New News in New Orleans

New News in New Orleans
NPR and other nonprofits are launching a new newsroom in New Orleans to compete against the Times-Picayune
National Public Radio, the University of New Orleans, and a group of business
and community leaders will announce Friday the creation of a nonprofit newsroom
to compete against the city’s for-profit newspaper, the Times-Picayune.

Times-Picayune staffers commiserated when job cutbacks
were announced in June. The newspaper is reducing its print

The planned operation, funded annually by $1 million to $2 million in
memberships, donations and sponsorships, will have a staff of 10 to 20 producing
news for the Web, mobile devices and radio.

The announcement comes two months after the Times-Picayune’s owners, New
York-based Advance Publications Inc., said it would cut staff and reduce print
publication to three days a week this fall, making New Orleans the largest U.S.
city without a daily print newspaper. In June, it announced it was laying off
about 200 people. will be operated by WWNO, a local NPR affiliate owned
by the University of New Orleans, a state university. NPR plans to provide
technical and journalistic expertise for the new operation—part of a broader
national effort by NPR to build up affiliate news operations. WWNO already
switched to a heavier news format Monday.

“What we are seeing play out in New Orleans, with the Times-Picayune, is a
scene we have seen repeated over and over in a lot of communities as newspapers
have fallen on hard times,” said Kinsey Wilson, NPR’s executive vice president
and chief content officer. “[Newspapers’] weakening and sometimes collapse is
leaving communities with a real information deficit. In broad terms, we have
seen this as being an opportunity for public radio to be one of the emerging
players, as the news business is rebuilt.”

Steven Newhouse, chairman of, the digital arm of Advance
Publications, said his company was making its changes to stress digital news
coverage while print declined. He said he welcomed new competitors. “Competition
is great,” he said.

Reporters at the new organization will cover local government, economic
development, education, crime and other civic issues. “We are filling a
reporting gap that the free market will not necessarily fill,” said Michael
Hecht, chief executive of Greater New Orleans Inc., a regional business
development group, who will head fundraising.

Mr. Hecht has been at the forefront of an ad hoc group of community and
business leaders who have been publicly calling for Advance to keep the paper’s
daily schedule or sell to a local buyer. This week, Tom Benson, owner of the New
Orleans Saints football team wrote a letter to Mr. Newhouse asking to buy the
newspaper. Advance executives repeatedly have said they would not sell.

Fundraising efforts will begin in earnest next week, Mr. Hecht said.

The news operation, which plans to be up and running by the end of the year,
is the latest of several responses by local media to the Times-Picayune cuts.
This week, the Advocate in Baton Rouge announced plans to launch a New Orleans

Steve Beatty, managing editor for the local nonprofit watchdog website The
Lens, which is partnering with WWNO to share content, said the Times-Picayune’s
cuts have furious New Orleans residents considering “any alternatives” for local

“There is a lot of venom directed at the Times-Picayune right now,” he said.

The paper’s daily print circulation has fallen sharply in recent years, from
more than a 260,000 in 2005 to 133,500 this March, according to the Audit Bureau
of Circulations.

Advance—which also owns the Condé Nast stable of glossy magazines, such as
Vogue and Vanity Fair—also has reduced print schedules at papers in Michigan and

Write to Cameron McWhirter at

Media Mayor Inc.
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