NEW ORLEANS – Employees of the Times-Picayune began to find out their fate Tuesday morning as the venerable New Orleans paper shifted into the next phase of its transition to an online-focused news organization.
News began to trickle out of the paper’s Howard Avenue offices by 9 a.m. after meetings had begun between staff and supervisors.
By 10:30 a.m., Friends of the Times-Picayune Facebook page had a list of several of those leaving the paper, including James Beard Award-winning restaurant critic Brett Anderson. Also leaving are news reporter Danny Monteverde, Cathy Hughes, Patricia Gonzalez, Barri Bronston and Katy Reckdahl along with Dennis Persica.
“I think they’ve torn apart an institution," Reckdahl said. "It’s not about me really. It’s about who I’m seeing walk out that door crying. It’s the end of news in New Orleans, I think."
According to NOLA.com, 84 of the 235 combined employees of NOLA.com and the Times-Picayune are being told that they'll no longer have a job.
Like the Times-Picayune, Advance Publications, which owns the paper, is making similar moves to the Birmingham News, the Press-Register of Mobile and the Huntsville Times. The Poynter Institute, a news organization that covers the media, tweeted that the News was set to cut about 60 percent of its staff according to someone who had seen the cut list.
Times-Picayune editor Jim Amoss promised the future wasn't as dire as it seems today, saying, "I think readers and advertisers both need to see what we're going to be able to deliver, both in print and online, when we launch in the fall."
He added, "I think they will all be very pleasantly surprised. It's hard to envision that when you haven't reached the point yet."
According to Times-Picayune newsroom employees, meetings with supervisors for one-on-one, 15-minute sessions were staggered throughout the morning.
Amoss released a video talking about the decision to make the changes.
Those being laid off were offered severance packages that would provide 1 ½ weeks of pay for every year of employment, up to a year of pay. Employees are being given 45 days to sign their severance paperwork and an additional seven-day “change of heart” period before the decision is final.
Those taking the buyout must work until Sept. 30 to collect their severance.
Already the paper has gone through drastic changes since Katrina. There have been two rounds of buyouts and one round of early retirement, putting the newsroom at nearly 150 employees before today’s meetings.
The newsroom isn’t alone in cuts; layoffs are taking place in other departments, including advertising and circulation.
Features copy editor Jerry McCleod was in tears as he drove away from the Howard Avenue offices.
Despite recent efforts to save the Times-Picayune's seven day circulation, the paper's plans to shift into a digital publication have not changed.
On May 24, it was announced that the paper will reduce its publishing schedule from seven days a week to three, and form a new company to concentrate news reporting efforts on its website.
The news sparked upset, anger and outrage, from the mayor to supporters who held a rally on June 4, to major advertisers who hope to convince publishers not to abandon a daily printed edition. All called the daily newspaper a vital tool for the community.
"Post-Katrina we've really bonded as a community, and we're really a lot closer than we were before Katrina, and the Times-Picayune is part of that, just as some of the television stations are, or other businesses are, and it's sad to see something so important to this commuinity being diminshed by going to three days a week," said Ralph Brennan of Ralph Brennan Restaurant Group.
"Every city loves to complain about its newspaper, but no city wants to lose its newspaper. The Times- Picayune is an integral part of the cultural fabric of New Orleans, and it's a tragedy for us to lose our daily newspaper, and I say that as someone who competes against them," said Clancy DuBos, a Gambit publisher.
Brennan said he has not decided whether to cancel any advertising .
New Picayune publisher Ricky Mathews said the company takes advertiser concerns very seriously, and is continuing outreach efforts.
Gambit is reporting that those employees not offered jobs with the new company will be allowed to leave for the day after their meetings with managers.
The Picayune reported that those who are not offered jobs on Tuesday will be allowed to apply at a later date.
Among those employees who were not kept on by the Times-Picayune:
Steve Kelly, editorial cartoonist
Brett Anderson, food writer
Matt Scallan, reporter
Eva Barkoff, editorial staff
Bruce Nolan, religion reporter
Katy Reckdahl, reporter
John McCusker, photographer
Jerry McCleod, copy editor
Kim Quillen, business editor
Bob Fortus, horse racing reporter Jim Derry
Kim Sensebe Gritter