"Katrina Puts End to Lull," it says. That's the Saturday paper. The more famous headline is the following day's "Katrina Takes Aim." But I evacuated Sunday morning and lost that day's paper. You can find pictures of it all over the internet, of course. Here's one I just googled. "Puts end to lull" is a more intriguing headline, though. I think it better captures the upheaval that was on the way. We were all about to be profoundly shaken out of our lull. We may only now have begun to recapture it.
But this isn't really a post about that. This is supposed to be one of those posts where we go back to the scene of an interesting photo from immediate post-K times and look at how it's changed. Here's how we're going to do that.
A few years after Katrina, you might remember there was an event we here at the Yellow Blog called "Crazy Freak Out '08" on account of what we were certain was a traumatized overreaction to the approach of Hurricane Gustav. The Crazy Freak Out ended up being more valid than we anticipated as Gustav did end up setting off an evacuation. The storm didn't destroy the city all over again but it did cause extended power outages all over town as well as angst over a bizarre "tiered" reentry plan.
As it became clear that Gustav would probably be a thing, I got out and took some pictures of the preparations. One thing I made sure to get a shot of was the T-P front page.
I did the same thing a few years later when we went through the drill again with Isaac.
But something else was happening at that time to the Times-Picayune itself. Its parent company Advance Publications was implementing a nationwide "digital first" strategy which, despite the typical corporate buzzwording about being adaptable but "robust," was really all about firing lots of people.
Former T-P staff writer Rebecca Theim wrote a book about it. She recaps some of the story in this article.
In May 2012, New Orleanians and employees of The Times-Picayune learned via The New York Times that a small circle of Picayune senior editors and managers were plotting a dramatic new course for the newspaper. Advance would put the publication at the center of a bold experiment in U.S. journalism: New Orleans would become the largest American city without a daily newspaper. The daily Times-Picayune would be replaced with a three-day-a-week publication and an expanded NOLA.com, the newspaper’s website that was routinely criticized as mediocre. The changes would involve deep staff cuts at an organization that had never instituted an involuntary layoff. Additional savings would result from reduced printing and delivery costs.Since then, Advance has continued its strategy of firing its way to success. Recently we learned that Times-Picayune staff are preparing for yet another round of cuts this fall.
Almost immediately, the community went berserk. A grassroots campaign included dedicated Facebook pages and Twitter accounts with thousands of followers, an online petition that eventually garnered close to 10,000 signatures, 1,500 yard signs supporting a daily newspaper, and public protests. A New Orleans philanthropist recruited a who’s who of city business and civic leaders to lobby against the changes, while the owner of the city’s NFL and NBA franchises publicly pursued acquiring the newspaper.
The specter of Katrina fueled the campaign. As Miller, Roberts, and LaPoe noted in Oil and Water, “… the protest underscored the significance and essence of local news, a relationship solidified by Katrina.”
Despite a valiant community effort, more than 200 employees, including one-half of the newsroom, got their pink slips. Mounting anxiety and uncertainty over future employment then prompted a rash of defections to other media outlets locally and across the country that continued well into the next year. In response, The Times-Picayune rescinded the terminations of at least 10 employees, but “digital first” and its reduced publication schedule went into effect October 1, 2012.
This week I went back to the corner where I'd taken those photos of the T-P paper box before Gustav and Isaac. Katrina was back in the news, of course. But something else was different.
I should mention also that Rebecca Theim will be at Rising Tide X next Saturday talking about the changing face of local media.
Rising Tide X is August 29, 2015 at Xavier University. Check out the rest of the website for details about the extensive program. You can go for free this year but please register here. If you'd like to help defray the cost of production or order swag, there's a separate GoFundMe page here.