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From AJR,   June/July 2012  issue

Newhouse Flunks the Test in New Orleans   

Its Web site buries the blow-by-blow of major layoffs at the Times-Picayune while showcasing a feel-good video from the paperís editor. Tues., June 12, 2012.


By Rem Rieder
Rem Rieder (rrieder@ajr.umd.edu) is AJR's editor and senior vice president.      

To minimize the damage to New Orleans of Newhouse's plan to convert the Times-Picayune into a three times a week newspaper, it's critical that the company's NOLA.com be a robust, highly informative Web site, shining a bright light on the important news of the day.

The way it treated today's bloodletting at the paper was not encouraging.

At 3:15 p.m., the third most prominent news item on the site was a video in which Times-Picayune Editor Jim Amoss discussed the company's plans for the future. There wasn't any news there. Amoss simply revisited the May 24 announcement that the Newhouse operation would become digital-first, reducing the print publication schedule and cutting the staff.

He did so in a very reassuring manner, accentuating the positive, such as it is.

But what about all of the layoffs that were being carried out today inside Times-Picayune headquarters?† That's what New Orleanians wanted to read about. How sharp were the cuts? Who were the casualties?†

This is a city with a particularly close relationship to its newspaper, as the paper's impressive penetration numbers and the protests that have greeted the new Times-Pic† game plan make eminently clear. Surely, if the company felt the need to once again justify its new approach way above the digital fold, the report on actual news from the front would come next, right?

Nope.

Batting fourth: "Man fatally shot in Gentilly Monday is identified." Then came the news that Ann Rutherford, who played Scarlett O'Hara's sister in "Gone with the Wind," had died at 94, followed by the latest on the Eric Holder and Jerry Sandusky sagas;† "'American Idol' sets New Orleans auditions for July 17;† "Federal judge seeks records related to Danziger Bridge leaks probe."

Well, we're getting pretty low, but surely now the latest on the cuts?

Not so fast.

Next, a couple of side-by-side ads, one a house ad, and to the right the ever-popular photo of the day, a PG shot of the World Naked Bike Ride.

Next up: "Firefighters report progress on Colorado, New Mexico wildfires."

Really?

Finally, the 11th top story on NOLA.com: "Times-Picayune lays off nearly one-third of its staff."

Among the casualties: award-winning restaurant critic Brett Anderson, in a town that worships its food as much as it worships its music. Others going away include Managing Editors Peter Kovacs and Dan Shea, sports columnist Peter Finney and religion writer Bruce Nolan. †

One of the true tests of any news organizations is how well it covers itself. It's a test many frequently flunk. But here was a golden opportunity for the embattled Times-Picayune to step up, to emphasize its commitment to transparency by giving prominent treatment to an uncomfortable story.

Instead, it pushed it well down the homepage.