Lots of milestones concerning The Times-Picayune have taken place and I will reach a personal one tomorrow morning with the final delivery of my home delivery of the newspaper. I contacted Jeanette Landry, the delivery person responsible for double-bagging my papers to protect them from the rain and getting them on my porch on time for over 20 years, and gave her my regrets with my last payment. I thanked her for her service, but I decided to cancel my subscription now instead of waiting for the three-day-a-week new way of doing things in the fall. And the publisher, Ricky Mathews, could care less. He gives that shit-eating grin in the face of the plethora of stories and angry subscribers with a shake of his head as though we're all going to suddenly embrace this like a new world order.
Ricky Mathews tried to spin these cataclysmic changes as "out with the old, in with the new, we can't afford it" spiel, but it came too late. Days too late. Story broke through The New York Times and was carried by NPR's Marketplace by the afternoon. Readership was as shocked as the employees of the paper -- three days a week publication beginning in the fall of this year, slashed workforce (but Mathews had the nerve to advertise job openings days after the layoffs -- classless), and all outcries unheard. Mathews' heartfelt comments about the newspaper's past should have been better spent asking for a heart to use in place of the digital tablet he has for one. Less is more. Fewer is better. Let's be like all the newspapers in Alabama. Who needs a regional paper anyway?
Mathews refuses to listen to the Mayor, Council members, business people who purchase newspaper advertisements, and the readership who may not have the internet and, frankly, aren't all that interested in changing their ways of doing things to suit his bottom line. A reduced newspaper receivership is bad for New Orleans business. Change doesn't always equate progress when you can't maintain what others have managed to do, good times and bad, depression through recession, for 175 years.
Down here, we do things differently than anywhere else. Than everywhere else. As it's been said many times before: New Orleans is the biggest smallest town in the known universe. But it's not because we take where you went to high school as the reason for it (Mathews, you're such a dumb ass if you truly believe that). It's relationships. And not just the superficial how-do-you-do kind. It's the kiss the ladies hello, tell stories to the kids about their parents when they were kids, and giving a damn about the person who delivers the newspaper, photographs the city, and writes the articles. They aren't statistics -- they're people. And we'd be willing to pay for the priviledge of having the paper delievered seven days a week. But it won't be done because of Mathews and the parties he represent who are not from here and couldn't understand "down here" in a million years.
After 9/11, there was a significant drop in the conference and convention industries, especially in New Orleans. People relied on teleconferencing from their home offices, sending digital reports, and doing web streaming of products and ideas instead of attending conventions in person. It was less expensive, more efficient, and it gradually changed back to the way business was conducted: traveling to cities and holding conferences and conventions in far away places like New Orleans. Why? Because there's a tactile experience touching products in a conference kiosk. There's more value in shaking someone's hand in a first-impression greeting than in an introduction email. People need interaction with people on a daily basis, especially through a process involving turning tactile pages with smudged fingertips.
I had my first writing assignment through reporting news for Immaculata High School for the newspaper. I saved the articles, yellowed with age, and they mean more to me than Nola.com's digital "split every story with an ad for car insurance" layout ever could.
And the fact another newspaper (from way up north) scooped Mathews' byline, he wants us to believe he can live up to the 175 years the newspaper has been in existence. It was his story to tell, probably the biggest story of his career, and he couldn't handle a major leak. I wouldn't put Mathews in charge of covering a spitting contest.
If I could support the Times-Picayune staff, without helping Mathews, in continuing with my 20+ year subscription, I would. Unfortunately, I had to make a hard choice in not renewing. Yes, there's the digital version, but I don't and won't read it. I'll have to rely on WWL-TV for breaking news, and Gambit for local stories and entertainment. Sadly, I'll have to learn to live without a morning paper over my cappuccino at the coffee shop. Mathews thinks we'll adapt. Well, he can adapt to that.
The only choices I see are having someone else purchase the newspaper and keep it at seven days a week (I'd pay a price increase -- done it before), have a rival newspaper come into existence and force the paper out, or withdraw all financial backing and let it die a slow, unnatural death.
If this is what the future is, I'd wish Mathews and his consortium would change the name of the newspaper. It's the absolute least they could do. We could have a jazz funeral for The Times-Picayune, waving white hankerchiefs and reminiscing over all the times we found something or someone in the paper and saved the discolored fragment like a treasure map. Or put the name in the Superdome next to the World Champions flag and retire it like a MVP jersey. Mathews has trashed it long enough. Trashed us in the process.
The only significant thing Ricky Mathews has done since taking over the newspaper is that he is now the most reviled entity in the city, somewhere between Roger Goodell and Satan. And well deserved, too.