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New Orleans paper trims publication in favor of web focus

By Cain Burdeau

Associated Press

Published: Thursday, May 24 2012 8:11 p.m. MDT

NEW ORLEANS — The Times-Picayune, one of the nation's oldest newspapers, is dropping its daily circulation after 175 years and plans to issue three printed editions a week starting in the fall. With the change, the newspaper would become the largest metro newspaper in the nation to drop daily circulation in this digital age.

The paper announced Thursday the formation of a new company, the NOLA Media Group, to oversee both The Times-Picayune and its affiliated website, NOLA.com.

The cutback in publication days follows similar moves made by other newspapers as the industry has struggled through economic tough times, in part caused by consumers' move to online media.

The Times-Picayune is owned by Advance Publications Inc., a Newhouse family company whose various divisions have holdings in newspapers, magazines, cable television and websites. In 2009, the Advance-owned Ann Arbor News in Michigan ceased print publication and moved to an online-only format.

Advance also said Thursday that three major daily newspapers that it owns in Alabama will switch to publishing three days a week as part of a new focus on online news: The Birmingham News, The Huntsville Times and the Press-Register of Mobile.

Advance also owns The Oregonian in Portland, Ore.; The Plain Dealer in Cleveland; and The Star-Ledger in Newark, N.J.

Steve Myers, a managing editor at the Poynter Institute, said the Times-Picayune would become the largest metropolitan newspaper to shift away from daily circulation.

"Advertising is suffering at many newspapers, and the Picayune has had difficulty because the population didn't come back after Katrina," Myers said.

Hurricane Katrina devastated New Orleans in 2005, and many residents had to flee flood-ravaged neighborhoods in the aftermath. Many never came back, leaving the city to slowly rebuild in the years since.

The Times-Picayune merged with its afternoon companion, The States-Item, in 1980. After that, the paper opened a network of suburban bureaus and beefed up its investigative and political coverage. It won a Pulitzer Prize in the 1990s for environmental coverage and won again for its reporting after Hurricane Katrina.

Ricky Mathews, who will become the new company's president, said the changes coming in the fall were necessitated by the upheaval in the newspaper industry. Mathews said the newspaper will be home-delivered and sold in stores on Wednesdays, Fridays and Sundays only.

Mathews said Jim Amoss, currently editor of The Times-Picayune, will run the combined content operation of NOLA Media Group.

The announcement was met with shock by some newspaper supporters.

Anne Milling, a longtime member of the advisory board to The Times-Picayune, said the decision to drop daily circulation was a bad move.

"I am certain that those in New York are basing it strictly on a business model that would apply to other communities but may not actually fly in New Orleans," she said. "We always do things differently. It's part of our tradition: You wake up with a cup of chicory coffee and read the newspaper."

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