NEW ORLEANS – On the same day news surfaced that Tom Benson is interested in buying The Times-Picayune, Sen. David Vitter sent his own plea to the newspaper’s owners with the simple message: sell.
In a letter to Steven Newhouse, chairman of Advance Publications, Vitter simply urges Newhouse to “do the right thing. Sell.”
“Maybe you truly believe that your new model for the Times-Picayune will serve the region well. I do not,” Vitter writes. “More importantly, no citizen of the region whom I've spoken to about this does. And I literally mean no one. This includes everyone at the Times-Picayune itself that I've spoken to.”
Vitter also criticizes the transition to a digital platform, saying no such platform can replace a printed daily “in substance, use, and significance to the community.”
He also is harsh towards the paper’s website, nola.com, which he calls “terribly inadequate.”
“The new format has been universally panned (and I agree). And this is reflected in the numbers. As a single member of our Congressional delegation, I actually have far more Facebook followers than your whole enterprise.”
He also reminds the company that, with the news this week that the Baton Rouge-based Advocate newspaper plans a New Orleans edition, the Picayune’s decision may suffer in terms of subscribers.
“From a pure business perspective, you’re about to get smoked,” Vitter wrote.
Earlier in the day, Advance Publications’ Donald Newhouse issued a short statement, in response to questions about Benson’s offer, saying simply that the company has no plans to sell.
The day the news broke that the newspaper was cutting staff and publication days, Vitter’s Democrat counterpart, Sen. Mary Landrieu, echoed Vitter’s sentiment.
“To think of not having a daily print edition saddens me. However, New Orleans will always need a robust news gathering operation to provide us with accurate and balanced news. In whatever new form the Times-Picayune takes, that need will not change,” she said.