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From AJR,   June/July 2012  issue

New Players for the New Orleans Media Market   

A Web site focusing on local news is poised to launch as the Baton Rouge daily gears up a New Orleans edition. Fri., July 27, 2012.


By Michaelle Bond
Michaelle Bond (mbond@ajr.umd.edu) is an AJR editorial assistant.     

The New Orleans media market is about to get more crowded.

Two months after the city's daily paper, the Times-Picayune, announced it would cut print publication to three days a week and focus on its digital product, it appears that residents will soon have a couple of new avenues to get their news.

Today, the University of New Orleans and its NPR affiliate, WWNO-FM, announced that they will launch NewOrleansReporter.org as a nonprofit news site by the end of the year. Other news organizations will be welcome to use the site's online, mobile and radio content for free.

"This is an exciting opportunity to converge digital, mobile and broadcast together in a multiplatform newsroom for New Orleans," Paul Maassen, WWNO general manager, said in a statement. "We are grateful for the support the community has shown for this initiative."

The announcement did not say how many reporters the new initiative would employ.

The site's beats will include government, the environment, education and criminal justice, according to WWNO. Funding for the site will come from corporate sponsors, community support, foundation funders and other donors.

New Orleanians, loyal to the paper many credit with helping to bring the city back to life after Hurricane Katrina, have been up in arms since the original announcement and have fought back with rallies protesting the cutback, fundraisers for staffers losing their jobs in the new arrangement and demands that the paper be sold.

The launch of NewOrleansReporter.org is not a direct response to the changes at the Times-Picayune, says Adam Norris, director of public relations at the University of New Orleans. It's a response to a thirst in the community for more high quality journalism a thirst that has been evident to WWNO for years, he says.

"We are thrilled to have a hand in what many have said could be a new model for nonprofit journalism," Norris said in a telephone interview.

He adds, "There can never be enough good journalism in the community."

Earlier this week, the Advocate, the daily paper in Baton Rouge, announced that it will print a New Orleans edition, starting when the Times-Picayune stops daily printing in early October. "This has to have significant news in it," Richard Manship, president and CEO of Advocate owner Capital City Press, told his paper. "This is not just an attempt to sell more papers. We will be trying to cover the news in New Orleans."

Baton Rouge, Louisiana's capital, is about 80 miles northwest of New Orleans.

The Advocate will hire reporters for the new edition, although Capital City Press has not disclosed how many. There will be no shortage of local reporters looking for work come fall, since the Times-Picayune has cut its newsroom nearly in half. The Baton Rouge paper shut down its own New Orleans bureau in 2009.

In a June AJR story about city residents rallying together in support of continued daily publication of the Times-Picayune, people who saw an impending news void gave their opinions about what should happen next, since the paper's owners, the Newhouse family's Advance Publications, has said it refuses to sell. .

One Times-Picayune reader told AJR that maybe the community could start its own Web site to give the paper some competition.

Another called the developments an opportunity for someone else to fill the void.

A third reader suggested that the Advocate specifically could be the one to swoop in to help cover the city.

It looks like their predictions and wishes are coming true.

In addition to two new options for news coverage, New Orleanians now have a news network meant to strengthen current coverage. Four news sites investigative site TheLens, pop culture site My Spilt Milk, alternative daily NOLA Defender and hyperlocal news site Uptown Messenger announced this week that they have come together to form the New Orleans Digital News Alliance. Members will promote each other's work.

The group's mission is to "connect independent digital news organizations for the benefit of our readers and to strengthen and promote sustainable, up-to-the-minute online journalism in New Orleans," according to a statement.

Meanwhile, the Times-Picayune has announced that it will print special New Orleans Saints issues after Sunday and Monday games, in response to outrage that the city set to host next year's Super Bowl would not print football coverage the day after games.

Despite Newhouse's repeated assertions that it will not sell the paper, some New Orleanians are not giving up on that option as a possible solution. This week, U.S. Sen. David Vitter, a Louisiana Republican who lives in the New Orleans suburbs, sent a sharply worded letter to Steven Newhouse, chairman of Advance Publications, urging him to do just that. Vitter's letter came after New Orleans Saints and Hornets owner Tom Benson expressed interest in buying the Times-Picayune.