It’s hard to get a copy of hurricane editions of The Times-Picayune, which was chased out of New Orleans by flooding two weeks ago. Even the editors complain that they can’t get their own newspaper in the temporary newsroom at an office complex in Baton Rouge, 75 miles from New Orleans.
But the paper is still publishing daily and circulating as best it can throughout southeast Louisiana. The daily press run is 60,000, with two eight-page sections printed at The Courier in Houma, 50 miles on the other side of New Orleans. Before Hurricane Katrina struck, average daily circulation was about 260,000 weekdays and 285,000 on Sunday.
Circulation trucks haul the newspaper throughout the region, drivers tossing copies on porches where possible. In Baton Rouge, which has doubled in population with New Orleans evacuees, free papers are left at shopping malls and rescue centers.
Sunday’s headline proclaimed “Glimmers of Hope Emerge as Water Slowly Recedes.”
While New Orleans remains largely evacuated, the suburbs are beginning to open and their residents are returning. The newspaper plans to increase its press run over the next week, editor Jim Amoss said Saturday.
A Times-Picayune columnist, Chris Rose, walked among police and National Guardsmen near Harrah’s Casino in downtown New Orleans on Saturday, handing out copies of the Friday and Saturday editions. He said they were the first in the city itself since Katrina.
Beside the nameplate at the top of the front page were images of two tattered red-and-black hurricane flags and the legend: “Katrina: the storm we’ve always feared.”
Rose and other reporters remain in the city, living in what Amoss calls Spartan conditions. The newspaper trucked down some generators since no power, telephone or water service is available.
“The perseverance and sheer energy of everybody astounds me,” Amoss said.
In the first days after Katrina slammed the city on Aug. 29, the paper was published only online. As water rose after levees ruptured, staffers fled to higher ground but continued their coverage despite almost complete telephone failure. The first printed editions came on Sept. 2, when the Times-Picayune, owned by Advance Publications, made arrangements with The Courier, of the New York Times regional media group.
Amoss said the advertising base was coming back. Sunday’s edition was a little more than 50 percent ads.
John Morton, a media analyst based in Silver Spring, Md., called the paper’s continued publication “a miracle.”
If the paper was locally owned, he said, the damage would almost certainly lead to bankruptcy. But that’s unlikely because of deep support from its corporate owners, Morton said.
There is no estimate on when the newspaper can resume operations in New Orleans. Amoss said the newspaper’s office is still surrounded by water, but the presses and other equipment were not flooded.
However, reporters and other workers cannot move back into the city until it is drained, power is restored and their homes are habitable. Neither can the advertisers, let alone the readers.