts for the past three weeks?
What Mr. Newhouse calls "noise," we recognize as the voices of our friends and neighbors. When a billionaire absentee owner refers to the heartfelt pleas of his customers as "noise," it tells us that all the pretty puffery about a more "robust" news product is pure bunk. Local business owners, many of whom for years have faithfully advertised in Mr. Newhouse's paper, know all too well that ignoring the voices of customers — particularly in New Orleans — is a recipe for failure. Oddly enough, we suspect that's the Newhouse plan: sooner rather than later, there will be no printed edition of The Times-Picayune.
The bottom line — and let's face it, that apparently is Mr. Newhouse's primary concern — is that the "noise" he dismisses so easily could just as easily be replaced by ... silence. As in no advertisers. And no one clicking on links on his website.
We're proud to say that Gambit is locally owned, locally written and locally focused. Almost all our ads come from local businesses. Despite what some say about print being dead, we hear just the opposite from our readers and advertisers every week. And rest assured we'll do our best to beef up our coverage in significant ways, both in print and online, in response to the new media landscape in New Orleans. Above all, when our readers tell us what they think, we'll continue to listen and respond. We like that kind of noise. To us, it's music.
We may not be going daily, but we're not going away, either.