Times-Picayune “Digital First” Enforcer Ricky Mathews to Retire from Advance Southeast Media Jan. 1?

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Ricky Mathews, the former Mississippi and Alabama newspaper executive promoted within Advance Publications to oversee the 2012 “digital first” transformation of The Times-Picayune that decimated its newsroom and fueled international outcry, is expected to retire Jan. 1, Mobile, Alabama’s alternative weekly Lagniappe has reported.

Fliers papered some New Orleans neighborhoods and businesses  in 2012 shortly after Ricky Mathews was hired to oversee the “digital first” transformation of The Times-Picayune.

In a long private post on his Facebook page, Mathews said he made the decision to retire at 59, one year earlier than originally planned because of a health scare last year. He was quoted in a 2011 column in the Mobile Press-Register, of which he was then publisher, that his commitment to physical fitness stemmed from the death of his father from a heart attack at the age of 44.

Mathews’ latest position is president of Advance Southeast Media, the corporate entity that oversees the five Advance newspapers and affiliated websites in Alabama, Louisiana and Mississippi. He was promoted to that position less than a year ago.

“It was a wake-up call …” Mathews wrote about his health scare in the Facebook post, of which several former Advance employees confirmed the authenticity to Lagniappe. “I began planning life changes that would ensure I’d continue to enjoy the blessings of the good health I have now and quality time with friends and family in the next phase of my life. I’m wrapping up the loose ends of that transition now and expect to be retired as of Jan. 1.”

Mathews was named publisher of The Times-Picayune in 2012 following the unexpected retirement of longtime publisher Ashton Phelps, Jr., three months before digital first was implemented. Mathews was subjected to withering public criticism and protests after hundreds of reporters, editors, photographers and production and delivery personnel lost their jobs in 2012, and New Orleans became the largest U.S. city without a daily newspaper.

Mathews’ true role in implementing the changes is not really known. He was not spotted when the emotional and highly publicized mass layoffs unfolded at the newspaper’s headquarters and then-five bureaus on June 12, 2012. After some awkward public appearances, unflattering media interviews, and lengthy front page op-eds in which he attempted to explain and justify the harsh changes, he adopted a much lower public profile before accepting the 2016 regional promotion within Advance from which he will retire.

“It’s not like he came in here and decided to do this. This wasn’t his decision,” a longtime Times-Picayune newsroom employee who lost his job in the cutbacks observed at the time, in an interview for Hell and High Water. “What’s that line from [the movie] ‘Apocalypse Now’? ‘You’re an errand boy, sent by grocery clerks, to collect a bill.’ That’s what Ricky Mathews is.”

Mathews tacitly acknowledged those difficult times in his Facebook post. “Looking back, I’m not sure how I came out of the last 15 years alive,” Lagniappe reported from his post. “It’s no secret that those years were among the most tumultuous in the last century of newspaper publishing in general, and in our region in particular. I took on increasing levels of executive oversight and strategic planning responsibilities at precisely the same time our industry began a battle to re-imagine media in a marketplace flooded with new competitors, new technology and new risks.”

Despite the contempt in which he was held in some New Orleans circles, Mathews’ journalism career was not without awards and high-profile community involvement. He was publisher of Biloxi, Mississippi’s Sun-Herald when it shared the 2006 Pulitzer Prize for Public Service with The Times-Picayune for coverage of the devastation and aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. As Lagniappe noted, Mathews also served on a state board that planned post-Katrina reconstruction in Mississippi. After Advance hired him as publisher of the Press-Register and president of Alabama Media Group in 2009, he served on a similar board there following the 2010 Deepwater Horizon drilling rig explosion in the Gulf of Mexico. He counted governors of both Alabama and Mississippi as friends.

Lagniappe quoted Mathews as commenting in his Facebook post that he’ll now probably join some corporate boards where “my talents as a leader and change agent can be put to use.” He did not respond to an email from Lagniappe for comment before its story was published.

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Former Times-Picayune HQ has new owners

The former headquarters of The Times-Picayune and its previously iconic clock tower, have been sold to a group of local real estate investors for $3.5 million, The Advocate and NOLA.com  reported this week.tp-tower-closeup

The Advocate broke the story Sept. 6, followed by NOLA.com a day later.

Local real estate developer Joseph Jaeger Jr.’s 3800 Howard Investors LLC, completed the purchase Sept. 2, The Advocate‘s Richard Thompson reported. Besides Jaeger, the group includes Mardi Gras float builder Barry Kern, president of Mardi Gras World; developer Arnold Kirschman, whose family sold its nearly century-old, New Orleans-area furniture store chain to Florida-based Rooms to Go in 2006; and local businessman Michael White.

Both outlets reported that 3800 Howard Investors has no immediate plans for the building, noting that it saw development potential in the improving neighborhoods and for the nearly 9-acre plot. Jaeger’s primary company, The MCC Group, has bought two other high-profile vacant properties in the past year, but they remain empty and dormant: the 45-story Plaza Tower, also on Howard Avenue, on the edge of downtown, and the shuttered Market Street Power plant on the riverfront. The latter is part of a proposal with the Ernest N. Morial Convention Center to develop a hotel, restaurants, entertainment venues and apartments on 20 acres upriver of the convention center, The Advocate reported.

No word on what 3800 Howard Investors may do with the custom Art Deco panel by Mexican-born artist Enrique Alferez that adorns the building’s front lobby.

NOLA.com reported in late June that the building had been sold, but not to whom. Within days, a crew of workers armed with a crane removed the Times-Picayune lettering that adorned the Clock Tower easily visible from the adjoining Pontchartrain Expressway, and which had become part of the region’s cityscape.

Phin Percy Films of New Orleans posted the following video of the tower stripped of its lettering:

“Times-Picayune” Removed from Iconic Clock Tower

Workers perched atop a massive crane remove the name “Times-Picayune” from the Clock Tower that was for nearly 50 years a widely recognized landmark and architectural symbol of the newspaper.

Times-Picayune alumni across New Orleans today witnessed the removal of “Times-Picayune” from the Clock Tower that made the newspaper a part of the cityscape for almost half a century. The Clock Tower is also the image on the dust jacket of Hell and High Water.

As startling as the photos were, the reality of this didn’t hit until I saw this video by Phin Percy Films of New Orleans on YouTube. I discovered it after publishing this post, but added it in September 2016:

The massive presses that printed hundreds of thousands of copies of the newspaper between 1968 and January 17 of this year were ripped from the building, at 3800 Howard Ave., last month, in preparation for the arrival of a still-undisclosed new owner.

A massive crane looms above the former headquarters of The Times-Picayune to remove the lettering from the iconic Clock Tower.

Some had speculated that the new owners may leave the iconic Clock Tower intact in a nostalgic homage to the 179-year-old newspaper and the role it has played in the region’s history. However, today’s removal of the lettering proved that speculation wrong.

Former longtime employees reminisced on Facebook this afternoon that the Tower also previously carried the name of the States-Item, the Picayune’s now-defunct sister paper, and that the signage rotated, alternately displaying both papers’ names to motorists traveling along the adjacent Pontchartrain Expressway.

The removal of the final vestiges of  “Times-Picayune” came a day after parent company, NOLA Media Group, named a new president. Tim Williamson, founder and CEO of the New Orleans nonprofit Idea Village, will replace outgoing President Ricky Mathews, who is being bumped upstairs by NMG’s owner, Advance Publications. As detailed in the book, Mathews had failed to win over the community since arriving in 2012 to oversee the radical “digital first” transformation of the newspaper.

Those changes led to the termination of more than 200 employees, including almost half of the newsroom, and fueled a national outcry over the dismantling of the newspaper that had so bravely chronicled Hurricane Katrina and her aftermath. Most of the remaining employees and new, generally younger employees subsequently moved in late 2012 and early 2013 to the top two floors of One Canal Place, a downtown skyscraper, where they continue to work.

A skeleton crew of employees continued to work at 3800 Howard Ave. on the print edition of the newspaper until Jan. 17, when the facility was shuttered. Another 100 employees lost their jobs as a result of the closure, and the newspaper is now printed 145 miles away in Mobile, Ala., on the presses of sister paper, the Press-Register. A small outpost of editors and designers now put the print paper together out of The Times-Picayune‘s former East Jefferson Parish bureau in Metairie.

Day after Times-Picayune Clock Tower is featured on national TV show, presses are ripped from newspaper’s former HQ

What a difference a day makes.

The Times-Picayune Clock Tower, which still looms above the newspaper’s now-deserted former headquarters, was a star on last night’s episode of “NCIS: New Orleans.”

Today, parts of the newspaper’s presses were pulled from the building in pieces. The newspaper’s parent company began printing the Picayune on the presses of its sister paper, the Mobile Press-Register, 145 miles away, in January.