New Orleans’ effect on newspapers

The shock and disappointment that echoed throughout New Orleans this week tugged at a core message I’ve discussed lately in my lunch-speaker speeches.

That message generally is this:

The last stagecoach reportedly was built in 1918. The story about that milestone did not report whether anyone shed a tear.

My dad (to whom I say thanks on this, his 70th year of life and 45th year as a father) spent his teen and young adult years in pool halls in Canonsburg, Pa. My sons never will know about pool halls. I’m not sure society cried for that, either.

In 2044 — as one expert predicts based on projections — the last printed newspaper will roll off a press somewhere in America.

The people of New Orleans will get to experience that projection much sooner.

Their daily paper, The Times-Picayune, will cease this fall. It will switch to an online publication mainly, with a print version just three days per week. In step with the move, it will eliminate many journalists and content producers who, for decades, wrote about a city at its best and worst.

During my speaker stops, I wonder aloud to the crowd: Will people care in 2044?

Or will that last daily newspaper slip away quietly like the last stagecoach or pool hall?

If New Orleans is evidence, people will care and will be stunned.

Rallies have taken place, more than 70 top New Orleans leaders have signed a letter asking Advance Publications to change its plan or sell its business, and people have taken to the message boards decrying the move.

The expressions come from political heavyweights James Carville and Mary Matalin, presidents of Tulane, Loyola and Xavier universities and the leading arts and culture folks.

Here’s what I would like The Times-Picayune owners to do:

As each name steps up to express outrage at the move, share with the community whether the person is a subscriber.

As leading businesses step up, reveal how much they have invested in advertising in The T-P.

For the universities, tell us what each spends in classified advertising for employment, or for special sections for the start of school or for the big game.

The fix for The T-P, and for other papers, will come from the same source as the concern — the people.

The T-P situation is important to watch. For one, the ownership is the same as The Plain Dealer, where reportedly there were meetings this week to assure all is well there. But in general, The T-P revenue-model dilemma is happening across America, including here.

What the community invests in its daily newspaper is how much it gets out of it.

The investment comes in many ways:

“I read the paper for free online” is commonly heard. Only a few people are sheepish when they say that, realizing the economics of it. Heck, economics guru Suze Orman went on “Oprah” telling folks to cancel their newspaper subscriptions to save money. “It’s free online,” she said.

“Free online” will change for our industry, and hopefully soon, including for ours.

But in the meantime, even if you are reading it for free online, you still can maintain a print subscription to pay for what you are getting.

One newspaper subscription is one share in your community.

People get mad and cancel their paper. Most of the reasons people cancel their paper are valid at the moment — in that they were part of a bad news story or the delivery was poor. But in the long-term, that decision affects the community, not just us at the newspaper.

Advertising is the biggest investment.

Per industry standards, 20 percent or so of a newspaper’s revenue comes from what you pay for a newspaper. The rest comes from advertising.

U.S. newspaper print advertising revenue was $48.7 billion in 1999. It was $47.4 billion as recently as 2005. In 2010, it was $22.8 billion.

Comparatively, industry projections and estimates show Google earned $1.7 billion last year and will earn $4.7 billion by 2014. Facebook earned $1.73 billion in 2010 and could be at $3.75 billion in 2014. Yahoo, for the same periods, was $1.35 billion and will be $1.64 billion.

So when you buy a home, a couch or a car, or when you join a bank or a health-care facility — do you pause long enough to see if that company invests in your community via the daily newspaper?

I spoke to a group of retirees recently, and the close of my message was this:

Your Vindicator as a printed product will go away some day. It could be years after 2044. It could be 2044. Or it could be sooner.

How long depends not just on staff, but our community.

When was the last time Facebook showcased your grandchild’s sports match?

Did Google report your local government’s spending to show you whether or not they properly spent your tax dollars?

Did Yahoo respond to a siren last night and provide you details of what happened?

Remember that, when you choose where to buy a car or house or shop or eat or invest.

Remember that, when you are mad at us and want to cancel The Vindicator. Get mad at us, for sure. We miss stories; we miss your porch. But like most of you would not throw your kid out to the curb, don’t throw your daily newspaper out, either.

Remember that, if you have employees or students. Have you considered a benefit plan that includes a newspaper subscription? Or get a subscription for your 20-something son or daughter. It might not get opened for two weeks. Then one story will catch them. Then another.

Your daily newspaper always has been a shared investment. Each newspaper requires an ownership that tries its best to serve. But it also requires a community to invest.

The T-P may be changing its investment in New Orleans. But in all likelihood, if you check the people expressing concern, you will see they changed their investment first.

How soon more communities experience what New Orleans is feeling is a matter of the investment of that community.

Todd Franko is editor of The Vindicator. He likes emails about stories and our newspaper. Email him at He blogs, too, on

More like this from