The Times-Picayune, New Orleans’ oldest newspaper and whose reporting on Hurricane Katrina won a Pulitzer Prize, has been sold to the owners of rival paper The Advocate along with its nola.com website.
John and Dathel Georges, owners of The Advocate, made the announcement Thursday afternoon, shocking the Times-Picayune newsroom, where journalists learned they would be out of a job in two months’ time.
What followed were tears, hugs and some feelings of frustration, 35-year Times-Picayune reporter Mark Schleifstein told HuffPost Friday over the phone.
The Times-Picayune name will live on as the Georges publish a “seven-day, home-delivered newspaper in New Orleans using the brands and features of both publications,” The Advocate reported. It’s set to debut in June.
The Advocate reported that it plans to expand its New Orleans “news, advertising and circulation staff by hiring from current nola.com and Times-Picayune employees, and will increase its coverage of suburban communities, sports and arts and entertainment, and also improve its opinion pages.”
Because both newspapers are privately held, the sale price was not immediately disclosed.
Local newspapers across the country have continued to fold as they struggle to earn sufficient revenue online, forced to compete with tech giants Facebook and Google. The Columbia Journalism Review has chronicled growing “news deserts” across the U.S. where communities have been left without any local coverage at all. New Orleans has been an exception.
In 2012, the Newhouse family’s Advance Local Media remade the Times-Picayune as a digital-first publication, cutting its print edition down to three days per week for a brief period before resuming daily publication to compete with The Advocate, which had swooped in to cover the New Orleans community daily. Historically, The Advocate was smaller and focused on Baton Rouge.
“New Orleans has never lost its love for a daily newspaper,” John Georges said, per The Advocate. “I want to thank Advance for working with us to ensure a strong print and online news company for years to come.”
Schleifstein said the move was as much “a great business decision” as it was “unfortunate” for the newsroom. The 2012 changes had already whittled the staff down from approximately 260 to “around 70,” he said. Change, however, comes with the territory in the news business.
“I keep reminding people we went through this before in the 60s and 70s when three-newspaper towns became one-newspaper towns,” Schleifstein said.
Times-Picayune staffers shared feelings about the unexpected sale over Twitter.
“Last night, I stood in Pulitzer Hall at Columbia and accepted The Dart Award,” audience editor Haley Correll wrote. “Today, I ugly cried on an airplane as I heard [nola.com] was bought and we’re all losing our jobs in 60 days.”
“Our present staff is world class, talented, professional, hard working,” Schleifstein wrote. “I urge any media looking for quality reporters, photographers, videographers, etc., to consider reaching out.”
Reporter Joan Meiners stressed the vitality of local news coverage: “Sometimes you wake up to news that you should not drink your water without boiling it first. Sometimes that’s the day after your newsroom was sold.” (A water main break prompted city officials to issue a warning not to use tap water early Friday.)
Georges is a Louisiana businessman who ran an unsuccessful gubernatorial campaign in 2007 as an independent. He purchased The Advocate, a 177-year-old publication, in 2013.
The Times-Picayune has published works by a handful of notable authors throughout its 182-year history, including William Faulkner, whose short story “Out of Nazareth” appeared in the paper in 1925. It has also won several Pulitzer prizes in recent decades for environmental reporting and its coverage of Hurricane Katrina in 2005, despite having to evacuate its own offices. The newspaper was often “far more reliable than the very government agencies that were supposed to have answers for the citizens they served,” NPR reported two years after the disaster, noting that it contained vital information on where distraught residents could get food, water, clothes and locate missing relatives.
The Times-Picayune published continuously online and resumed print publication within four days.
“When Katrina hit, the Times-Picayune not only detailed the disaster, it connected us while we were scattered,” attorney Bill Quigley, who had evacuated during the flood, told The Associated Press.
How many staffers will be hired to work at the new paper is unknown.