If you’re a regular reader, you know a bit about New Orleans, the old, southern seaport where I once lived and that I still love. When my family dwelled in that historic, dreamy place for five years in the 1980s, I had four daily rituals:
• drink strong chicory coffee, preferably accompanied by a Café du Monde beignet fresh out of the deep fryer
• listen to authentic New Orleans jazz or blues live on the street or via WWOZ, the most offbeat and culturally authentic radio station I’ve heard in the nation
• talk with at least one native New Orleanian, just to soak up the inexplicable accents and idioms: “earl” for “oil,” “making groceries” instead of shopping for them, “Where Y’at” instead of “What’s going on”
• and read what was then the 150-year-old — and now the 175-year-old — daily newspaper, the Times-Picayune
It wasn’t the greatest journalistic exemplar, the kind you’d use in journalism class, although in 2005 it won a well-deserved Pulitzer Prize for its heroic coverage of Hurricane Katrina floodwaters that inundated swaths of the city, killing more than 1,800 people.
The “T-P” was, and from the look of its Web site still is, insular and idiosyncratic, stubborn in its defense of local traditions, and blind to much of what happens outside the bayou.
While parts of the world explode or default, it fills its columns with biographies of Carnival captains and princesses, creole recipes, and in-depth analyses of the New Orleans Saints football team.
Recession? Foreign wars? Maybe worth a blurb on page 4. Of more import in “the City that Care Forgot”: The Krewe of Comus is announcing its Mardi Gras parade theme!
The word “myopic” fit the Times-Picayune’s worldview when I was there.
Even today as I write, two of the four “recommended stories” on the newspaper’s Web site concern howls of protest by residents about Coca-Cola ads on the French Quarter’s sidewalks and a citation of rapper Lil Wayne for allowing the grass to grow too high at his gated mansion.
The two other flagged stories describe acts committed by local citizens that I never thought I’d see headlined in a respectable family newspaper.
Still, once one felt the lulling rhythm of the city, the don’t-worry-be-happy ethic, the intoxicating ethos of the sultry Louisiana Gulf Coast, the T-P’s insularity seemed sensible. New Orleans is a world of its own and a world apart. Why shouldn’t its daily paper be as well?
Only the Times-Picayune soon won’t be daily any more.
Its absentee publisher, Advance Publications, a multi-billion dollar media conglomerate owned by the powerful Newhouse family, announced that because of the declining revenue in this digital age from the Times-Picayune’s print editions, it will cut them to three days a week sometime this fall.
If and when that happens, New Orleans will be the largest American city without a daily newspaper.
“The proportion of New Orleanians who read the Times-Picayune is the highest in the nation,” the paper’s John Pope reported. Subscribers and callers to the newsroom are “irate,” he added.
New Orleanians can be a contrary lot. They will happily stand for hours in freezing temperatures to snag cheap beads in a [Carnival] parade, and they will loyally support a less-than-stellar football team for 40 years — and go crazy when that team wins the Super Bowl.
They are just as passionate about the newspaper.
But the cold fact is that while the T-P had a daily circulation of 261,000 in 2005, by this March the reported figure was half that — 132,000. Of course, Katrina, which drove 29 percent of New Orleans’s residents from town — tens of thousands of them for good — had something to do with that.
But for a publisher, the bottom line is the bottom line.
Still, the newspaper’s staff, already reduced several times, was shocked by the decision to eliminate four publishing days a week. And devastated to learn that the publisher will cut 200 newsroom positions — half of the existing jobs — when the change takes place.
Was it symbolic and fateful, if unintentional, that on the day the draconian cutbacks were announced, the newspaper’s front page was dominated by a story about a model of the doomed ocean liner Titanic, bobbing in Lake Pontchartrain on the city’s northern border?
Print advertisements account for more than 86 percent of the $24 billion in ad revenue collected by U.S. newspaper publishers last year. But the New York Times reports that “print revenue is falling so rapidly that the industry is roughly half the size it was as recently as 2007.”
And producing a printed paper also carries significant costs, including expensive presses, warehouses full of newsprint, fleets of delivery trucks and a manufacturing process that hasn’t changed significantly in decades.
While lots of Americans, including me, still love to collect the paper on the front walk, bring it inside, slide it from its wrapper, and read it at great leisure over morning coffee, Carol and dozens of my friends, relatives, and VOA colleagues prefer to sip that coffee at their computers, clicking briefly and selectively on online stories. Time’s always a-wasting in our increasingly busy days.
In many cases they’re not even calling up their local newspapers’ sites. They go straight to the Web sites of cable news networks or nationally renowned papers such as the Washington Post or New York Times.
As Jill K. Willis wrote three years ago in South Carolina Business magazine, the old idea of “appointment journalism” — in which you could count on your audience to pick up your newspaper and read it each morning, turn on your radio station on the way to and from work each rush hour, and catch your TV newscast each evening — is not just dying. It’s dead.
People are receiving news all day via the Internet, radio, i-Pods, cell phones, and other mobile devices. So now, seasoned journalists in newsrooms all over the world are scrambling to adapt to high-tech information dissemination.
Even Caroline Little, the chief executive of the Newspaper Association of America, concedes that cutbacks such as the Times-Picayune’s are inevitable. “I care about print deeply,” she told the Washington Post. “But I also care that 30 or 50 years from now that there will be a way to support good journalism.”
But the macroeconomics of the journalism trade are of minimal concern to the readers of the print editions of the New Orleans Times-Picayune and other papers that are slashing payrolls and publishing schedules. They wonder what will they hold in their hands and read with their morning beignets and coffee.
A Mere Bagatelle
You might be curious about the meaning of the second word in the New Orleans newspaper’s name: “Picayune.” It’s truly a curious choice for a newspaper. It means trifling, piddling, not worth very much. The picayune was a Spanish coin, roughly equivalent to the American nickel or five-cent piece, freely circulated in New Orleans during the late 1700s when Louisiana was a colony of Spain. The paper took its name from that coin. Now the “worthless” meaning of the word has a somewhat ominous ring, given the latest developments.
Serving Up Spam
After every posting, I receive a dozen or more “comments” that are as bogus as a counterfeit bill. Sneaky and well-disguised sometimes, but worthless spam.
Early in my blogging days I was fooled — even briefly flattered — by messages such as this one that are subtle and believable at first glance:
Needed to post you that little bit of note to finally thank you so much the moment again about the exceptional things you’ve contributed above. It’s simply tremendously open-handed of people like you to give easily all that a lot of folks would have marketed as an electronic book to generate some cash on their own, specifically now that you might have done it if you desired. Those basics as well acted as the fantastic way to fully grasp that some people have similar fervor the same as my very own to know significantly more around this matter. I am sure there are several more pleasurable opportunities ahead for individuals that look over your blog post.
Who wouldn’t perk up to read words such as “thank you,” “exceptional,” “fantastic,” and “pleasurable” about his work?
But note that there’s not a single reference to anything specific in my posting.
These bouquets are mass-mailed — I’m talking 10,000 or more messages blasted out into the blogosphere at once, many times a day. Often they’re cyberspace pollution from what our Webmaster calls “dirtbag outfits” on behalf of the makers or promoters of products. Or individuals trying to get noticed.
They want gullible bloggers to post these comments because it gives their sites credit and credibility. How? If enough bloggers post the comments — empty of nourishment though they may be — it catches the eye of search engines, which figure that if legitimate sites are linking to them, they must be credible.
Even more bizarre to me is the daily blitz of “comments” from those with alien agendas. By “alien,” I mean outer space! I get a bunch, for instance, from a site that appears to have a hang-up about pharmacies. Here’s a slice of one:
pharmacy larado texas [town misspelled and url inserted] – sterling cigarettes customer service glass shelves replacement for medicine cabinet walgreens pharmacy bakersfields [url here] – regal cigarettes tax free greenbrier pharmacy medicine woman on equator channel [url] – djarum black tea cigarettes sampoerna palm springs ca jobs in medicine health diaries pharmacy prozac [url] – virginia slims cigarettes specifications tricare pharmacy claims medicine and ketek [url] – cigar cheap vogue cigarettes online blasi of strong medicine sports medicine programs mn [url] – vogue menthol cigarettes order medicines for epilepsy pharmacy pescription [sic] rewards url – where to buy cheap cigarettes online bunyon paypal medical equipment and medicine walgreens pharmacy 4 mile road [url] – white cloud e cigarettes code contribution to medicine bay family medicine old bridge nj [url] – wings by cigarettes on airport b shelter medicine uc davis
This is not sent by some nut job, my Webmaster informs me. It’s computer-generated gibberish, once again designed to get “hits” from unsuspecting bloggers that will raise the sender’s profile with Internet search engines.
Fortunately the sixth button to the right on the page on which I review comments is marked “spam,” and I can zap this detritus in a few seconds.
So keep real electronic cards and letters coming. But be sure they say something specific and substantive about the posting on which you’re commenting, or I’ll be reaching for that sixth button to the right.
Ted's Wild Words
These are a few words from this posting that you may not know. Each time, I'll tell you a little about them and also place them into a cumulative archive of "Ted's Wild Words" in the right-hand column of the home page. Just click on it there, and if there's another word that you'd like me to explain, just ask!
Augur. To portend, or bode, something good or bad. The fact that someone does not return your phone calls, for instance, does not augur well for your relationship.
Beignet. A pastry, pronounced “BEN-yay,” served in New Orleans, Louisiana, and other cities of French origin. It’s a square of dough that’s deep-fried like a donut, then doused in powdered sugar.
Myopic. Near-sighted. The term does not refer to a medical condition alone, but also to one’s tendency to pay attention to things that are close at hand rather than in the world at large.Near-sighted. The term does not refer to a medical condition alone, but also to one’s tendency to pay attention to things that are close at hand rather than in the world at large.