New Orleans Saints season is over, so is Picayune a 3-day-a-week, home-delivered newspaper again?

When NOLA Media Group in August announced it was reviving the Saturday and Monday printed, home-delivered editions of The Times-Picayune, it acknowledged that the move was driven by and would be in conjunction with the New Orleans Saints’ NFL football season. That left only Tuesdays and Thursdays without a home-delivered Times-Picayune.

Now that the 2014 Saints season is over, will The T-P again become a three-day-a-week (Sundays, Wednesdays and Fridays), home-delivered newspaper?

And this T-P/Saints ruminating prompted me to wonder whatever happened to the Black & Gold post-Saints game weekly tabloid NOLA Media Group announced in July 2012? Both a Google search and one of NOLA.com turned up only the original report announcing the publication’s Oct. 1 launch. Was it replaced by TP Street?

Times-Picayune to abandon Howard Avenue HQ, eliminate 100 more jobs

As predicted in Hell and High Water (page 190), NOLA Media Group today announced that The Times-Picayune will abandon its longtime Howard Avenue headquarters – including the iconic clock tower, a photo of which is featured on the dust jacket of the book – and begin printing the newspaper at the Mobile, Alabama, operations of its sister newspaper 145 miles away.

The last of the employees who create the print edition of The Times-Picayune will move from 3800 Howard Ave., the newspaper's home for 44 years, in late 2015 or early 2016.

The last of the employees who create the print edition of The Times-Picayune will move from 3800 Howard Ave., the newspaper’s home for 44 years, in late 2015 or early 2016.

The move, expected in late 2015 or early 2016, will lead to the elimination of another 100 employees, NOLA.com reported.

The paper will be printed at the facility that now prints sister newspaper The Press-Register, which, like The Times-Picayune, became a three-day-a-week newspaper in October 2012, and shed hundreds of jobs.

It will be the latest newspaper owned by Advance Publications, which began rolling out its “digital first” strategy at its smaller Michigan newspapers in 2009, to jettison its legacy, company-owned headquarters in favor of newer, glitzier leased office space, as noted in sister blog dashTHIRTYdash.org in January 2013.

The company will consider donating the facility to a non-profit, according to the NOLA.com report.

Layoffs associated with the move will be the largest since the newspaper’s massive reduction in 2012, Louisiana competitor The Advocate reported, with job terminations primarily affecting those who print, assemble and package the print newspaper. The roughly 30 employees who have continued to work at 3800 Howard Ave. copy-editing and laying out the paper will move to The Times-Picayune’s former office in Metairie, which was essentially shuttered after the company shifted to “digital first” in the fall of 2012.

“They wanted a ‘burn the boats’ strategy, where you come to the new world and you don’t want to have the temptation to sail back.” – Loyola University instructor Michael Giusti to The Advocate

NOLA.com quoted NMG President Ricky Mathews as saying the decision to stop printing in New Orleans would not alter the paper’s commitment to the region. “We expect these changes will have no impact on our readers and advertisers,” Mathews said in the NOLA.com report. “On the contrary, they will help us even better serve our audience in print and online and pursue new technologies.”

The Times-Picayune and its sister publication, The States-Item, moved from downtown New Orleans to Howard Avenue in 1968, six years after the company’s 1962 acquisition by Advance Publications, the New York- based company owned by the billionaire Newhouse family. The building housed the the main newsroom, printing presses, packaging facilities and business offices for 44 years, until 2012, when “digital first” led to the termination of more than 200 employees, including almost half of the newsroom. Most of the remaining employees subsequently moved to the top two floors of One Canal Place, a downtown skyscraper, where they continue to work.

The Advocate reported that leaving Howard Avenue also likely has a significant psychological goal for NMG and Advance, according to Loyola University instructor Michael Giusti. “They wanted a ‘burn the boats’ strategy, where you come to the new world and you don’t want to have the temptation to sail back,” he told The Advocate.

NMG Scraps TPStreet tabloid less than 13 months after launching it

Less than 13 months after launching TPStreet, NOLA Media Group scrapped the three-day-a-week newsstand-only tabloid, instead restoring home-delivered publication of the broadsheet Times-Picayune on two of the four days a week it was eliminated in 2012.

Originally set to replace The Times-Picayune on Mondays, Tuesdays and Thursdays, TPStreet was scrapped effective Sept. 6 as the company partially backtracked and restored home-delivered, daily publication of the broadsheet on Saturdays and Mondays – but only through the end of the New Orleans Saints’ season, which not coincidentally also coincides with high-shopping – aka high-advertising – season. That brings to five days a week – all but Tuesdays and Thursdays – that the newspaper is home-delivered to subscribers, at least while the Saints are playing. “We’re delighted to give our readers this expanded offering of printed newspapers and online content and to help our advertisers reach their best customers,” according to an Aug. 1 announcement published to NOLA.com.There will also be home-delivered papers on Thanksgiving and Christmas Day.

Vice President of Content Jim Amoss told the Nieman Lab that “reader demand” – and primarily reader demand of Saints and LSU football coverage – drove the decision to revive Saturday’s and Monday’s newspapers:

“My take on it was that it was based on reader demand and that advertisers would welcome it, especially on Saturday … I think the impetus was readers telling us in no uncertain terms that they would really like to especially read about Saints and LSU coverage and have it home delivered to their doorsteps on days after games.” – NOLA Media Group VP of Content Jim Amoss

Amoss has consistently denied that NOLA Media Group’s almost constant adjustments to its publishing schedule has been in response to the challenge from The Advocate, which re-launched a daily New Orleans edition in conjunction with the Picayune’s Oct. 1, 2012, original cutbacks. Most recently, Amoss told Nieman Lab that NOLA Media Group “is primarily focused on ‘digital competition’ — from local TV station websites and other local and national online outlets.”

Pulitzer Prize-winning editorial cartoonist Mike Luckovich has done a series of cartoons for New Orleans magazine lampooning the changes at his former employer.

New Orleans magazine Editor and Chief Errol Laborde, a consistent critic of NOLA Media Group’s cutbacks, noted “the economic force of football, not only driving audiences to the news media but as a backdrop for holiday advertising. Many towns, New Orleans high among them, fill hotels during the slow weeks of Christmas by hosting bowl games. We suppose there’s something comforting about nations where games rather than wars are more pivotal to our everyday lives.”

Laborde went on to note, “Two years ago, we wished that The Times-Picayune would return as a daily. Now, with The Advocate in place, The T-P’s move to less frequency might be the better alternative. It could be that a town with a daily and a less-frequent alternative might be the way to go. Each could serve the city from its own perspective.

“Two years ago, it seemed like the city was going backwards with its newspaper coverage. Now it just may be leading the way.”

Reporter fired by Mobile alt bi-weekly and quickly hired by AL.com ain’t dere no mo’

Former Lagniappe and Alabama Media Group reporter Katie Nichols

(UPDATED 3/13/14 with underlined information below.)

In chronicling what may be the Gulf South’s version of Jayson Blair or Stephen Glass, Rob Holbert, co-publisher and managing editor of Mobile’s alternative weekly Lagniappe, details in this March 5 commentary why the publication fired reporter Katie Nichols, including apparently fabricated diplomas from the University of South Alabama and the University of Alabama, and fabricated sources in some of her Lagniappe reports. Lagniappe‘s investigation also uncovered that Nichols had lied to at least two other publications where she had worked about her academic credentials and had been caught in an instance of flagrant plagiarism at one of those outlets.

Two weeks after getting the boot at Lagniappe Jan. 31, Nichols’ work began Lagniappe-Mobile_Logoappearing on the Mobile section of AL.com, the online home of Advance Publications’ three Alabama newspapers, where she was listed as a general assignment reporter. (Like their Advance sister paper in New Orleans, The Times-Picayune, Advance’s three formerly Alabama dailies went thrice-weekly Oct. 1, 2012, after decimating their staffs.)

However, Nichols’ profile on AL.com now lists her as a “former” reporter, and the last of her 29 reports on the site was posted at 8:03 PM March 4, the day before Lagniappe posted Holbert’s report about her serious transgressions during at least some of her two-year tenure with that publication. (UPDATE, 3/13/14, 8:56 AM CDT: Alabama communications consultant Wade Kwon noted that in a March 7 post on his popular media blog, Jim Romenesko reported that AL.com Content Vice President commented that, “Katie Nichols was employed by Alabama Media Group for three weeks. She is no longer with the company.”)

Lagniappe Co-Publisher and Managing Editor Rob Holbert

Lagniappe Co-Publisher and Managing Editor Rob Holbert

Holbert is somewhat of a folk hero in Hell and High Water, which detailed his consistent and colorful criticisms of the Press-Register, AL.com, and Ricky Mathews, the former P-R publisher and AL.com president. (Mathews is now publisher of The Times-Picayune and president of NOLA Media Group).

It would be logical to wonder how someone guilty of such egregious journalistic sins could land a job at a community’s oldest news organization two weeks after being fired by a fierce competitor. However, the antipathy between the two news outlets makes it understandable why they probably didn’t share references before, or information after, employing Nichols.

CJR.org looks at The Cleveland Plain Dealer since “digital first”

The Columbia Journalism Review keeps the heat on Advance Publications, with another hard-hitting look at another Advance newspapers to undergo “digital first.” From the opening of the story:

“As a major reorganization of the Guild-represented Cleveland Plain Dealer takes shape, veteran reporters are adjusting to ‘backpack journalism,’ the division of staff into two companies, a looming move to a new office, and demands to post stories more quickly. At the same time, they are memorializing their old newsroom in striking images that are circulating on social media and in email chains. The accompanying photo was sent to CJR by a former Plain Dealer employee with the subject line, “This used to be a newsroom.”

The devastating photo, however, no longer accompanies the article. According to reader comments to the story, P-D Photo Editor Jon Fobes said it’s his shot and that he demanded that CJR remove it from the story, which the magazine did. You can, however, still see it on this page of the Newspaper Guild, Communications Workers of America website. That is until the photo is deleted once Fobes also complains to the union. After all, Advance probably hates unions even more than it hates CJR these days. And Fobes needs to hang on to his job.

Read the entire CJR report here.

Amid fears of “digital first” cuts, union protests five-year wage freeze at Advance Publications’ Jersey Journal

cigar-smoking-inflated-pig-jersey-journal

An inflated, cigar-smoking pig – clearly directed at Advance Publications’ billionaire Newhouse family – outside of the Advance-owned Jersey Journal in advance of a scheduled union protest this afternoon. Photo via http://www.politico.com/media/story/2014/01/protest-at-jersey-journals-new-offices-001501

Unionized employees of the 146-year-old Advance Publications-owned Jersey Journal across the Hudson River from Manhattan, demonstrated outside its just-opened new offices in Secaucus, N.J., this afternoon, protesting a five-year wage freeze.

“We’re not blind to the issues facing the publishing industry, the newspaper industry,” Bill O’Meara, president, New York Newspaper Guild, local 31003, said from his Manhattan office after the rally. “We understand the pressures they’re under, but these people aren’t being reasonable. Not any kind of raise in five years is just crazy. It’s time to do right by them.” Local 31003 represents the Jersey Journal newsroom and nearly 3,000 additional newspaper employees, including those at The New York Times.

Capital New York’s media reporter Joe Pompeo  reported that a PR firm representing the union released a statement saying that Advance/Jersey Journal “executives are refusing to bargain over reasonable wage increases” even as “the newsstand price of the paper has increased 100% and the paper’s headquarters was sold for $2.8 million.”

Reports on the companion website of Advance’s 10 New Jersey newspapers, NJ.com, announced the opening of the new office, but did not mention the planned protest. Neither report disclosed what the company paid for the new facility. The new offices replaced the newspaper’s historic headquarters in neighboring Jersey City that gave the “Journal Square” neighborhood its name.

The Newspaper Guild represents just eight of the Journal’s roughly 100 staffers, Capital  reported. About two-dozen of those employees work in the newsroom. The guild’s contract has been in dispute for a year, according to the alt-weekly. Capital quoted a unnamed reporter saying that starting newsroom salaries are less than $50,000 annually, not much in hyper-expensive metro New York.

Jim Romenesko, who beat Capital with the story of the protest by about an hour, reported on his blog that the guild has asked for a four-year contract with 3 percent annual raises, but the Journal’s publisher has rejected all proposals including wage increases.

Advance exec Richard Diamond, to whom Journal Publisher Kenneth Whitfield directed Pompeo’s call, did not respond for comment, although he was apparently in the newspaper’s new building at the time. Whitfield did not respond to Romenesko.

Capital has reported that employees of the company’s New Jersey newspapers, led by Advance’s flagship Newark Star-Ledger, are on edge, fearing the company plans to roll out “digital first” in the Garden State, as it has at 16 of its newspapers from Portland, Ore., to Mobile, Ala. Research I did for my book indicated that Advance has eliminated more than 1,600 jobs since launching digital first in Michigan in 2009.

Newspapers that have sustained deep staff reductions include eight dailies in Michigan, led by the Grand Rapids Herald- Review; The Times-Picayune of New Orleans; three newspapers in Alabama (The Huntsville Times, The Birmingham News and the Mobile Press Register); the Harrisburg, Pa., Patriot-News; The Post-Herald of Syracuse, N.Y.; the Cleveland Plain-Dealer; and The Oregonian of Portland.)

The protest comes less than two weeks after eight laid-off employees at The Times-Picayune filed suit against the newspaper and Advance, alleging their layoffs in October 2012 violated federal age discrimination laws and the company’s once-revered job security Pledge. Read more about The Pledge and the lawsuits by clicking here and here.

Is year-end assessment by NOLA Media Group prez a preemptive strike ahead of USA Today report?

ToOurReaders_RickyMathewsHEADLINE2013Dec22

1/6/2014, 2:50 PM CST: Information about the disappearing NOLA.com blog post about the click bait AntHillArt.com’s affect on NOLA.com’s traffic below in red and underline..

12/24/13 5:59 PM CST: Additional information via a sharp-eyed insider below in red and underline.

12/23/13, 12:37 CST: Clarification to the original post added below in red and underlined type.

As USA Today media reporter Roger J. Yu concluded a reporting trip to New Orleans for an upcoming article about the extraordinary newspaper war now raging there, NOLA Media Group President and Times-Picayune Publisher Ricky Mathews Sunday published a year-end recap to readers.

The timing of Mathews’ missive, vis–à–vis Yu’s visit, is suggestive of the preemptive strike

NOLA Media Group President and Times-Picayune Publisher Ricky Mathews

NOLA Media Group President and Times-Picayune Publisher Ricky Mathews

NMG Vice President of Content and Times-Picayune Editor Jim Amoss penned almost exactly one year ago. Amoss’ commentary came a day before a long-anticipated “60 Minutes” segment aired about the poorly executed transformation of the then-175-year-old, Pulitzer Prize-winning newspaper into a “digital first” enterprise.)

Despite NMG’s fierce focus for the past year-and-a-half on NOLA.com, Mathews’ commentary was not available on the website, but only via the printed newspaper and the e-edition. (A PDF of it, downloaded from the e-edition, can be accessed by clicking this link: ToOurReaders_RickyMathews2013Dec22.) (CLARIFICATION, 12/23/13: Although it didn’t appear on NOLA.com, Mathews’ letter can be found at NOLA Media Group’s corporate site at http://www.nolamediagroup.com/about/, and on page A14 of the newspaper’s Dec. 22 print edition.)

Clocking in at 844 words (about half the length of a banner, front-page commentary directed at readers shortly after he assumed the top spot in the summer of 2012), Mathew opened his latest dispatch with a glowing account of what was at stake when digital first began, and what has been accomplished:

A little more than a year ago, we stepped boldly into the rapidly changing digital world. Our future as a viable news entity was at stake. We launched a new approach to delivering news and connecting our readers with our advertisers.

 

As we approach the end of the first year of operation in our new world, we are well on our way toward assuring our long-term ability to provide vital news and world-class advertising solutions to the communities we proudly serve.

Mathews full-page letter detailed major editorial projects undertaken by NMG in the past year, including wall-to-wall coverage of the 2013 Super Bowl (held at the Louisiana Superdome) and all of the fun and frivolity surrounding it; breaking news coverage of a horrific Mother’s Day shooting in New Orleans; and an investigative series with TV partner WVUE for which an online, reader-accessible database of campaign contributions was created.

He went on to say that home delivery of the newspaper “has grown for four (soon to be five) consecutive months, and we are reaching more than 500,000 readers in print each week.” (For the six months ending Sept. 30, the most recent report the newspaper filed with industry auditing group Alliance for Audited Media, The Times-Picayune reported an average print circulation of 130,881 on Sundays, 115,499 on Wednesdays, and 115,877 on Fridays, the three days of the week it now publishes. That totals to 362,257 for the average week during that period.)

Mathews reported that NOLA.com’s website audience grew to more than 4.5 million unique users a month, with more than 2 million accessing the site or its apps through smart phones and tablets. (NMG had 2.6 million unique users during the month of September – again the most recent numbers available – according to the latest AAM report the company filed. ADDITIONAL INFO: Nationally recognized web analytics company Quantcast, reported the NOLA had the following unique users Nov. 23-Dec. 22. Although Mathews did not specify a time frame for his figure, the latest Quantcast number of 5.9 million is significantly higher than Mathews’ stat:

TOTAL Web

5,853,704

Mobile

2,887,086

Online

2,966,618

Source: Quantcast

ADDITIONAL INFO #2, 12/24/13: A sharp-eyed reader alerted me that NOLA.com’s past unique visitor figures cited above via Quantcast were anomalously inflated by an aggregated video  courtesy of a site called AntHillArt.com. NOLA.com acknowledged the click-bait generated 1.3 million page views in 30 hours, “which at least Ricky Mathews was honest enough not to claim” in the stats he cited in his reader letter, my tipster noted. According to Quantcast, NOLA.com attracted 3.7 million unique visitors and 22 million page views during the month of November, the most-recent full calendar month for which statistics are available.

Additional INFO #3, 1/6/14: Sometime after my 12/24/13 update (above) went live, the link on the NOLA.com blog post acknowledging the AnHillArt.com click bait was disabled. (It apparently was on a publicly available section of the site, but intended primarily for internal audiences.) You can read a screen grab of the original post by clicking here.

Mathews also reported that NMG’s newly beefed-up offerings in Baton Rouge – including a substantially larger staff there, the ability for NOLA.com readers to specifically choose to view news from that community, and a weekly entertainment tab named BR – has resulted in a 40% larger audience in the state capital in the past year.

NMG’s online offerings have been the target of criticism and derision, but Mathews reports they’ve improved considerably:

We have made dramatic improvements to the digital experience for our readers across all platforms, with new photo galleries and improved video players; responsive design that allows easy reading whether on tablet, desktop or phone; and state-of-the-art commenting systems that allow for real-time conversations among our writers and readers.

Mathews also boasts of employing more than 1,000 employees and independent contractors through NOLA Media Group and Advance Central Services Louisiana, the two companies corporate owner Advance Publications formed when “digital first” was implemented. (NOLA Media Group is the online newsgathering arm, while ACS oversees everything related to the printing and distribution of the newspaper, along with HR. the print edition and its support services, including printing and delivery.) The newspaper’s total full-time employee (e.g., those receiving full-time wages and benefits) headcount dropped 30% after “digital first,” and a number of undisclosed independent contractor newspaper carriers also lost their routes. The newsroom has made some hires since the transformation, but the organization now employs more freelancers and stringers on a contractual basis since the changes, so it’s unclear exactly what portion of that 1,000 are full-time employees. Based on figures I compiled for my book and those disclosed by NOLA Media Group, full-time employees with benefits probably now total between 550 and 600.

ToOurReaders_RickyMathews2013Dec22_IMAGE

Imagery that accompanied Ricky Mathews’ Dec. 22, 2013 letter “To Our Readers”

Seven former T-P employees laid off in “digital first” sue newspaper, parent company

age_discrimination_cartoonSeven former T-P employees who were among the more than 200 who lost their jobs in 2012 because of the radical “digital first” restructuring Advance Publications undertook at the newspaper and more than a dozen others it owns across the country, filed suit this week against the companies. The suits allege age discrimination and illegal employment practices. They were filed in Orleans Parish District Court.NOLADefender_Logo

You may read my story about the suit, published by NOLA Defender, at this link.

A year after “digital first” in NOLA and Alabama, deciphering Advance’s circulation figures

NOTE: Corrections below in underline and strike-through, making the distinction between digital non-replicas (smart phone and tablet apps) and digital replicas (PDFs).

The semi-annual figures compiled by industry group Alliance for Audited Media (previously the Audit Bureau of Circulations) were released today, for the six months ending Sept. 30, 2013, representing average circulation numbers. This represents the first full year of comparative numbers since “digital first” was implemented Oct. 1, 2012 at The Times-Picayune and Advance Publications’ Alabama newspapers – and the first full year of numbers since The Advocate launched its New Orleans edition.

As newspaper analyst Alan Mutter reported on his blog earlier this evening, the way newspapers now report their numbers (changes the AAM has sanctioned) make it nearly impossible to make historical, across-the-board comparisons. But some can be accurately made, and the way the numbers are now reported are insightful in their own way.

For example, the Picayune‘s Sunday print circulation has fallen another 10% year over year (from 145,608 in September 2012 to 130,881 in September 2013), but the newspaper is claiming a total average circulation that’s up about 12% – to 163,530 They accomplish this by counting smart phone and tablet apps PDF versions of the newspaper (referred to as “digital replicas” or “digital non-replicas” in industry parlance), which are available for free via the newspaper’s website (although that free availability is not widely promoted). The AAM report, however, doesn’t note that last year’s figure (listed on the Sept. 30, 2013 report for comparison purposes) is print-only, without any digital editions included.

Meanwhile, The Advocate reports flat to slightly increasing print circulation figures year-over-year (depending on the day of the week), but more substantive increases when “digital non-replica” circulation is included.

New Orleans Magazine’s Errol Laborde weighs in again on the book

ErrolLaborde_Headshot

New Orleans Magazine Associate Publisher and Editor Errol Laborde

New Orleans Magazine Associate Publisher and Editor Errol Laborde has been generous with his time (while I was writing the book), valuable real estate (in the pages of the magazine) and with his praise (first, a few weeks ago, on “Informed Sources,” the public television show he produces on New Orleans’ WYES-TV, and now on the magazine’s blog).

Sometimes a person is just having a routine day at the office, going through the usual motions, perhaps thinking of what to get for supper, and then BAM! something happens that suddenly bounces a life in a new direction.

That happened last year to Rebecca Theim a former reporter for The Times-Picayune (1988- ’94) who has most recently been living and working in Las Vegas. When she heard about The T-P being reduced to thrice weekly and about the accompanying layoffs, she was outraged. Being separated by distance she could have easily been justified for doing nothing, instead she got into action. She founded a group that raised money to divide among the terminated employees. She also uncorked her reporting skills and began following the story as a journalist.

One day when media historians study what the Newhouses did to journalism, Theim (pronounced “theme”) will be an important source, perhaps the most important. Now we are seeing the results of her work … The publication is an excellent, at times riveting, bit of reporting put together in an amazingly short time.

– Errol Laborde’s Oct. 7 column on MyNewOrleans.com, the blog of New Orleans Magazine

You may read the rest of Errol’s column by clicking here.