Outcry after NOLA's daily paper cuts back

The Times-Picayune moves to a three-day-a-week publishing schedule, causing New Orleans to be the largest U.S. city without a daily paper

CBS All Access
This video is available on CBS All Access

The following script is from "The Paper" which aired on Jan. 6, 2012. Morley Safer is the correspondent. Deirdre Naphin, producer.

It's hardly news that the newspaper business is on the ropes. Some papers have folded completely, others have reduced the number of pages. Virtually an entire industry in free fall due mainly to easy access to the web, offering news practically as it happens.

The most recent casualty is the New Orleans Times-Picayune, an institution that's seen the city through good times and the worst of times, a part of the very fabric of a unique American city. Last October, The Times-Picayune began publishing only three days a week-making New Orleans the largest American city without a daily paper. Advance Publications, owned by the Newhouse family, decided on major surgery for the paper, before the economics of publishing killed it outright. We visited New Orleans, just prior to the amputation.

There's no doubt New Orleans is a city like no other. A wonderful ethnic cocktail, a place that dances to its own rhythms and a town devoted to its traditions, like The Times-Picayune, the legendary newspaper that had published every single day in New Orleans for 175 years.

Mitch Landrieu: The tradition of waking up in the morning and breaking that cup of coffee and opening up that paper, it seems to be going by the wayside. When you take away a venerable institution like The Times-Picayune you really kind of take away a piece of the soul of a city.

Mitch Landrieu, the mayor of New Orleans, says the loss of a daily paper is a terrible blow to a city that has had more than its fair share of misfortune.

Mitch Landrieu: People in this city were worried that it was going to send a message to the rest of the country that we weren't a big league city because we're not going to have a daily paper.

Morley Safer: But the facts of life are that newspapers are folding all over the country. It's a dying business.

Mitch Landrieu: It may be. But that doesn't mean that people have to like it.

New Orleanians may be outraged that the paper now publishes only three days a week, but they still start those days with their coffee and beignets and their Times-Pic.

Established in 1837, it was called the Picayune because that's how much it cost -- one picayune -- an old Spanish coin. The paper became a civic watchdog, a nemesis of corrupt politicians like Huey Long. Classic American writers like O. Henry and William Faulkner wrote for the paper. It won several Pulitzer prizes, most recently for its reporting of Hurricane Katrina.

David Carr: It has a central role that newsmen like me dream of. And it's hard to not have a crush on it.

David Carr, a reporter who covers all things media for the New York Times, says The Times-Picayune was one of the few things that worked in a city that generally doesn't.

David Carr: Schools aren't great. Public housing doesn't go very well. They have problems with their police. They've always had a really good newspaper.

Morley Safer: If it works, how come it's going under?

David Carr: Delivering a newspaper, like, making it thump on your doorstep, it's a really hard business. It's an expensive business. What the Newhouses did is said, "You know what? This only really works three days a week. So, let's cut to those three days." That's when it pays.

As sad as it is to witness local newspapers die or slowly disappear, technology and the economic facts are inescapable. The lumbering and expensive process of rolls of newsprint being fed into gigantic presses that spew out tons of newspapers which must be loaded on to trucks that drive into the night to ultimately deliver the paper to doorsteps, diners and newsstands. It seems almost quaint when you consider that the same news, only fresher, can be dispatched at the speed of light to millions at a fraction of the cost and yet The Times-Picayune still showed a profit.