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Times-Picayune in New Orleans cuts publication to 3 days a week

May 24, 2012|By Michael Muskal | This post has been corrected. See the note at the bottom for details.

The New Orleans Times-Picayune will move to a three-day-a-week print schedule in the fall, becoming the largest metro newspaper to cut back paper publication in what has increasingly become an electronic world of information.

The paper -- owned by Advance Publications Inc. -- also announced the formation of the NOLA Media Group, which will oversee the newspaper and its website, NOLA.com. The consolidation will be accompanied by staff cuts. The exact size has yet to be made public, however speculation put the magnitude of the cuts at  between 100 to 150 reporters, perhaps a third of the staff.

“Many current employees of the Times-Picayune and NOLA.com will have the opportunity to grow with the new organizations, but the need to reallocate resources to accelerate the digital growth of NOLA Media Group will necessitate a reduction in the size of the workforce,” publisher Ashton Phelps Jr. wrote in a memo to the staff. Phelps had previously announced he would step down as publisher.

Advance, the Newhouse family company, also announced that three major dailies that it owns in Alabama will switch to the three-day-a-week schedule and will continue to focus on electronic journalism. The Birmingham News, the Huntsville Times and the Press-Register of Mobile all will adopt a reduced publication schedule.

In 2009, Michigan’s Ann Arbor News -- also owned by Advance -- ceased print publication and moved to an online-only format.

Advance also owns the Oregonian in Portland, Ore.; the Plain Dealer in Cleveland; and the Star-Ledger in Newark, N.J., which continue to publish dailies.

At one time, reading a daily newspaper was as much of a national habit as breakfast. But even in the golden days of newspapers, different products were distributed on different timetables. Weekly community newspapers had their own markets for hyperlocal news. Even the most successful business newspaper, the Wall Street Journal, published only six days a week.

So far, the decision to restrict newspaper publication has been largely limited to Advance, though some other smaller companies have gone that route. But in a troubled industry, newspapers are increasingly looking at ways to cut expenditures at a time when the number of subscribers has been shrinking over the long term, advertising dollars have been more difficult to find and the electronic distribution of news and related products have been growing.

Among the changes, cutting home delivery to three days, as in Detroit; trimming the physical size of the newspaper to save money on newsprint; and creating paywalls to generate revenue from electronic content that was once freely distributed. Staff cutbacks have become common throughout the industry as has the reality of using fewer -- and often, less well-paid -- workers to do more work online and in print.

According to the announcement, the Times-Picayune newspaper will be home-delivered and sold in stores on Wednesdays, Fridays and Sundays.

The newspaper was started in 1837 and was named after a Spanish coin. It merged with the afternoon newspaper, the States-Item, in 1980. It had a strong national reputation for investigative work and political coverage. It won a Pulitzer Prize in the 1990s for environmental coverage and won again for its reporting after Hurricane Katrina.

[For the record, 6:40 p.m., May 24: An earlier version of this post referred to the Times-Picayune's publisher as Aston Phelps Jr. His first name is Ashton.]

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michael.muskal@latimes.com

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