An open question related to NOLA Media Group’s departure from 3800 Howard Ave.: what will happen to the newspaper’s iconic clock tower?
The final edition of The Times-Picayune that will be published at the newspaper’s home of 48 years will roll off the presses Jan. 17, NOLA.com reported Thursday.
3800 Howard Ave. is where many newspaper employees weathered Hurricane Katrina and from which they fled in the back of newspaper delivery trucks as the area – along with 80% of New Orleans – flooded in the aftermath of the storm.
As previously announced, the newly minted Advance Media Southeast will move The Times-Picayune‘s production operations to the re-purposed former East Jefferson Bureau in suburban Metairie. Operations of what has been dubbed the “Advance Media Southeast Print Lab” began there this week, according to the report.
In addition to the Picayune, the four Alabama and Mississippi newspapers also owned by New York-based Advance Publications will be designed and produced there.
The company in October 2014 said printing of the Picayune would move to the presses of the Mobile Press-Register, one of Advance’s Alabama newspapers by the beginning of 2016, and would result in the loss of an additional 100 jobs. NOLA Media Group in September announced another round of layoffs, its third in three years, eliminating an additional 21% of the news outlet’s editorial operations.
While NOLA.com/The Times-Picayune has done some limited hiring, it has laid off at least 337 employees since its “digital first” foray in October 2012, not counting freelancers, stringers and newspaper delivery contractors. A least another 421 have lost their jobs at Advance’s three Alabama papers over the same period, with hundreds more losing jobs at Advance’s 30-odd newspapers from Portland, Oregon, to Mobile.
3800 Howard Avenue’s long history
Although NOLA Media Group announced the pending consolidation of its
Plaque at 3800 Howard Ave. commemorating completion of the facility in 1967
facilities at the end of 2014, this week’s announcement was the first time a specific date has been provided for closure of 3800 Howard Ave. In addition to the main newsroom, the facility had housed the printing presses, packaging facilities and business offices since 1968. It is prominent along the Pontchartrain Expressway near downtown New Orleans largely because of the newspaper’s iconic clock tower.
Struggling newspaper companies across the country have sold their headquarters in recent years, usually because of the top dollar their often prime locations commanded. That’s not the case in New Orleans. While centrally located for traveling to many points in the metro area, 3800 Howard Ave. is part of a largely industrial corridor in a tough neighborhood. A lifelong resident noted Thursday that before construction of The Times-Picayune, the property was the Clio Street Dump and then the Silver City Dump from the late 1800s to the early 1930s.
NOLA Media Group announced earlier it would consider donating the site to a nonprofit, although nothing more regarding such a donation has been announced.
To coincide with the “cultural transformation” executives insisted their staff needed to undergo to ensure digital first’s success, NOLA.com’s main newsroom was relocated to the One Canal Place high-rise in the Central Business District in January 2013, where the company leases the top two floors.
Subscribers notified of 24% rate hike effective Jan. 1
Subscribers to the newspaper’s three-times-a-week home-delivered newspaper (editions are available at newsstands the remaining four days) also received mail notices this week informing them of a 24% rate increase beginning with their first post-Jan. 1 payment. The cost will jump from $16.95 to $20.95 a month.
One decades-long subscriber was so annoyed at the increase that he cancelled his subscription . He relayed the following conversation with a customer service representative in the newspaper’s Circulation Department:
Circulation: “I see you’ve been a subscriber for a long time. We’d hate to see you go. What if we continued your subscription at the old rate?”
Circulation: “How about if we switch you to Sunday Only for $8.95 a month?”
Subscriber: “You know, your paper has gotten so bad I just don’t think I want to read it anymore.”
Circulation: “Gee, I’m sorry to hear that. What if we kept you at the old rate and threw in another month for free?”
Subscriber: “No, thanks.”
Circulation: “OK then, your subscription will stop at the end of the month.”
Subscriber: “That’s fine, thanks.”
Circulation: “OK. Thanks for reading The Times-Picayune.”
The exchange underscores the company’s desperation to hold on to its dwindling print subscribers, who are needed to preserve the higher rates print advertisers pay over their online counterparts. This is a difficult economic reality newspapers across the country have grappled with as they struggle to finance a print infrastructure in the digital era, as detailed in Hell and High Water.
The Times-Picayune‘s Sunday circulation has tumbled from 145,608 in the third quarter of 2012 to 111, 384 in the same quarter last year, the most recent figures available from industry group Alliance for Audited Media. Weekday circulation has also fallen substantially. In the same quarterly report, NOLA.com reported a combined print and online audience within its “Demographic Market Area” (DMA) of 646,318.
Michigan sister news site MLive announces 29 more layoffs
MLive, the digital arm of Advance’s eight newspapers in Michigan where the company’s digital first experiment began in 2009, also announced additional layoffs this week. Another 29 will lose jobs, “primarily through reducing management roles and jobs related to newspaper production,” MLive Vice President of Content John Hiner was quoted as saying.
Like at NOLA.com, MLive’s problem isn’t website traffic, but declining revenues from its diminished print editions, according to a report by Columbia Journalism Review‘s Anna Clark. In an email to staff, MLive President Dan Gaydou boasted that the site attracts more than 11 million monthly unique visitors, Clark reported. Digital revenue growth has been “steady and healthy,” Gaydou wrote.
Just not healthy enough: Gaydou blamed the latest layoffs on both declining print revenues and “complex analytics” that led MLive to move to “centralized hubs,” Clark reported. That tactic models what Advance Media Southeast is doing with its newly configured print lab and regional printing of The Times-Picayune in Mobile, 145 miles east of New Orleans. In addition, the company closed the printing presses of its Huntsville Times in Alabama a couple of years ago, and now prints that newspaper on the presses of its Birmingham News, 100 miles south.