I’m not going to pretend that I’m surprised that there is so much hand-wringing, beating-of-breast and genuine concern over the New Orleans Times-Picayune decision to go to a digital-first footing. Anytime there’s a reduction in the frequency of the presses running, there is going to be an immediate and visceral reaction.
I get that. And, if I’m being honest, a small part of me feels the same way.
But I also wonder whether all of these people, who want to keep the paper part of the newspaper alive, have thought through their positions.
Because I think that the leadership of the Times-Picayune has made the first great 21st Century move for a major American newspaper. By restricting the print-run to those days on which the papers actually make money, they’re assuring that the Times-Picayune — the version you can pick up at the newsstand — will continue to exist and even thrive for years to come.
The reason is as simple as the math. Sunday is the big whopper for any U.S. newspaper, worth anywhere from 60-75% of the week’s revenue. Wednesdays are good, too, due to the generally accepted habit for supermarkets to advertise on that day, along with Friday, thanks to movie ads and other weekend-activity-promoting content and advertising.
The rest of the week? A total loss. Monday, Tuesday and Saturday are just severed aortas of cash, bleeding out, killing the organization. Thursdays are a wash in many communities as well.
Which puts New Orleans in the seemingly paradoxical position of saving the paper by killing parts of it. That won’t please the fans of the pulped edition, of course, but it really is in their best interest.
Because, as even the most casual gardener could tell you, pruning isn’t confusing or bizarre or unusual. It’s just what you do: make the plant healthier by removing what’s in the way.
What’s in the way in this case is the traditional assumption that a great metro news organization must publish a printed paper every day.
The good people of New Orleans deserve a strong Times-Picayune, just like every community deserves a strong local news organization of its own. Despite the furrowed brows to the contrary, I believe they just took a big step in that direction.
(Next: But what becomes of The Daily Habit?)