DAVID GREENE, HOST:
The news about daily news in the Deep South is not good. Hundreds of reporters are being laid off at four newspapers - the Birmingham News, The Huntsville Times, the Mobile Press Register in Alabama; and the Times-Picayune in New Orleans.
Newhouse, which owns the papers, also announced the newspapers will cease daily publication, and shift to an online focus. NPR's Debbie Elliott reports that change has sparked public outrage in New Orleans.
DEBBIE ELLIOTT, BYLINE: What happens when a media company wants to take away your daily newspaper? In New Orleans, you take to the streets.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "DO THE TIMES PICAYUNE")
KERMIT RUFFINS: (Singing) Times-Picayune. Times-Picayune. Do the Times-Picayune.
ELLIOTT: Bandleader Kermit Ruffins is among the high-profile musicians who headlined a recent rally to preserve daily publication.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "DO THE TIMES PICAYUNE")
RUFFINS: (Singing) ...Times Picayune, all week long.
ELLIOTT: It's part of a campaign launched by New Orleans' most prominent citizens and powerful leaders, who have rallied behind the Times-Picayune - a 175-year-old cultural institution, in a city that gives high credence to tradition.
LAMBERT BOISSIERE: It's a morning ritual.
ELLIOTT: Constable Lambert Boissiere is a former city councilman and state senator.
BOISSIERE: You know, you get the paper, get your cup of coffee, have a little breakfast - or whatever - and you're paging through, reading articles you want to read. Then you had the conversations at lunch about what you read in the paper. You know, so that's going to be gone. I can't imagine myself, and a lot of my friends, sitting in front of the computer every morning to go through the different sections of the paper, to read the articles. I don't' see that happening.
ELLIOTT: More than a third of New Orleans residents don't have Internet access, raising questions about how poorer and older citizens will keep up with news, or even the local obituaries. Rituals aside, Boissiere says, the timing is terrible.
BOISSIERE: We finally cleaned up our act since Katrina. We got business coming back. Our athletics things with the Hornets and the Saints - we got a Super Bowl, we had Final Four, everything. We're getting to be a big city again. And then to lose a daily paper, I think it's a bad signal for, you know - affecting the growth of the city.
ELLIOTT: And that's what concerns civic leaders, who have banded together to put pressure on the Newhouse Company to rethink their plan. New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu says the city's reputation is at stake.
MAYOR MITCH LANDRIEU: You know, if you go from seven days to three days, you look like a minor league city.
JIM AMOSS: I fully grasp the grief over what people think will no longer be there.
ELLIOTT: Times-Picayune editor, and native New Orleanian, Jim Amoss. He says the organization will continue to do justice by the community.
AMOSS: And I know these are just words, at this point. Our intention is to preserve the news report, investigative journalism, our chasing after corruption in Louisiana.
ELLIOTT: Amoss says economic upheaval in the news industry is something that every regional newspaper must confront.
AMOSS: The one way we've chosen not to come to terms with it, is by simply atrophying; by watching our print ad revenue, which is still strong, erode year by year - as it will, and as it has; and by having to chop off, limb after limb, of our news-gathering strength, without having any strategy going forward.
ELLIOTT: But if this week's layoffs are any indication - 200 in New Orleans, and 400 in Alabama - more than a few limbs have been amputated.
JOHN MCCUSKER: My name is John McCusker, and I've been a staff photographer at the Times-Picayune since 1986.
ELLIOTT: McCusker lost his job in the restructuring. I spoke with him outside a local bar, where laid-off workers met to commiserate.
MCCUSKER: The main thing is, I'm sad for this city. You take away the Times-Picayune, and there are a bunch of police officers that were on the Danziger Bridge, that would still be on the streets today. You take away the Times-Picayune, and Aaron Broussard is still president of Jefferson Parish. The watchdog role of this newspaper cannot be underestimated.
ELLIOTT: He's talking about how reporters exposed corrupt politicians, and even a police plot to cover-up civilian killings after Katrina. The paper's storm coverage earned a Pulitzer Prize.
Restaurateur Ralph Brennan is part of a group of Times-Picayune advertisers considering whether to pull their spending in protest. He's disheartened by the list of seasoned journalists who are leaving, including the paper's restaurant critic.
RALPH BRENNAN: They have an outstanding staff, many of them who've been there a long time, Brett Anderson's one of them. And, you know, Brett has a national reputation. He's very well-respected in the food journalism community, and to lose him is a great loss. And this is a food city.
(SOUNDBITE OF MIXING COCKTAILS)
UNIDENTIFIED MAN: One Picayune punch.
ELLIOTT: Brennan's restaurants are serving special drinks like this, with a portion of proceeds going to help those who lost their jobs. He and other business leaders are now looking for alternatives.
BRENNAN: I keep hoping that somebody - an entrepreneur out there - will find a way to get us some daily news, and maybe build a newspaper.
ELLIOTT: Three-day publication is set to take affect in the fall.
Debbie Elliott, NPR News, New Orleans.
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