By: Joe Strupp & Mark Fitzgerald
The Times-Picayune resumed printing Friday in the face of widespread concerns about its future. A staff meeting and press release Thursday that was designed to reassure the fatigued staff working from three offices far from their devastated downtown New Orleans home only stirred rumors about the future of the Advance Publications-owned daily.
Citing the rumors, Ashton Phelps, Jr., the paper’s publisher, posted this message on its Web site this afternoon: “We just resumed publication so thoughts on ceasing publication at some later date are ridiculous. The Times-Picayune will continue to publish. Period.”
In the Thursday release, the paper had said, “During the months of September and October all Times-Picayune employees will receive regular paychecks, regardless of whether they perform work.” According to some reports, the staff was also warned that there would be deep across-the-board cuts in personnel after October.
Steve Newhouse, son of Advance Publications President Donald Newhouse and a company executive, told E&P the press release was meant to offer security, not hints at a bleak future.
“That was to reassure people,” said Newhouse, who oversees Advance.net, among other responsibilities. “We have just resumed publication [of the Times-Picayune], we are going to keep growing.”
When asked if the newspaper would suffer major cutbacks or permanent reductions beyond October, he declined to offer assurances.
“I have no idea what will happen beyond the very short term,” he said. “We can barely think beyond 10 minutes from now. We are dealing with what is happening this second. For us, the future is tomorrow.”
A posting last night on the National Association of Black Journalists listserv quoted an unnamed Times-Picayune journalist as saying the staff had been told the paper would “cease to exist” at some point.
When asked to comment on rumors that the Times-Picayune would be cutting back or even folding as a result of the hurricane, Steve Newhouse said, “I can’t control rumors. No one knows what the future is going to bring, we don’t even know the status of our printing presses until we get to them. We can only say what we know at the moment.”
Donald Newhouse did not return calls seeking comment Friday. Communications were difficult through the morning Friday, with phone calls to the three places where Times-Picayune personnel are working answered with an “all circuits are busy” message. E-mails to Times-Picayune officials were also not immediately answered.
The first print version of the Times-Picayune since Hurricane Katrina struck Monday rolled off the presses of The Houma Courier, a New York Times Co. newspaper located 60 miles southwest of New Orleans.
“Help Us, Please” read the banner headline on page A-1. “After the disaster, chaos and lawlessness rule the streets,” read the subhead.
Some 50,000 copies of the newspaper were printed overnight. The Times-Picayune said they were to be distributed in parts of the New Orleans metropolitan area “that are now inhabited and accessible, including western St. Tammany Parish, and the east and west River Parishes.”
The paper was also to be distributed in Baton Rouge, Hammond, Houma and Thibodaux, the Times-Picayune said.
The Times-Picayune will continue to publish its expanded electronic edition, with its hurricane blog, on www.nola.com. It said Friday that its missing persons forum, launched Wednesday, had more than 7,400 posting by late Thursday.
Since employees were forced to evacuate the newspaper’s flooding downtown New Orleans building, journalists, business staffers and production personnel have been working at the Courier and in temporary offices at Louisiana State University’s Manship School for Mass Communications and The Baton Rouge Technology Center.