The Billings Outpost

New Orleans daily no longer quite so daily

The daily New Orleans Times-Picayune published its own obituary last week.

Current decades will almost certainly record the death of many more daily newspapers in America but none more historic than the Times-Picayune.

In three-quarters of a century, Times-Picayune staffers and correspondents included Edgar Allan Poe, William Faulkner and O’Henry.

The “TP” (as it is called by locals) was founded in 1837. The paper sold for one “picayune,” a Spanish coin worth 6 1/2 cents. Slaves, often advertised for sale in the Picayune, sold at that time for $1,000 to $2,000, depending on condition and qualifications. Mergers stretched its name to Times-Picayune.

A new company (NOLA) will take over a much-reduced staff and supervise the TP’s website and the publishing of a thrice-weekly newspaper.

Death of the Times-Picayune as a daily gave me a case of the disappearing  newspaper blues.

No need to remind me that Billings has a daily. But I am less than reassured. I remember when the city had two daily papers.

The Gazette is owned by Lee Enterprises - a chain that owns 50 other newspapers large and small.

This week Lee Enterprises stock was listed at 31 cents. The chain has announced layoffs, and more recently, two-week unpaid furloughs across the country. Nationally, newspaper revenue daily shrunk by 50 percent since 2005.

The erosion of daily newspapers paralleled the rise of the big box stores. Giant retail chains began printing their ads in slick full-color circulars on giant presses in places like Detroit, Atlanta and Houston.

Shipped in boxcars to local papers, the circulars are stuffed into the daily paper. Sunday’s edition catches the biggest share.

Delivering these pre-prints does not pay as well as composing and printing them in-house. It does not pay well at all.

The second assault on newspaper profits came from the internet. Dailies large and small have not found new income streams to replace the lost ad revenue.

There are exceptions. The Gazette now collects hundreds of dollars on obituaries that were once free. Paid obits were too little, too late.

Columnists and editorial writers across the country are commenting on the demise of the daily. Many have migrated from the newspapers that trained them to on-line news services.

Newspaper subscribers are growing older and fewer. One columnist described the loyalists as “a shrinking club, like Shriners, once a proud, powerful bunch who now meet in little rooms and exchange secret handshakes.”

Several once-great papers in our neighborhood have gone toes up. Witness the Rocky Mountain News in Denver and The Seattle Post-Intelligencer.

I grew up with the Gazette. Now we are both old. I learned to read, one syllable at time, from the Gazette. The paper I spread across the living room floor and read lying on my tummy was owned by the Anaconda Copper Co.

AC in cahoots with Montana Power Co. and the railroads ran Montana as their private plantation and the state’s newspapers as their anonymous spokesmen. My father grumbled and read Labor, a union weekly.

Mom read the Gazoo from cover to cover, focusing especially on “Away at School,” “In the Service” and scattered chicken dinner items. (Chicken dinner briefs reported the Jones having Sunday dinner at the Smiths, The Altar Society’s high tea or gathering of the Knit Wits, a handicraft club.)

We read three papers: The Gazette, Labor and Grit, a tabloid packed full of family friendly features. We were poor but subscribing to three papers made me feel rich or at least high class.

In the 1940s poverty compelled frugality. The Sears catalog served as toilet tissue. We never bought butter. Butter was delicious and expensive. Oleo margarine tasted like lard but was cheap.

In our house there were no 100-watt light bulbs where a 60-watt bulb would serve. Watermelons appeared in the local grocery stores a month before the price dropped to an affordable (to us) 10 cents a pound.

The first newspapers I worked for looked and smelled like the ones where Mark Twain once worked. We typed stories on upright, mechanical typewriters and the news was set in type by a Rube Goldberg machine that dropped letter molds into a small vise that pushed them under a spigot that filled them with molten lead.

To clean an old typewriter a reporter would fetch a pint of white gas from the pressroom. Pressmen used the solvent to clean big, ugly press components.

The two daily papers I referred to above were the Morning Gazette and the Afternoon Gazette. Reporters worked for both. A story written in the afternoon would be marked for pickup and run again in the next morning’s paper. News that broke in the morning paper was picked up and reprinted with little or no updating and a new headline in the afternoon paper.

I once had a story run under my byline three times. I complained to the city editor: “You liked that piece Saturday night, Sunday morning and Sunday evening. Today is Monday and you don’t like it anymore?”


Copyright 2012 Wild Raspberry Inc.

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