Historic New Orleans paper suddenly shuts down
In this Thursday, Sept. 27, 2012 file photo, free introductory copies of the Baton Rouge Advocate's new New Orleans edition, right, are seen next to copies of the New Orleans Times-Picayune at Lakeside News in the New Orleans suburb of Metairie, La. The owners of Louisiana's The Advocate newspaper have purchased The Times-Picayune in New Orleans from Advance Local Media. The Advocate announced the purchase on its website Thursday, May 2, 2019. | Gerald Herbert/AP

NEW ORLEANS—The New Orleans Times-Picayune, the Crescent City’s oldest and until recently dominant newspaper, suddenly completely shut down on orders of its new owner. He shut it on World Press Freedom Day, May 3.

The owner, who also owns the Baton Rouge Advocate, called the closure – which left more than 140 people without jobs – “a trophy.” The closure also left some stunned members of the newsroom in tears.

The Times-Picayune became noted for its fearless coverage of New Orleans’ and Louisiana’s often graft-riddled politics and, more recently, for continuing to publish, somehow, when Hurricane Katrina wrecked the city.

It also fearlessly reported on right-wing schemes to use reconstruction of New Orleans to impose their favorite social theories, notably eliminating majority-minority public schools – and firing members of the majority-minority Teachers union, AFT Local 1 – in favor of so-called charter schools.

The paper’s coverage of Katrina and its aftermath won two Pulitzer Prizes, journalism’s highest honor, for the Times-Picayune.

“The bond forged between the newspaper and the community in the aftermath of Katrina, given how the staff had worked so hard to relay information in the midst of that crisis, was incredibly strong,” Rebecca Theim, a former Times-Picayune reporter, told Vice News. She authored a book about how, once the Katrina impact wore off, the paper declined.

None of that mattered to the Advocate’s owner, who had set up a competing New Orleans edition a few years earlier.

It also didn’t matter to the prior owner, Advance Publications, known as one of the newspaper-gobbling hedge funds which make a specialty of swooping in, buying a paper, milking it for profits by laying off staffers and cutting coverage, then selling it.

Even before selling the New Orleans paper to the Advocate, Advance previously fired 200 Times-Picayune workers, and cut the paper’s print edition to three days a week. The other four days were digital.

It mattered, however, to the News Guild, the union that represents a large share of the newspaper industry’s workers, though not those in New Orleans.

“Turbulence in the news business has resulted in massive layoffs. Among the journalists and other staff that remain, many have gone a decade or more without a raise. But CEOs don’t seem to be suffering,” News Guild President Bernie Lunzer tweeted.

The fate of the staffers and the paper also mattered to other News Guild locals nationwide, including in Minneapolis and D.C. Those News Guild locals used the New Orleans closure to reemphasize the Guild’s #SaveLocalNews campaign.

A notable case needing such rescue is the Jersey Journal in Jersey City, N.J. Its hedge fund owner has cut the full-time staff to three reporters and a photographer. Other staffers are part-time or free-lance and the paper isn’t even published in Jersey City anymore.

“What Alden” – the worst of the hedge funds – “is doing is liquidating. They are taking the cash out as quickly as they can and reinvesting in businesses they think have more promise. It may be a very good business strategy but it is not a good newspaper strategy,” News Guild member Darren Carroll tweeted.

“@PhillyNewsGuild employees across the Philly Inquirer haven’t had any contract raise in 11 years, even as the company turned a profit in 2018. Why? Why not support the hardworking employees in your flagship newsroom?” Amy Rosenberg asked in a tweet.

“Democracy depends on journalism. Don’t let hedge funds like Alden Global Capital destroy local and regional newspapers owned by @Gannett. Join the campaign to #SaveLocalNews at http://www.savelocalnews.net. #AldenExposed” the Milwaukee News Guild tweeted.

“Hey, it’s #WorldPressFredomDay,” Denver Post writer Joe Rubino tweeted. “You know what that means. The perpetually perturbed union workers at the Denver Post marched in support of a robust and independent news media!”

The Post workers became known nationwide for a mass unanimous letter to Alden demanding the hedge fund either invest in Colorado’s leading paper, and hire, not fire, staff – or sell it to someone who will.


CONTRIBUTOR

Mark Gruenberg
Mark Gruenberg

Mark Gruenberg is head of the Washington, D.C., bureau of People's World. He is also the editor of Press Associates Inc. (PAI), a union news service in Washington, D.C. that he has headed since 1999. Previously, he worked as Washington correspondent for the Ottaway News Service, as Port Jervis bureau chief for the Middletown, NY Times Herald Record, and as a researcher and writer for Congressional Quarterly. Mark obtained his BA in public policy from the University of Chicago and worked as the University of Chicago correspondent for the Chicago Daily News.

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