David Carr: I think that The Times-Picayune was making money but the trend lines for all of Newhouses' newspapers, including The Times-Picayune, was down eight to 10 percent every single year. So it's sort of an existential threat.
So Steve Newhouse, chairman of the company's digital arm, announced a massive restructuring to build a viable future for the paper. The focus would shift to the paper's 24-hour website. A print edition would be published only Wednesday, Friday and Sunday/ More than 200 people would lose their jobs; press operators, copy editors, photographers and distinguished senior reporters. The changes were called painful but inevitable.
Steve Newhouse declined to be interviewed. He referred us to Jim Amoss, the highly respected long-time editor of the paper.
Morley Safer: Did you agree with the decision to start publishing only three days a week?
Jim Amoss: Well, we'd been grappling, as all metro newspapers in this country have with what's happening to our industry. And that is a steady decline in circulation, a steady decline in print ad revenue. And the solutions there aren't many. One is to act as though nothing were happening and continue business as usual. And to me, that's presiding over a gradual irrelevancy and a gradual death.
Morley Safer: What you're saying is that the patient was dying and the only way to save it was to cut off all four limbs and replace it with an artificial one?
Jim Amoss: The patient, and by that I would say the national patient has been in a lingering illness for a very long time. And some of the doctors are standing by and wringing their hands. And some are walking away and saying, "This is an incurable illness." And others are actually trying operations that have a good chance of succeeding.
The company is hoping that by reducing the number of publishing days at many of its 35 regional newspapers it will drive readers to their websites...
David Carr: They are determined, determined, to transform these newspapers into digital franchises. But if you think of most newspapers are in the emergency room, right? They're all wounded one way or another. And you pick The Times-Picayune, one of-- really, one of the stronger papers in America, and say, "Ah, we'll do major surgery on that one." Seems odd.
Morley Safer: Did they anticipate the kind of outrage that the announcement produced?
David Carr: They knew they were going to get some blowback. I don't-- I don't think they expected the gale force winds, the hurricane winds that came at them. I mean, people were frantic.
Advertisers declared their objections. Rallies were held for fired employees and "Save the Picayune" posters sprung up throughout the town. The city council passed a resolution urging the owners to continue printing daily and an open letter was published where local worthies warned that the Newhouses were losing the trust of the community.
Anne Milling: If the Newhouses have given up on New Orleans as they have why not just sell it? Don't hold us hostage.
Anne Milling--a local philanthropist is one of several prominent New Orleanians who supported the protest. She was joined by Gregory Aymond, archbishop of New Orleans and Lolis Elie, a writer and former Times-Picayune columnist.
Morley Safer: Why this outrage over a newspaper cutting back?
Lolis Eli: Part of what happened-- particularly after Katrina was a sense of community. And Times-Picayune was a big part of that.
The paper published - literally -- through hell and high water. Dozens of reporters kept the world informed about what was happening while even their own homes were flooded. In the aftermath, the paper became a beacon of civic solidarity.
Anne Milling: We've recovered a great deal. But we still have a long way to go. There's serious issues before us that we need that daily watchdog voice.
Morley Safer: Archbishop, this has more to do with Mammon than with God. How come you got so deeply involved in it?