Change at the Times Picayune

Jun 8, 2012

Moses delivered the word on two stone tablets. The town crier eventually lost his voice. Paper in and of itself is an antiquated medium. Yet many were shocked to hear that the paper's ownership plans to cut the city's only daily to three editions a week and expand their online offerings.

The means by which the Times-Picayune is distributed should change as society does. New Orleans is intensely diverse, and we should be more concerned if prevailing news outlets represent information accordingly.

Change holds constant. Unfortunately, inaccessibility and inequity are equally stubborn. Advancements in technology have always burdened those who didn’t control it. In defense of preserving the TP, polemics have rightly raised that the poor and elderly would not have access to news in a manner that’s familiar and accessible.

However, preserving the TP shouldn’t translate into maintaining the status quo. Resisters have to be very careful to not assume that the Picayune was the primary news source of the masses.

Should we be surprised that communities of color are not mourning the announced reduction in print editions of the Picayune? Black and brown people are not running to its rescue. As one tweet read, “I’m interested to see what the makeup of the crowd at the Save the TP rally will look like.” The rally certainly did not look like a city that is more than 60 percent black.

Herein lies a profound concern regarding the future delivery of news, and the public should demand a more multicultural platform. The historic positions taken by the TP’s editorial board against integration still resonate particularly among older, black New Orleanians.

In addition, media outlets throughout the country are now examining how their images contribute to implicit racism and unconscious bias that befall upon people of color. The New Orleans market must do the same. Moreover, let’s not make arguments to preserve the newspaper without arguing for a more diverse administrative staff and writing corps.

Accessibility to a particular newspaper is not the deeper inequity. Poor people who have electricity regularly might still continue to have limited access to digital information. Closing the digital divide is not a newspapers’ responsibility. The City and State must improve New Orleans technology infrastructure so that news is disseminated in ways that is appropriate for the information age.

There’s also the problem of consumption. A profound result of an injurious and ineffective schools system is mass illiteracy. New Orleans has historically had one of the highest illiteracy rates in the country. Communities with literacy gaps need multiple platforms so everyone can receive critical news and information.

Multiculturalism and diversity isn’t just about race, gender and economics. It is also about literacy, language and culture. We should demand our flagship news enterprises to disseminate information to the range of voices that are affected by it. For a newspaper, that means expanding access to those who can’t read.  

The Save the TP movement is really about protecting community and its sacred elements. However, too many times New Orleanians are placed in a fighting position to conserve the past without demanding that we grow from it.

The Times-Picayune must change. Some New Orleanians need it to.

This article has been revised to reflect the following correction:

Correction: June 11, 2012

This article originally stated that The Times-Picayune is under new ownership. While Advance Publications, the owners of the Times-Picayune newspaper, will be reorganizing the business structure of the newspaper and, both are still owned by Advance.