24 May 2012

[print] Can A Non-Daily Print Newspaper Be A Paper Of Record?

2828.File this under the rubric The Death Of Print.

The news broke today, via Poynter, that the daily newspaper of Louisiana's largest city, the Times-Picayune, will be cutting back to a three-day-per-week publishing schedule, and doubling down on its online presence and digital media efforts:
Times-Picayune publisher Ashton Phelps Jr. has confirmed that the newspaper will cease daily publication, moving to three days a week in the fall: Wednesday, Friday and Sunday. He also confirmed staff cuts, though he didn’t say how large they will be. The New York Times’ David Carr reported Wednesday night that the paper likely would cease daily publication and that the two managing editors would leave.
This would make New Orleans the largest U.S. city without a daily newspaper. The Times-Picayune, with a circulation of about 155,000 on Sundays and 134,000 weekdays, would be the largest paper in the U.S. to shift to non-daily publication. Its circulation in March 2005, before Hurricane Katrina flooded the city and shrank the city’s population: about 285,000 on Sundays and 257,000 weekdays.
To give some conception of how that compares, the Times-Picayune (serving a city of about 350,000 in the 46th largest metropolitan area in the US) is just about to adopt a similar publishing schedule to the News-Register in McMinnville (population about 35,000, less than one-tenth the size). Picayune, indeed … Times? Not so much.

Not only does this not bode will for print communications, nor does it contain good news for those who don't care to be required to be wired in order to stay informed, this carries implications for the paper's status as New Orelans' 'paper of record'.

There are two ways to interpret that term. A de jure, everyday way to look at it is that it's the paper everyone turns to to record the everyday history of the area. That is the function filled by the major daily papers in every city, which become the written record of the daily history of the area. In Portland this, of course, would be The Oregonian. 

The more formal de facto definition of a newspaper of record is the newspaper in which public records - births, deaths, legal dealings, etc - can be expected to be found. And this has put the T-P in a certain awkward spot.
Reacting to the announcement that The Times-Picayune will be moving from publishing a daily print version to three days a week in print while expanding its online product, Sens. J.P. Morrell and Edwin Murray, both D-New Orleans, said that a state law dealing with its status as the legal journal for state and local government entities in the New Orleans area will change.Murray said by state law legal notices -- such as council meeting minutes, meeting notices, court proceedings, foreclosures, successions, local bills and others -- have to be advertised in the "official journal" and in New Orleans that has been the daily newspaper.
This law will have to be changed plenty-quick or the paper could open itself to legal challenges, the article (amusingly, on the T-P's website Nola.com) notes. This website is mounted by Adavance Publications which, and we'll try not to worry here, also owns The Oregonian. Which has also reduced staff over the past few years.

It can happen, I suppose. After 174 years, The Ann Arbor News, the daily newspaper in the Michigan city (and thus the paper of record under our first definition) ended daily publication entirely back in 2009, replaced by a website. This digital media company has a twice-weekly print version, and is owned by a company who's owned by Advance Publications, who also owns The Oregonian.

Once again, we'll try not to worry.

But you'd better get yourself an iPad, Gramps, it's startin' to look like.

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