Take the “New Orleans Saints,” “Times-Picayune” “local ownership” quiz

In the spring of 2012, the New York-based Newhouse family, owner of The Times-Picayune, announced their plans to make New Orleans the largest U.S. city without a daily newspaper. Prominent New Orleanians stepped forward, first pleading with the Newhouses to keep the newspaper a daily publication, and then imploring them to sell it to local owners who would. Tom Benson, owner of the NFL New Orleans Saints and NBA New Orleans Pelicans teams was one who offered to buy the newspaper.

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NOLA.com/Times-Picayune New Orleans Saints reporter Jeff Duncan

Fast-forward three-and-a-half years. In a nearly 1,400-word Page 1 column published Dec. 27, NOLA.com/The Times-Picayune New Orleans Saints reporter Jeff Duncan beseeched Benson to sell both the Saints and the Pelicans, ideally to local owners. “Your teams’ faithful fans deserve better,” Duncan wrote. “And the reality of the situation is this: The best way to ensure the long-term success of the franchises is to sell them.”

Benson wasted no time in responding. In a 667-word response released that evening, he flatly rejected the suggestion that he sell either team, and reiterated his intention to transfer ownership to his wife, Gayle, upon his death.

Benson then took aim at the hypocrisy of The Times-Picayune essentially demanding that a revered New Orleans institution sell in the interest of ensuring stable, local ownership:

“What strikes me the most is the pure irony of The Times Picayune

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Tom and Gayle Benson

imploring me to sell for the benefit of the city. I recall in May 2012, reaching out to the Newhouse family imploring them to sell to me or other local ownership as they threatened to become and then became a part-time newspaper. Since then the newspaper has done nothing but lay off staff and move operations out of town.” – New Orleans Saints and New Orleans Pelicans’ owner Tom Benson

Whether the situation is ironic or hypocritical, it’s certainly amusing. For those who’ve followed the entire saga, read the statements below and guess if they’re from:

  • Duncan’s Dec. 27 column 
  • Letters written in 2012 by Benson and other New Orleans civic leaders imploring the Newhouses to print daily or sell
  • The Newhouses’/NOLA Media Group’s responses
  • Benson’s Dec. 27 response to Duncan’s column:
  1. “Selling is … best for the city … This is bigger than you. It is bigger than your family. It is bigger than all of us.”
  2. “I am not selling … That is not in my makeup.”
  3. “And there are plenty of deep-pocketed, civic-minded local business leaders interested in forming an ownership group.”
  4. “If your family does not believe in the future of this great city,  it is only fair to allow us to find someone who does.”
  5. It is our hope that the owners will respect the voices and desires of the community which has been so loyal …”
  6. It is my belief that New Orleans has the passion and spirit and resilience … Major league cities (and rest assured, we are one), have high-visibility entities such as NBA and NFL teams.
  7. “Selling … is not part of a solution, rather it is detrimental to those goals.”
  8. “It is the greatest gift you can give New Orleans. I sincerely hope you consider selling.”
  9. “The owners have made it very clear that [it’s] not for sale.”

Answers:

  1. Duncan’s Dec. 27 column
  2. Benson’s Dec. 27 response to Duncan’s column
  3. Duncan’s column
  4. July 2012 letter from community leaders to the Newhouse family asking that they sell The Times-Picayune
  5. Duncan’s column
  6. Benson’s May 2012 letter to Steven Newhouse asking that The Times-Picayune remain a daily newspaper
  7. Benson’s response to Duncan’s column
  8. Duncan’s column
  9. NOLA.com/The Times-Picayune statement in 2012
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Advance Publications Cuts Newsroom Staff at All 3 Alabama Newspapers

mobile-press-register-masthead-1200x280Advance Publications gave journalists at the Huntsville Times, Birmingham News and Mobile Press-Register their walking papers today (Aug. 18). The layoffs are expected to be precursors to terminations at The Times-Picayune later this year or in early 2016.

Although the company did not disclose how many were terminated in Alabama, Birmingham’s alternative weekly, Weld, pegged it at 21.

At least eight editorial employees at the Press-Register were let go, including six reporters and two photographers, Lagniappe, Mobile’s alt-weekly, reported.

Employees there had been expecting cuts since it was announced in June that Advance was AL.com The Birmingham News MastHead.jpgconsolidating its Alabama operations, its Mississippi Press and The Times-Picayune into the Southeast Regional Media Group, Lagniappe Co-Publisher/Managing Editor Rob Holbert reported.

The latest layoffs mean at least 20 members of the Press-Register‘s editorial staff have either quit or been fired since January, according to Lagniappe.

Huntsville TimesThe company said it has laid off five to nine full-time journalists each in Birmingham, Mobile and Huntsville, the Birmingham Business Journal reported. These layoffs followed 10 terminations in January statewide.

These cuts are expected to precede ones at NOLA Media Group and The Times-

Front page of the Birmingham News in May 2012 when the layoffs began.

Picayune. The Huffington Post‘s media reporter Michael Calderone reported yesterday (Aug. 17) that anxiety is mounting among Picayune staffers, who also face the 10th anniversary of Hurricane Katrina Aug. 29. The assumption has been that the company will wait until after that commemoration to announce layoffs there, given the central and high-profile role the newspaper’s staff played in heroically chronicling the storm and its aftermath.

News media website Poynter.org published the entire memo issued earlier today by AL.com Vice President Content Michelle Holmes announcing the cutbacks.

Hell and High Water Runner-Up in 2014 National Federation of Press Women Awards

NFPW Award Winner 2014Hell and High Water has been named as 2014’s second-best non-fiction adult title by the National Federation of Press Women.

In the award write-up, judges called out the book’s mastery in recounting an historical event in a compelling way:

“Rebecca Theim tells a difficult story of the death of a beloved newspaper. True to her journalistic roots, she is thorough and balanced, though impassioned. She names names, points out mistakes and kudos, all while telling the story well, making her mastery of the narrative craft evident. The story is fast-moving and so well done, it is a lesson in how to record historical events in a way that captures the imagination and attention of any and all readers. Even if you have nothing to do with New Orleans or the newspaper business, this is well-told story of an important piece of history that you need to read.”

The National Federation of Press Women is an organization of professionals in careers across communications, including print and electronic journalism, public relations, advertising, and digital media. It conducts a national communications contest that attracts entries in 64 categories.

The complete list of winner is available here.

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.”

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.

Capital New York includes Hell and High Water on its “Holiday Media Reads” List

Capital New York’s media columnist Joe Pompeo puts Hell and High Water in VERY good capital-logo– and exclusive – company by including it in its “Holiday Media Reads.”

“Inside the ‘grassroots’ campaign to keep a vaunted daily newspaper afloat,” the article reads. “A deep dive on a good old-fashioned newspaper war by a former reporter going back to her roots.”

The selective five-book list includes tomes on Rupert Murdoch (by NPR’s media reporter David Folkenflik), Fox News’ Roger Ailes, New York sports radio media institution WFAN and Scandal: A Manual, a montage about infamous gossip columnists. You can see the entire list here.

NOLA’s PBS affiliate’s “Informed Sources” takes up my book

"Informed Sources" co-hosts Larry Lorenz (left) and Errol Laborde (right) and I discuss my book.

“Informed Sources” co-hosts Larry Lorenz (left) and Errol Laborde (right) and I discuss my book.

I recorded an appearance on Friday, Oct. 18, immediately before the book’s launch party, on “Informed Sources,” the media and public affairs show produced by New Orleans PBS affiliate WYES-TV.1CanalPlaceShirt The episode aired later that evening.

I sported my custom shirt on the show (image at right) and discussed its origins, a topic also touched on in the book.

You may view the episode by clicking this link. My portion begins at 10:20.