Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Baton Rouge paper is moving into New Orleans to fill the Times-Picayune's hole

With The Times-Picayune refusing to heed the widespread outrage from New Orleanians who aren't ready to lose their beloved daily paper, it seems another newspaper will swoop in to fill the void. The Advocate, which has been Baton Rouge's daily newspaper since 1842, recently announced its plans to expand its coverage into New Orleans.

The Advocate is a storied paper with deep roots in Louisiana and in New Orleans. It operated a fully-staffed New Orleans bureau until budget cuts forced its closure in 2009. Here's hoping that this new venture is not just a "New Orleans Edition" of The Advocate but rather a fully-fleshed out Times-Picayune alternative. Keep in mind that news reporting is very difficult, that it's done by experienced professionals with ties and sources that are developed over many years of trust; here's hoping that The Advocate is able to hire local talent (perhaps former Times-Picayune employees forced out by the paper's shift toward digital media) who can recreate what made the Times-Picayune such a great paper.

Here's also hoping that the Times-Picayune comes to its senses in seeing New Orleans' need for a daily newspaper and can be swayed from its plans to stop printing a daily edition. It's true that newspapers all around the world are shrinking and losing readership, and that papers all around the country will soon be following in the Picayune's footsteps (Birmingham and Mobile's daily papers are reportedly next), and the media landscape is rapidly shifting. But New Orleans is an exceptional case; it has the fourth-highest 'penetration' of American newspapers—that means the percentage of households in a market that subscribe to the newspaper—with 65% of households subscribing in 2011. What's more, the Picayune was still profitable. According to media analyst Jim Romenesko, "The Times-Picayune remains profitable. As recently as the beginning of this year, the paper was still paying bonuses. Staffers got bonuses at the end of 2010 and 2011 as the result of unexpected profitability."

Profitability and penetration aside, however, New Orleans needs a daily newspaper because of its unique circumstances; a large number of its citizens do not have access to the internet, and in the event of another major hurricane that takes the city offline, a print newspaper will be absolutely essential. So kudos to The Advocate for seizing a tremendous opportunity to provide a public service to a city in great need of it.

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