Without a doubt, the Times-Picayune newspaper played a vital role in gathering and dissemination of news and information in Louisiana following Hurricane Katrina. The Pulitzer Prize-winning paper has served the New Orleans community for the past 175 years.
So when the Times-Picayune announced a major scale back of news operations this week, reaction was swift in journalism circles.
Kira Goldenberg, an associate editor for the Columbia Journalism Review, wrote that "depriving a region of a vital public resource-one that, according to Romenesko, remains profitable-seems a shortsighted decision by parent company Newhouse."
Managing editor of Poynter.org, Steve Myers, wrote: "This would make New Orleans the largest U.S. city without a daily newspaper. The Times Picayune, with a circulation of about 155,000 on Sundays and 134,000 weekdays, would be the largest paper in the U.S. to shift to non-daily publication."
The paper will lay off staff (no figures offered yet), and decrease publication from seven to three days a week, according to a statement on its website, which attributed the changes to the "revolutionary upheaval in the newspaper industry." Across the country newspapers are searching for alternative economic models in response to decreases in print advertising dollars and other factors.
Poynter.org reports that the Times-Picayune's parent company, Advance Publications, also will cut back on daily publication at its three Alabama newspapers --The Birmingham News, The Huntsville Times and the Press-Register of Mobile. Both the Louisiana and Alabama papers will step up their digital news operations, according to statements on their websites.
Effects of these changes continue to be debated, as the reaction of writer/producer David Simon demonstrates in a report on Poynter.org.
John McQuaid, former reporter for the Time-Picayune, contends in a first-person piece that the paper's parent company "has yet to provide a clear sense it's committed to making a systematic move to the online news ecosystem, or that it "gets" digital news at all beyond the crude basics: more blogging, tweeting, video and mobile."
Ironically, though, the importance of these discussions is underscored by another announcement this week.
A study released by the Educational Testing Service (ETS) shows a correlation between weak civics knowledge, and low voter and civic engagement among segments of the U.S. population. The report notes that nearly "three-quarters of 55-to 74-year-olds voted in the most recent presidential election, compared to less than half of 18-to24 year olds."
In a statement released by ETS, study co-author Richard Coley described civics knowledge as the "cornerstone of a strong democracy."
During the worse days of the Katrina aftermath, the Times-Picayune marshaled its forces to shine light on public affairs issues, thereby adding to the body of civics knowledge and engagement.
What are your thoughts about these changes at the Times-Picayune and also about this transformational age of journalism?