After going to thrice-weekly publication last fall as part of its move to a "digital newsroom" (and later adding a Monday sports tabloid during New Orleans Saints football season and a early-Sunday "bulldog" edition in the subsequent months), NOLA Media Group announced in April it would return to printing a news product on the days that The Times-Picayune was not printed.
That tabloid print product, which was named "TP Street," was largely greeted with dismay in the newsroom and confusion and derision elsewhere, due in part to publisher Ricky Mathews' spin on the tabloid. Mathews had called TP Street "the latest milestone in our evolution as a multimedia news organization," when it was clear that the move was a retreat to daily printing.
Adding to the confusion was NOLA Media Group's statement that TP Street was a response to subscribers' demand for a paper — but TP Street would not be delivered to subscribers, but available only on news racks for an additional price. (The final version of TP Street will carry The Times-Picayune's familiar "flag," or front-page logo.)
That non-delivery plan, Gambit learned several weeks ago, has also been reconsidered as NOLA Media Group pondered the possibility of returning to daily delivery of a daily print product with the name Times-Picayune, effectively positioning the physical paper where it was a year ago before the "digital transition" — albeit a physical paper with a severely damaged brand and new competition in the form of The Advocate's New Orleans edition.
Amoss' memo to his staff below the jump.
Since New Orleans businessman John Georges bought The Advocate just a week ago, things have been moving quickly. Georges installed former T-P managing editors Peter Kovacs and Dan Shea as editor and general manager, and there was word that The Advocate's Baronne Street offices were adding several additional parking spaces immediately. It was a poorly kept secret that the paper had been talking to T-P city editor Gordon Russell, and only a slightly better kept secret that The Advocate was also interested in Martha Carr, a veteran of the city desk known as a meticulous editor.
"If Gordon and Martha go," a city reporter told Gambit Saturday night, "we all go."
And that's what seems to be happening. This morning Kovacs announced that Russell would be joining the New Orleans Advocate (not the New Orleans bureau of The Advocate, but "the New Orleans Advocate", a change in terminology). Also leaving the T-P: city reporters Claire Galofaro and Andrew Vanacore. (Former T-P staffer Sara Pagones, who had been helming the New Orleans bureau since it launched last fall, will now be St. Tammany bureau chief.) Russell becomes The Advocate's managing editor for investigations, while Carr will be the New Orleans paper's managing editor.
Kovacs told Gambit this morning that he didn't have a precise date for when their bylines might start appearing in The Advocate. "I think our goal is in the very near future," he said. "Things are moving very quickly and I would hope we would start seeing them in the next week or so. It’s a ramp-up process." Beyond that, he had little to say when asked about a redesign of the paper (rumored to be scheduled for late summer) and a possible web redesign. "We have lots of plans to improve the paper," Kovacs said. "I’m not going into which they are and when they’re coming."
The digitally-focused NOLA Media Group, which cut back print publication of The Times-Picayune to three days a week last year, continued to innovate today by announcing a new plan to print on the days it doesn't produce a print product, bringing the company up to 7-day-a-week publication, according to an announcement by NOLA Media Group Vice President of Content Jim Amoss.
The report, which is not from The Onion, says the new product, to be called "TPStreet," will launch this summer in newsboxes around the city and cost 75 cents, just like the daily paper, which it will not be, because it is more innovative than that:
“Our success in delivering more news, sports and entertainment to our readers enables us to create this innovative publication, the latest milestone in our evolution as a multimedia news organization,” said President and Publisher Ricky Mathews.
The innovative publication is in response to "a repeated request" from home-delivery subscribers to get a delivered daily paper, but it will not be home delivered, Mathews said:
“In TPStreet, we sought to develop a publication that would address our single-copy readers and also respond to a repeated request from our home-delivery subscribers for a front-to-back newspaper reading experience in the e-edition on days we don’t offer home delivery,” said Mathews.
The front-to-back newspaper reading experience, says Amoss, will give "our readers access to the state’s largest and most talented news organization both online and in print every day."
“We are excited about this opportunity to extend our daily reach in print,” concurred vice president of advertising Kelly Rose.
Requests from response from the corpse of George Orwell, Jeff Jarvis, the creators of New Coke and Monty Python's Ministry of Silly Walks were unreturned.
Under the jump: some local Twitter reaction.
A letter went out late Friday to NOLA Media Group's "content employees" (aka reporters), inviting them to a training session (a mandatory "invite"), where they will begin to learn what the company is calling a Performance Management Process (PMP):
"Our organization’s current and future business objectives require an increased focus on improved performance and talent development."
"Discuss how your performance can positively impact your pay."
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.
Chittum paints a picture of a newsroom where "coverage looks thin at times," "incomplete versions of stories have ended up in the paper" and "some staffers say, the quality of the report is deteriorating." Much of this is attributed to unnamed sources at the T-P, as well as those who have left. Chittum's basic thesis is spelled out early:
Ten months later, a battle still rages for the soul of the Times-Picayune, and over the meaning of what happened. Much of the media coverage of the changes in New Orleans, while critical of Advance and the paper’s leaders, has focused on the decision to cut publication to three days a week and, to a lesser extent, on the layoffs, which were devastating even by today’s standards. Those are, of course, important storylines.
Less examined: the radical change in how journalism is done at the 176-year-old Times-Picayune and what that means for the future of news coverage. And even less examined are the strange finances of the move, which help explain what to many appears inexplicable, from either a journalistic or a business point of view.
Advance argues that it is taking a difficult but bold step into a digital future, in New Orleans and across the country. But its actions make more sense with a close look at the numbers, which suggest something other than its claim of “securing a vital future for our local journalism.”
Editor Jim Amoss, who does not come off well in the tale, has already responded in the comments section of the story:
John Mathew, president and CEO of Wick Communications, said the newspaper has long been in direct competition with many publications, and because St. Tammany Parish is so connected to metropolitan New Orleans and so many of its residents have moved to the Northshore in recent years, the newspaper has had a tough time finding the sense of community that a community newspaper needs to be successful.
Twenty-four positions will be lost as a result of the newspaper’s closing, though several employees will be offered positions at other locations within the company. Employees will receive severance and assistance in resuming their careers elsewhere, Mathew said.
Both The News Banner and the Slidell Sentry News began publishing in the 1970s as suburban growth created a new demand for newspapers in St. Tammany Parish. Wick Communications owns several other community papers, including L’Observateur in LaPlace and The Daily News in Bogalusa.
... not to mention Engage Employees in Transforming the Company to Meet Our Changing Digital and Print Future.
No, it's not the latest indignity ladled upon the heads of the long-suffering NOLA Media Group (unofficial slogan: We're Miserable — But What a View!™) — it's a new "Strategic Initiative" laid down at The Oregonian, the Newhouse/Advance paper in Portland, Ore.
Newsroom employees got this directive laid out on a laminated card this week, according to media reporter Jim Romenesko.
“These laminated cards were distributed this week to Oregonian newsroom employees,” writes a Romenesko reader. “Note: nothing about holding government accountable, informing the public, comforting the afflicted, etc.”
"Strengthen financial performance."
The reaction on Romenesko's Facebook page is worth reading.
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