New Orleanians have taken to the streets to protest the decision by the owner of their beloved Times-Picayune to cut back print publication to three days a week starting in the fall.
But the owner, the Newhouse family's Advance Publications, shows no signs of backing down.
While the company acknowledges that some readers are unhappy, it remains convinced that its Web-focused plan is necessary for the Times-Picayune to flourish in the digital era, says Randy Siegel, president of local digital strategy at Advance.
"It's incumbent on us to explain over the next several weeks and months why we're moving the company in this direction," Siegel says. "We feel that many people are not understanding the context of what we're doing, which is building a company that can grow in an increasingly digital age."
And, he says, "Most of the national media coverage has missed the point of what we're doing and why we're doing it."
The company's digital emphasis is not a sign that Advance has given up on the newspaper business, Siegel says. "We're not at all depressed about the future. We're very excited about it."
He adds, "For us, this was a proactive move. This is not a defensive move. It's imperative for our future success as a local news and information company."
The company has to evolve, Siegel says. "We knew that standing still was not an option for us. Not evolving was not going to be a winning strategy. And we've watched very closely in all our markets how our readers and advertisers are using digital products and services to get their news and information. For us, this is not about print versus digital. It's about print and digital, and there's a huge difference."
The company's evolution is aimed at ensuring it has the stability to better serve its communities both in print and online, Siegel says. "We know in order to be successful we have to keep our audiences engaged across all platforms – print, digital, mobile, etc."
When it announced its plan to cut back on print publishing on May 24, the Times-Picayune said it "will significantly increase its online news-gathering efforts 24 hours a day, seven days a week, while offering enhanced printed newspapers on a schedule of three days a week" – Wednesday, Friday and Sunday, which contain more advertising than other editions.
In 2009, Newhouse ended daily publication of its Ann Arbor News, opting instead for a digitally focused news outlet. It publishes a print version twice a week. Earlier this year, the company reduced home delivery at four other dailies in Michigan to three days a week.
Although Advance has no specific plans to reduce print publication at its other papers, Siegel says the company constantly reviews local conditions, "and my guess is there will be variations in the plans that are formulated in each of the Advance markets."