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Monday, June 11, 2012

Pushback at The Times-Picayune as cuts loom

Posted By on Mon, Jun 11, 2012 at 1:58 PM

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One day before Times-Picayune employees are scheduled to have individual meetings to learn their statuses with Advance Publications and the newly formed NOLA Media Group, some major pushback has developed — from advertisers, from a new website titled "Ricky Go Home" ... and even from actor Ed Asner, who played newspaper editor Lou Grant on the TV drama of the same name.

At 3800 Howard this afternoon, newsroom employees are lining up slots to speak to city editor Gordon Russell, while calls have been made to various newspaper bureaus informing them of times they will meet with senior newsroom officials. Each employee or group will meet with either editor Jim Amoss, online editor Lynn Cunningham, features editor Mark Lorando or sports editor Doug Tatum.

The previously formed Times-Picayune Citizens Group, begun by Women of the Storm founder Anne Milling, released a letter today signed by some, but not all, the paper's major advertisers, who objected to Advance Publications' plan to scale back operations to thrice-weekly print publication:

Major advertisers and businesses in the New Orleans metropolitan area, who together spend millions of dollars in advertising annually in The Times-Picayune, have joined “The Times-Picayune Citizens’ Group” in the call to keep the newspaper printing seven days a week.

The list of supporters reflects a wide spectrum of the business leadership in the New Orleans area and includes Ray Brandt Automotive Group; Latter & Blum, Inc.; Hurwitz Mintz Furniture Co.; D.W. Rhodes Funeral Home, Inc. and The Rhodes Family of Businesses; Mignon Faget, Ltd.; Robert Fresh Market and Lakeview Grocery; Lee Michaels Fine Jewelry; the Ralph Brennan Restaurant Group; and Coleman E. Adler & Sons.

All point to the need for a regular print vehicle that reaches 75% of the New Orleans population every day. The businesses are historic and consistent employers in the region. They indicate that a daily publication is a key contributor to the success of their individual businesses and to the economic vitality of New Orleans.

More under the jump, including a website created to un-welcome new publisher Ricky Mathews to the New Orleans area ... and a letter from Ed Asner. was registered last week. Its opening page features a slideshow of new publisher Mathews along with a rogues' gallery of New Orleans' enemies (former FEMA director Michael Brown, NFL commissioner Roger Goodell, the Atlanta Falcons, a mosquito and Edward Pakenham, the director of British forces during the Battle of New Orleans). Under a "Wanted" poster, the site states:

If you want details about Ricky Mathews’ life and times, it’s easy enough to find. Born in Alabama. Worked at newspapers in Alabama and Mississippi. But the most important thing about Ricky Mathews from a New Orleans’ perspective is that he has the gall to move to town and dismantle our newspaper. Even Hurricane Katrina couldn’t do that.

Ricky Mathews doesn’t know us. He doesn’t know our city. Yet he is attempting to dismantle a lifeline and a common thread. Ricky, please go home.

Mr. Mathews has tried to portray this move as a response to the inevitable decline of the newspaper, but it’s simply not an accurate portrayal of New Orleans. The Times-Picayune is profitable. With input from staff and community leaders who have stepped forward to help, the paper could be even better and more profitable in the future.

Mr. Mathews has ignored creative ideas and concrete solutions. He is clinging instead to a one size fits all digital idea that does not fit New Orleans.

Ricky go home. And give us our newspaper on your way out of town.

Meanwhile, Asner got word of the flyers that were posted in the T-P newsroom over the weekend, which featured an image of his character Lou Grant asking questions like "What the hell is an 'enhanced' newspaper?," "What the hell is a 'robust' Web site anyway?" and "A 3-day-a-week newspaper in New Orleans? When did Ted Baxter become an executive at Advance Publications?"

Asner, a longtime political activist, dropped a note of support for the employees to Michael Tisserand, a writer (and former Gambit editor) who was one of the organizers of last week's "Save the Picayune" rally. The note:

"To the employees of the Times Picayune - I've been on strike and I've always identified with the working press, knowing they're not fat cats and knowing job security is zilch. Freedom of the press belongs to the man who owns one. I identify totally with your plight and hope that a decent resolution may be arrived at! Sincerely, Ed Asner"

The man's got spunk. Unlike Lou Grant, we like spunk.

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