Sunday, July 29, 2012

Jefferson Parish Cops Shoot A Person Over Drugs

via Cops Shooting People --
“Police report a sting operation went wrong just after 11 p.m. in the 2900 block of Jefferson Highway Friday night.
A drug sting operation was set up in a McDonald’s parking lot near the Causeway overpass on Jefferson Highway.
According to Sheriff Newell Normand, narcotics agents had reliable information that 27-year-old Lucious Stovall of Westwego, would be in the parking lot of a fast-food restaurant at Causeway Blvd. & Jefferson Hwy. while in possession of crack cocaine.
As Stovall pulled into the parking spot, officers activated their lights and approached him.  While announcing their presence, Stovall put his vehicle in gear and intentionally crashed into one of the police units.
He struck an agent who was standing near the vehicle.  The officer sustained a minor leg injury and was transported to an area hospital for treatment.
Police said as Stovall continued to flee, he struck a second unit. Fearing their safety and the safety of other agents, two officers began firing as Stovall tried to get away.
He continued heading north on Causeway Blvd., crossing Jefferson Hwy.  He drove over the median and crashed into a fence on Causeway Blvd. A statement from the Jefferson Parish Sheriff’s Office reads, “As Stovall was removed from his vehicle it was determined he sustained three gunshot wounds.  He was transported to University Hospital where he is listed in guarded condition.”

Fuck the drug war.
Fuck the world of poverty that is enforced by the police.
Fuck the laws written by the rich and only enforced against the poor.
When was the last time cops undertook a sting operation on white collar Wall St. fraudsters?

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

The Murder of the Times-Picayune: Part Five

what has become of


"I'm available for speeches and consultancy gigs!"
At the risk of setting up a straw blogger, there is a category of blowhard I cannot bring myself to link to: media-pundit éminences gris who know little or nothing of the Times-Picayune and yet have confidently diagnosed its cause of death.

Of course it died; it's a newspaper. Open and shut case, according to these hoary experts.

Within journalism, talking about how important digital media is & how newspapers are dead is an article of faith, a touch-wood tic. Everyone's being laid off all the fucking time, and the only protection is to superstitiously acknowledge the inevitability of this, often and audibly.

Part of the journalist identity is already cynically knowing everything. Especially to those over forty, the suggestion that a real journalist could be blindsided by these rapid catastrophic industry changes is nearly as threatening as the changes themselves.

All who would not be left behind must chant the mantra: Print is dead!

Print is dead! The louder you shout it, a strange thing happens-- your wrinkles and white hairs become less visible. Your chin tightens; your baldness vanishes beneath reforestation. Say it louder, shout it louder: Print is dead! Dead trees, dead newspaper! Bray it, shout it, sit on panels and declaim it. Post it on the Tumblr your daughter helped you make. Louder, louder-- and the debt from your kids' college education, the mortgage, your partner's medical bills-- all the things that mark you as a product of the pre-internet generation, the frailties making you dependent on your career in this "dead" and "dying" medium, begin to ebb away.

Buy more progressive glasses frames-- thinner lenses, sleeker, younger! Get the newest iPhone to fumble with, so the twenty-something new hires who don't make eye contact will know you're one of them. Print is dead! Let me hear you say it, bitch! Louder louder: PRINT IS DEAD! Never mind the storied traditions, going back to Thomas Paine, going back to Gutenberg, never mind your mentors and their mentors-- they were all fools! You're hep; you're riding the inter-wave, you're running with the hunters! You ain't old, you still got it baby, you so cutting cutting edge. Print is dead! Let them hear you preach it, preach it. PRINT IS DEAD, PRINT IS DEAD.

Say it loud, and pray that the powerful are listening.

Maybe you'll be spared!

Ha ha... yeah, right.


Early version of, 2001
( screengrabs from )
Whether or not print is dead, the Times-Picayune has been killed. It's time we took a look at what we're being offered in its stead, the widely reviled website Back we go, via, to the site's beginnings.

The Times-Picayune is owned by Advance Publications and by Advance Digital, two (ostensibly) different corporations, each with its own chain of command and both answering to the parent company, To further confuse matters, Advance Digital was 'til recently called Advance Internet-- a subsidiary of The whole byzantine arrangement strikes me as a fiduciary shell game, but then I never did have a head for business.

The newspaper and were separated by a few miles of CBD and a vast gulf of culture and practice. Ashton Phelps Jr., the paper's publisher for three decades (right up until Ricky Mathews was sent in to kill it off), was the fifth generation of his family to run the Times-Pic. It was an institution steeped in centuries of tradition. At the paper's grim, bunker-like concrete building on Howard Ave., employees were obligated to wear jackets and ties to work.

In contrast to the newspaper's morbid cubicles, has an "open" office plan and gigantic windows offering a view of the Mississippi river. Those who aren't making sales calls generally wear whatever they like to work., like its regional sibling sites (, et al.), was at the outset curated by its own in-house editorial staff. The editors had complete control over what went where on the site's front page, and it was in that sense like a newspaper. Different stories or packages from different news categories-- sports, weather, JazzFest-- were given varying visual prominence on a sometimes hourly basis by human editors who used their judgement to sift and elevate whatever they felt was of importance, significance or interest.
Colorful: in 2007
( from )

Determined to make the site as interactive as possible within the limits of the Advance templates, what the editors chose to promote in the pre-Katrina years was mostly live cams, forum discussions, multimedia presentations and user submissions. The Times-Picayune's "content" was consigned to a single column, though as years rolled on, that column became slightly longer and eventually subdivided into categories.

The Newhouses saw their newspaper-affiliated websites as being separate, online-only entities, just as the newspapers were print-only. This was a stupid strategy, but it's how the Newhouses did things. At Conde Nast (another Newhouse property) even an influential print publication like Gourmet Magazine was denied its own website for decades; its recipes and articles went into the website

It's not so strange, then, that those in charge of for its first decade saw themselves as helming an independent media endeavor, a local portal site of which the Times-Picayune's articles were just one-- possibly minor-- component.

On the Times-Pic side, attitudes towards the site varied. Some pushed for the paper's content to have more prominence on the website, while others were more concerned that the site was giving so much of the newspaper away free.

These weren't mutually exclusive opinions, and there were areas of broad consensus: almost everyone at the Times-Pic found it difficult to countenance their work appearing side-by-side with photos and blog entries by staffers, unpaid web-only freelancers and unsolicited user submissions.

"From the start," Kevin Allman says in the Gambit, "the two 'platforms' have not gotten along."

The dawn of the user commenting feature and the attendant avalanche of racist filth pushed many Times-Pic staffers to a more negative view of the site, though the racism was at least in part editorially institutionalized. As defender of New Orleans and promoter of its culture Deborah Cotton pointed out (an article I first saw on a accountability blog by social-justice lawyer Billy Sothern), Nell Nolan's reporting on the ritzy, predominantly-white Uptown social scene always appeared with the comment feature disabled, to spare the subjects of her writing any criticism.

After the '05 federal flood and the spotlight it put on's usefulness, tensions between the website and the paper escalated. Post-Katrina, made a number of hires from outside the city and an unprecedentedly outspoken culture of antagonism towards the Times-Pic developed within the website's editorial team. This cold-war mindset played out in bizarre ways: staff were forbidden from exchanging e-mails or Instant Messaging with longtime colleagues at the paper, and those who remained even socially friendly with Times-Pic employees were attacked as turncoats. It was an era of paranoia, dysfunction and frequent managerial screaming fits, all in the name of competition between internet and print.

One former freelancer suggests it was a cynical maneuver to pit the institutions against one another. "There were plenty of forward-looking people at Howard Ave. Everyone was already talking about digital everything. The writing was on the wall, the only question was who would survive. That was where the tension was. It was like Boston in the 70s... make the Irish and blacks compete for the same economic niche."

Long, gone:, 2010
( from )
Bloodsport, for the amusement of the Newhouse Caesars. Another former staffer I spoke to disagreed with this characterization. "I don't think it was anything tactical, or part of any larger plan. [The feud] came from a tragic situation towards the top of the editorial masthead. It was a symptom of serious mental health problems within the leadership, which were resolved through firings. Most of the people I knew at had journalism backgrounds and respected the paper."

In early 2009, multiple staffers including the Editor-in-Chief and Managing Editor were laid off, and their positions were eliminated. Editorial authority was vested in a new "Director of Content," James O'Byrne, who came over from the Times-Pic. Around that same time, a new template (still in use at was implemented at

In this new template, seen to the left, staff had very little say in what was featured on the site's front page. A new digital content team drawn mostly from the Times-Pic was empowered to make those decisions, and the new front page was almost 100% Times-Pic content.

The Times-Picayune's section editors, reporters and photographers, whose job descriptions suddenly expanded to putting their own work online, could under this new template feature or "pin" stories atop each of the various front-page categories (News, Sports, Living, Business), though no-one could adjust the order in which the sections of the homepage were laid out. Amid the rollback of the Newhouse Pledge and looming layoffs throughout the Advance empire, what editorial control remained over's front page had shifted unmistakably to the newspaper. This limited editorial control was one piece of a larger transfer of what had been duties to Times-Picayune staffers-- additional responsibilities that came without additional pay.


A few months back, there was another sea change. The newest version of, the infamous "yellow journalism" (now beige journalism) Advance Internet template, did away with the multiple front-page categories.

The Way We Live Now:, 2012
( Flickr image from skooks )'s front page is now just an open, running aggregatory gutter of everything posted on the site, ranked by when the story (or rather, blog entry) was posted. There is no longer any room for editorial discretion, almost no means to feature or call attention to particular items. It's entirely automated.

Coinciding with the layoffs of hundreds and the killing of the Times-Picayune newspaper, this new front page is a single undifferentiated stream, a firehose of slurry. Murders, letters to the editor, the latest doings of the Zephyrs, legislation in Baton Rouge, lottery results, a cake recipe, the summer hours of the St. Charles Parish swimming pools, the indictment of an NOPD officer, a video Doug MacCash shot of an art happening, a developing tropical storm in the Gulf of Mexico, recaps of television shows... all of it swirls indistinguishably into a single high-volume nola_river that flows endlessly off the page, carrying potentially valuable news away on a tide of less timely, less crucial information.

About the only way to keep older stories in view on now is for the site's users to comment on them; the most commented-upon stories of the past seven days are automatically listed in a sidebar widget. Why should fusty old editors get to make such decisions? When Li'l Wayne failed to cut the lawn on his Kenner property, the hootin' hollerin' cachinnatin' commenters pushed that crucial story immediately to the top of "most commented," where it remained for a week. By contrast, when the Times-Pic finally posted a story about the offices of Women With a Vision being attacked by an arsonist, it slipped off the homepage forever within minutes of its posting, swept out of sight by other updates.

The story of is the story of progress. At first had its own in-house editorial control. Then, a restricted set of editorial choices was assigned to already-overworked Times-Pic employees. Now the Times-Pic staffers have been fired, and editorial decision-making-- which local stories matter, what news a visitor to will see-- rests in the hands of the site's unpaid, mostly out-of-town commenters.

In part six, we'll see that same shift play out in reporting and photography. For now, let's take a minute to mourn the loss of human editors. What's replaced them is the journalistic equivalent of the grocery-store automated check-out machine, with your actual food selection determined by the tastes of St. Tammany and Little Rock.


Everyone hates the new site. My own criticisms are rooted in the approach to journalism it represents, but for a more technical understanding of its shortcomings I turned to a web usability expert, whose entirely negative response I excerpt below:
This is a nightmare of data design... There is a general lack not only of visual fidelity, but of consistency. No single typographic style, layout principle or even color palette ties the site together. This schizophrenic disjointedness violates a basic principle of journalism, that the medium itself, the paper or in this case the site, should exude a sense of trust, respectability, a straightforward approach to telling the stories of the day.

...The site also includes absolutely no features for what is referred to as accessibility, the simple coding practices that allow users who are blind or have bad vision to use screen-readers and other software to parse the site. Accessibility practices are a basic and inarguable part of web coding, as good web developers believe the web should be accessible to all. Not that the [newsprint Times-Pic] was accessible to the blind, but if you are going to argue for all of the advances of the digital form that is championing, taking the 5 fucking minutes to make your site accessible would have been an easy move.

...It used to be that unpopular and underhanded grabs for power or attacks against dignity were swathed in a kind of shiny aesthetic suaveness that made the pill easier to swallow. Not so with


a six-part series on the destruction of New Orleans' daily newspaper

Part  One - Two - Three - Four - Five - Six
written by Jules Bentley

Thursday, July 12, 2012

The Murder of the Times-Picayune: Part Four

in which we consider the killers themselves


The Times-Picayune began in 1837 as the Picayune-- the price of the paper in its early years, and a word denoting pettiness or triviality. After a rapid rise it absorbed a succession of other dailies, some themselves the results of previous mergers. For a while New Orleans had six daily newspapers, then four, then only two. In 1980, media mogul S.I. Newhouse Sr. merged those two, the States-Item and the Times-Picayune, into one.

Laid off after 118 yrs, the Times-Pic
Weather Frog does what he must.
Although the States-Item and the Times-Picayune had shared an owner since the 30s, they had never been in editorial lockstep. "The different newspapers all served powerful interests, but they at least served different, sometimes competing interests," explained a friend whose family worked for the States-Item. "[Louisiana District Attorney] Jim Garrison was being paid off by the Marcellos. Everyone knew, but only the States-Item people would call him on it. The Times-Picayune would never rock the boat. They were the oil company paper... they were the newspaper that was in Shell's pocket, and they didn't want to upset anyone who made decisions about oil leases or oil companies. The whole city government in Bogalusa was KKK-- the judges were active Klansmen-- and the Times-Picayune wouldn't write about it. They had no incentive."

"When finally there was only one newspaper, it basically tried to please all the powerful interests, by avoiding anything that pissed off anyone with real money. I'm not saying the Times-Pic didn't do some good work, and didn't have some great staffers, but the assholes in charge had to be led by the nose before they'd cover anything controversial." I mentioned the post-Katrina murders by NOPD. "Absolutely," he said. "If the national media hadn't put pressure on the Times-Pic by scooping them over and over, the editors never would've paid any attention. You saw how they ignored it for years. To the owners, articles were filler between ads."


Those owners are the Newhouses. Their patriarch clawed his way to the top of the food chain just a couple generations back, and his successors have thus far managed to remain where their granddaddy put them. They're a clan distinguished not by their methods, merely by their success; they are to media what the Walton family is to retail. Besides a notable aversion to the spotlight, the Newhouses are just run-of-the-mill capitalist pigs-- nepotism, monopoly, occasional philanthropy.

"Shy, short, insecure, awkward,
inarticulate, rude, cruel--
and in his way, brilliant."
The pair of brothers now atop the Newhouse heap, S.I. Newhouse Jr. and Donald, are two of the richest people in the world. They own tons of media, including a cable company (Bright House Networks, roughly 2.2 million subscribers), Condé Nast Publications (Vogue, Vanity Fair, GQ, Wired et al.), around 35 U.S. daily newspapers and 40 weekly regional business journals as well as all those print entities' corresponding websites, most of which use variations of the same awful templates. The Newhouses also own the hellhole of misery that is, about which more later.

Many Forbes-list billionaires, American and otherwise, follow some variant of the Donald Trump behavioral model. In sharp contrast, the various Newhouses have consistently maintained public profiles so low as to be subterranean, an invisibility incongruous with their extraordinary wealth and power. They don't dabble in local or national politics beyond token contributions to the DNC, and aided perhaps their ownership of so many media outlets, they've been able to escape media coverage of their own lives almost entirely. The exceptions are minor: a couple wrangles with the IRS, occasional inclusion in society columns, and a single uninformative, unauthorized 1998 book about the dynasty that hilariously described aging patriarch Si Jr. as "shy, short, insecure, awkward, inarticulate, rude, cruel-- and, in his way, brilliant."

How painstakingly the Newhouses have kept themselves uninteresting may be the only interesting thing about them. Back in the 1930s when the original S.I. Newhouse was building his empire and buying up newspapers left and right, it didn't behoove wealthy Jewish people to crow about their accomplishments. It's pure speculation on my part to suggest the Newhouses' familial creed of secrecy is rooted in the historical realities of antisemitism, but even today, many of the websites which attack the Newhouse media monopoly do so from an explicitly antisemitic perspective.

Newhouses have lived in New Orleans since the 60s. Although a few of their wives have distinguished themselves through charity work, the Newhouse men have never been part of the social scene. A comment on a Gambit blog entry asserts that being Jewish kept them out of our city's inner circles. Though there's no denying the hardline bigotries of our old-line social & carnival club coteries, it's also not clear the Newhouses were interested in joining such organizations.

After a lively career including an Italian knighthood and a stint as executive officer of the CIA's predecessor agency, Norman N. Newhouse (kid brother of S.I. Sr. and uncle of reigning brothers S.I. Jr. and Donald) spent his final decades here in New Orleans, overseeing the Times-Pic as well as a number of the family's other regional holdings. "We are, basically, anonymous people," he said in an interview three years before his death.
We never went in for titles... If I were to walk into a room in New Orleans with the 100 most prominent people in town, there may be two who would know me personally. Most would probably know the name and the connection, but they wouldn't know me personally or recognize me by my face, because my public position is nonexistent.
Steve Newhouse (top),
David Newhouse (bottom)
The crop of Newhouses on their way up the ladder don't seem concerned with New Orleans one way or the other. Advance honcho and heir apparent Steve Newhouse, the man who made the call to have the Times-Picayune shut down, came through the Crescent City only occasionally. Though he owns multiple newspapers, nobody but the New York Times can get a quote from him about the Southern bloodbath he's ordered.

Folks in New Orleans who've dealt with Steve speak of his cold-bloodedness, his disregard for personal niceties and his strikingly un-touristic lack of interest in the city outside his hotel. During his brief visits, those whom he summoned for meetings had to go see him at the hotel, in the same suite he rented each time. It seems the judge who passed the Times-Pic's death sentence didn't care to venture forth from his Windsor Court chambers .

Steve's designated David Newhouse, one of Norman's sons, to oversee this exciting transitional time at the local level. Having edited a newspaper for ten years, David will presumably know how best to kill one. Steve himself hasn't been around lately.

Can you stand to meet one more Newhouse dude? There's one I'm genuinely curious about: Steve's nephew, S.I. Newhouse IV. I really want to know what he thinks about the killing of the Times-Picayune.

S.I. Newhouse IV, from the film "Born Rich"
Mostly known for expressing oedipal angst in the 2003 documentary "Born Rich," fortunate scion Si the Fourth was sent down here after college for "executive training" at the Times-Pic, and I'm told he had a very very good time in New Orleans. What does he think about the firings of all those who helped train him, those who showed him such hospitality? This was where he gained his first "executive" experience, barely a decade ago. Surely you never forget your first executive experience.

Does S.I. IV remember us fondly? He mai er may not. After all, we've been the ruin of many a rich boy. This young up-and-comer might share the opinion of former President Bush, speaking about New Orleans on Sept. 2, 2005: "I believe the town where I used to come to enjoy myself, occasionally too much, will be that very same town, that it will be a better place to come to."


Now I'm just an ol' spittin' cobra, but even I lack enough venom to adequately excoriate callow, shameless opportunistic tragedy-profiteer Ricky Mathews, the newly Newhouse-appointed president of the newly Newhouse-created NOLA Media Group.

As much as I despise the kind of narcissistic neocolonial fucks who consider our centuries of culture and history a "blank slate" for twee art experiments and corny childish bullshit they'd never try back in their hometowns, as much as I hate entrepreneurial techno-twaddle and "new urbanist" gentrifiers and blog-themed restaurants and Kirsha Kaechele and the Mall on St. Claude et alia ad infinitum, every ounce of that combined vitriol, supersized, is but a fingernail-fraction of what Ricky Mathews deserves.

Ricky Mathews
Can a Southern boy be a Carpetbagger? Ricky Mathews proves it's possible. Wherever something terrible happens to folks, Mathews pops up to get a paycheck from the powers that be. He's like a truffle-hunting pig, except he's a rat who snuffles out blood money.

Anathematizing the generic, profit-maximizing titans-of-industry Newhouses at any length feels like sorting out recycling: it might make some feel pious, but I personally can't be bothered. I'm not convinced there's a point. Yes, they're super-mega-capitalists, yes, they're bad. I consider Ricky Mathews something far more pernicious, more disingenuous, and more repugnant.

Let us examine, for example, Ricky's reaction to the 2010 BP oil disaster. The black death was flowing unabated into the Gulf when he parlayed his media credentials into the chairmanship of a spin agency funded by BP, an agency whose homepage's Project Overview, titled "Beyond the Oil Spill," opens with the sentences, "A once-in-a generation opportunity is upon us. A transformational moment in Alabama history."

That's the kind of shit that makes my Corexit-tainted blood boil. Further down that same page we see Ricky's gormless mug gracing an article titled "Oil Spill’s Silver Lining."

"We can turn a very bad thing into a good thing," Mathews says of the environmental holocaust in which BP murdered a dozen human beings and poisoned countless more, eradicating Gulf wildlife wholesale, destroying generations of coastal community, and laying waste to the lifeways of entire cultures.

"What we learned after Katrina on the Mississippi Coast," says Ricky Mathews, "is that a crisis of even enormous proportions provides opportunities to re-imagine a whole region."

Crisis, Opportunity. Crisis, Opportunity. Reading Mathews' work, it's hard not to vomit. It's also hard not to recall a prominent predecessor to Mathews' "Oil Spill's Silver Lining" piece. It's something Jeffrey at the Library Chronicles has recently refocused attention on, a New York Times editorial that's proven almost a Rosetta stone for understanding the post-Katrina experience.

The piece in question is David Brooks' September 8, 2005 essay,"Katrina's Silver Lining." In that essay, published while more than half our city was still flooded and the death toll was climbing daily, Brooks was already rubbing his hands together over the opportunities the "blank slate" of New Orleans could provide. His first sentence? "As a colleague of mine says, every crisis is an opportunity."

It's clear what kind of opportunities vermin like Ricky Mathews see in the suffering of our region, in the layoffs at the Times-Picayune, in the environmental holocaust of the BP disaster, and in the horrors of Katrina. To Ricky, these are financial, personal career opportunities. Is there a conflict of interest in the publisher and president of the Mobile Press-Register serving on a BP-funded commission, and his newspaper running an article in which Mathews is quoted assuring the reader that BP has cleaned the Gulf, and that the seafood is safe?

It's but one stunningly bare-faced example, an example which the Gambit points out remains prominent on BP's Facebook Page. In it,
[Mathews] noted the need for continued perseverance in getting out the message that the coast has bounced back from the April 20, 2010, oil rig explosion that led to the largest offshore oil spill in U.S. history. BP, which leased the oil rig, has done admirable work in helping market the coast since the cleanup, he said.
image courtesy of
Is that unethical? Is that conflict of interest? Shit no... that's just someone who knows how to seize opportunity.

Opportunities for Ricky Mathews at the Huntsville Times, where he oversaw the firing of 102 workers, leaving the paper a 15-person newsroom. Opportunities for Ricky at the Birmingham News, where under his leadership news staff was cut sixty percent-- 107 fired, including two pregnant women and a cancer patient. Opportunities for Ricky Mathews at the Mobile Press-Register, where seventy-five percent of the newsroom staff were fired. There, where Mathews was still both president and publisher, the news of those layoffs and the death of the Press-Register's 200-year legacy of daily publishing was headlined "Exciting Changes for our Readers."

Exciting changes.

The Gambit provided an invaluable account of Ricky Mathews' introduction to our city's new stratum of cyber-capitalists by superdeveloper Sean Cummings. Presented like a blushing debutante to the venture-funded eligible bachelors of our post-K NOLA technocracy, Mathews sounds ridiculous.
"We’re going to create a Google-Nike kind-of-vibe work environment,” Mathews told the group. “It’s our goal to create a world-class digital work environment for the journalists who are going to work for us, because we can attract the best and brightest from around the country."
He also brags of a three-hour meeting with Mayor Landrieu, in which Landrieu "got it immediately." On followup, the Mayor's office then told the Gambit it "wouldn't characterize the meeting in those terms, either in the amount of time spent or in the mayor's takeaway (from the meeting)."

What's a little truth between journalists? In his recent Pearl-Harbor-sized above-the-fold front-page Times-Picayune advertisement for himself, Ricky writes, "The true story of our effort will be that we want the story that is told of our efforts to be that we embraced the amazing entrepreneurial spirit that has evolved since Hurricane Katrina." If you can parse that fucking mess, I doff my cap.

Ricky Mathews is an idiot, a gap-toothed clown useful only to his paymasters... but idiots can be dangerous. George W. Bush was an idiot, too.

Let us learn from the past. Let us learn specifically from this slimy invasive nutria rat Ricky Mathews' abhorrent and unforgivable past. Rob Holpert, managing editor of the Mobile, Alabama weekly Lagniappe, lays out the Ricky Mathews narrative:
The second Ricky 'Stormcrow' Mathews entered the building, the [Mobile Press-Register]'s fate was sealed.

The first story the P-R ran when Mathews came in was a lie, claiming his predecessor Howard Bronson had retired, when, in fact, he’d been fired. ...Mathews has been nothing but a hatchet man more interested in running groups he has no business being involved with than running the newspaper he was allegedly hired to save.

Newhouse can count his billions while Mathews moves to New Orleans and chops them to pieces next. Sounds like another "exciting change” in the making.
Unlike the Fifth-Avenue Newhouses, Ricky is here. Though he hasn't had the nuts to show himself in the newsroom, he's here in town, living it up on the blood money the Newhouses have paid him to swing axe. They outbid BP for his services-- here he is quaffing drinks at our bars, eating at our restaurants, maybe even walking our streets.

Let's find opportunities to give Ricky Mathews the welcome he deserves.


a six-part series on the destruction of New Orleans' daily newspaper

Part  One - Two - Three - Four - Five - Six
written by Jules Bentley

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

The Murder of the Times-Picayune: Part Three

exploring the possibilities of worker control


Some are crowing, crowing over the murder. Neoliberal Young Creatives are circling the Times-Picayune corpse, eager to dart in and nip at a tender undefended eyeball or internal organ, eager to feast on a once-mighty newspaper rendered defenseless by the superior Newhouse superpredators.

Follow them on Twitter
For a pair of prime examples, we need look no further than the horrendous young-privilege circle jerk Next American City, a bizarre media hub that elevates gentrification to a fetish, in fact to an entire identity-- "new urbanism."

There we find the opinions of Michael Martin, who since arriving here in 2010 has been made Manager of "St. Claude Main St," the recent recipient of a massive $275,000 grant to be shared with globe-trotter Candy Chang of "Blank Slate Neighborland" infamy. From his comfortable position deep in the non-profit clover, Martin urges largely web-unsavvy New Orleans to see the murder of the Times-Picayune as "an opportunity."

Crisis, opportunity. But an opportunity for whom? Ariella Cohen knows for whom!

"[C]ommunities need to understand," Cohen patiently informs us non-understanders, "that news is community infrastructure that must be valued and paid for, just like roads and bridges." Her solution is that everyone pour money into The Lens, which she helped found before following the NGO money train back north. By suggesting we respond to the death of our daily by investing in her internet site, she also promulgates the inaccurate notion that the murder of the Times-Picayune was due to it not being valued or paid for.

In the shadows beneath this gigantic, unselfconscious Shock Doctrine pitch for Knight Foundation funding, one comment by New Orleans poet Rodger Kamenetz provides a glimmer of light.
the missing piece in the discussion here is the staff of the Times Picayune. What if they had responded to this latest news-- or previous news-- and realized they needed to band together, really to unionize in some manner?

Then they as a group could have responded to this action by saying, fire all of us or keep all of us, print seven days a week or wake up tomorrow morning with no staff whatsoever. ...I really believe that had they done this-- if they did it, the whole community would support them.
I think he's absolutely right. Why didn't the Times-Picayune ever unionize?


On June 26 2012, the labor union representing about 200 employees of the Albany Times-Union Newspaper sent out a press release: eleven former employees would be compensated for their unjust firings. "We are proud to welcome back three of our colleagues, and we are glad all 11 will be compensated for their lost wages, health care costs and pension losses," wrote Albany Newspaper Guild Guild President Tim O’Brien. "But this case is not just about the past. It is about the future of all our members. Never again will employees be treated the way these colleagues were."

That kind of success story is what happens when workers-- even newspaper workers-- organize with one another. The Times-Picayune, of course, had no union. Instead, it had the Pledge:
No full-time, non-represented employee will be laid off or otherwise lose his or her job due to technological change or economic conditions, as long as our newspaper continues to publish daily in its current newsprint form.
This promise from the men of the Newhouse family to their employees stood for decades: if you remain non-union, you will not be laid off. It's why a Newhouse job was once considered the holy grail of newspaper work.

What kind of a substitute for the protections of worker organizing did the Pledge provide, long-term? “We have had a pledge not to layoff employees for economic conditions or advances in technology,” Steve Newhouse, chairman of Advance, told Editor & Publisher magazine in 2009. The occasion of this interview was his announcement that the pledge was ending. Firings were to follow. "It was not a pledge that applies to the kind of transitional moment in the newspaper industry that is basically struggling to survive."

Transitional moments-- transformational moments-- moments of crisis and change.

Sure enough, Times-Picayune and staff began transitioning to joblessness. On the newspaper side, the layoffs were mixed into buyouts: higher-paid staff or those covering theater, books and other apparently obsolete aspects of New Orleans life were offered incentives to quit. With the Pledge rescinded, weeks of mandatory unpaid furlough ensured everyone understood the stick awaiting those who didn't accept these generously proffered carrots.

Howard Bronson
One person who had the means and determination not to go quietly was the publisher of the Advance-owned Mobile Press-Register, Howard Bronson. Fired shortly after the rollback of the pledge and replaced with (now NOLA Media Group president) Ricky Mathews, Bronson was not satisfied with his severance package of a year’s salary, continuing health care coverage and access to University of Alabama football tickets. This ungrateful good ol' boy filed suit against the Newhouses for having violated the Pledge, and a good ol' court case commenced. On the stand, Donald Newhouse explained the Pledge was "a promise-- not a legal contract." Attorneys characterized the Pledge as simply "a protection for lower-level employees who didn’t join a union."

The ever-excellent American Zombie judges the Bronson suit and the Pledge to have played a major role in the liquidations of the Newhouse newspapers. In this, I disagree with him. Bronson had the means to sue the Newhouses; the rank-and-file never would have. The Pledge was a successful swindle. The reverence Newhouse staffers felt towards the Pledge imbued it with a mystic aura, and its warm glow kept them safe and secure right up until that warm glow ceased to be cost-effective.

Workers believed the benevolent patriarchs of the Newhouse family would look after them, based on nothing more than the Newhouses having said so. In practice, the Pledge was like the "privacy agreements" users have with Google or the fine-print fee structures of a credit card: subject to change at any time with basically no notice & no recourse. It was designed that way. The Newhouses might've misjudged how cheaply they could buy off Bronson, but billionaires aren't generally naive about labor.

The Pledge served its purpose: it bought worker loyalty. When the time came, heads rolled just the same as they had at Gannett & other news companies. The Pledge was never more than a facet of Newhouse efforts to suppress worker organizing.


Strikers published their own
newspaper, the "Valley Voice."
Photo by William D. Lewis
Back in late 2004, when employees of Youngstown, Ohio's daily "Vindicator" went on strike, Advance was one of the media companies who provided the Vindicator's owners with scab labor. New Orleans anarchists, the tediously scolding voice of idealism, painted the neighborhood around the Times-Pic building with anti-scab graffiti. "Scabs Are Scum," the spraypaint read. "Don't scab. Fuck your boss."

Some listened, some didn't. Times-Picayune managing editor Dan Shea was among those who took the bonus pay to go cross the picket line. He was deluded enough to believe himself on the side of the publishers. He, like many workers in many fields, mistakenly conflated his interests with those of his overseers.

"I'm a manager," Shea told picketers who asked him why he was stabbing fellow newspapermen in the back. "Publishers stick together just like unions do, and this paper has the right to publish. So we're just here helping out.... I hope you wrap this up soon; I want to go home to my kids."

Remember BP CEO Tony Hayward's words, in the wake of the BP oil disaster? "There's no one who wants this thing over more than I do, I'd like my life back." Shea, like Hayward, considered himself unfairly inconvenienced-- a victim of these other people's tragedy.

In May 2012 Shea found out how the publishers reciprocated his loyalty: he and the Times-Pic's other managing editor were excluded from the secret meetings new honcho Ricky Mathews held at the Windsor Court Hotel. Shea, like the common union rabble he'd sided against, was out in the cold, unsure of whether he'd have a job and depending on third-party reporting for his information.

"Since the New York Times story I have not heard anything," Shea told The Nation. "I’m in the same boat as the majority of the staff.”

Then, like the majority of the staff, he was fired.


There is, for better or worse, one prominent and semi-recent example I can cite of the Times-Picayune staffers working collectively, autonomously and without orders from above.

According to an article in the US News, in the teeth of the 2005 federal levee failure and the flooding of New Orleans, at the Times-Picyaune "a new, unexpected kind of leadership emerged-- one in which people at all levels banded together to do what they had to do: put out a newspaper." The writers of the article, titled "Out of Disaster, Power in Numbers" describe this dynamic as an example of organizations "shifting away from 'top down' approaches, in which a few leaders call all the shots, in favor of more collective processes."

I find it very telling that in the Times-Picayune's finest hour, its greatest triumph over adversity, the period for which it's been justly lauded, there was "no grand plan directed by senior editors." According to editor Jim Amoss, "It became immediately apparent that our very survival as a publication depended on collaboration and cooperation." The crisis "dramatically leveled all hierarchical considerations."

The conduct of Times-Pic staffers was heroic, and it also happened to be an example of cooperative, collective action. The work those employed by the Times-Pic did through Katrina and its aftermath remains a shining moment in that newspaper's history, in our community's history and in journalism's history.

Nothing-- neither the death of the Times-Picayune, nor the crass invocations of Katrina by those killing it-- will ever dim that luster.


a six-part series on the destruction of New Orleans' daily newspaper
Part  One - Two - Three - Four - Five - Six
written by Jules Bentley

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

The Murder of the Times-Picayune: Part Two


A prominent lie told by those who want to excuse the murder of the Times-Picayune is that the newspaper ceased being profitable.

The Times-Picayune, as a seven-day-a-week paper, was profitable. Was it as profitable as selling cocaine? No. Was it as profitable as Wal-Mart? No. But it was profitable, even notably so among U.S. dailies.

Rick Edmonds, at the Poynter Institute, breaks down the numbers behind the Advance Corporation and Newhouse family decision to kill the Times-Picayune. He finds that cutting print editions is actually a money loser. It's the layoffs of 600+ staff across the South that make this profitable for the Newhouses, outweighing the loss of advertising income.

So despite Content Director James O'Byrne's asseverations about the burdensome costs of printing and distributing the newspaper-- or "Inkasaurus," as he calls it-- it's the firings of his former co-workers that are the real money-saver.

Edmonds uses data from Kantar Media in Ad Age and CJR to calculate that the Times-Pic's 2011 revenues were roughly $100 million. Profitable... just not profitable enough.

Writing for Fortune, Dan Mitchell establishes that the Times-Picayune has been continuing to make good money for its owners, inconvenient for those seeking to fit the murder of the Times-Picayune into a cliche print-is-dead narrative. "Advance's decision," Mitchell concludes, "isn't an investment in the digital future -- it's simply proof that Advance wants to squeeze every nickel it can out of the operation as quickly as possible."

One invaluable component being liquidated along with local jobs and a seven-day edition is the community's goodwill, described by Reuters blogger Jack Shafer as "the newspaper’s standing in the community and the habit of advertisers and subscribers of giving it money." It was the community's goodwill towards the Times-Picayune, especially post-Katrina, that made the newsstand and home-delivery price increases a couple years back palatable; it's why people were willing to pay more for a reduced page count. Shafer explains:
One reason an owner would want to extract a newspaper’s goodwill value before selling its physical assets – its real estate, presses, computers, trucks, paper, ink, etc. – is that traditionally, goodwill is where most of a newspaper’s value has resided. When [author of The Vanishing Newspaper] Meyer asked two newspaper appraisers to estimate how much of a newspaper’s value was locked up in goodwill versus physical assets, both gave him the same answer: 80 percent goodwill, 20 percent physical assets.
Stunning percentages. But in the marketplace, human affection is just another commodity to be traded on, albeit one that in New Orleans has evaporated perhaps more rapidly than the Times-Pic's owners expected.

For an organic example of how far that goodwill's fallen, look at everyone laughing, and riding, and cornholing when the robust new sent a bunch of naughty filler text live on the site's mobile platforms. The universal vicious glee over this mistake shows how badly we want to see these new-media technocrats toppled and humbled.

The community is rightly angered and feels injured by the loss of its newspaper. Back at Fortune, Dan Mitchell quaintly suggests, "There is a public-service component to newspapering that is often at odds with the pursuit of maximum profits... The question is, at what point does the pursuit of profit begin to do serious harm to the communities served by newspapers?"

Longtime New Orleans advocate Harry Shearer takes this argument further, suggesting in the Columbia Journalism Review that newspaper owners' mania for moneymaking violates a social compact:
The newspaper business lives off the benefits of free speech... Should there be a societal expectation that the proprietors of such privileged enterprises owe a little something back—perhaps a calm acceptance of a lower profit margin than could be attained, say, in the car-leasing business?
What these naive, starry-eyed idealists don't seem to understand is that Advance, owner of the NOLA Media Group, is a business. The Newhouses, who own Advance, are businessmen. For them, no entity will ever be profitable enough, not even when every silver dime has been wrung from it, not even when every last drop of goodwill's been monetized.

Capitalism demands that profits not merely continue but increase, always. When profits stop increasing, capitalism demands the very infrastructure of the enterprise be taken apart and sold, which is where the Times-Picayune is at.

Of course what we call "democracy" relies on, or assumes, an informed public, and a free press is theoretically tasked with keeping that public informed, but capitalism has no room for such things. Just as the more restrictive doctrines of religion eventually give way to convenience, lofty notions of "the free press" get scrapped for copper sooner or later in a world where only profits matter. An informed public isn't cost-efficient.

Even in this so-called Information Age, it's hard to deny how woefully underinformed the public already are. Replacing a record high-penetration newspaper ("a print edition that has the highest penetration among metro dailies in markets our size and larger") with a shitty website in a city with record low-penetration internet access ("Louisiana is ranked 44th out of 50 states in terms of broadband subscription, with just 51 percent of residents subscribing") has no relation to ethics, nothing to do with technology or our local reality; it's only about profit.

An informed citizenry holding the state accountable is an idea outdated as daily newspapers. In China, where they have in many ways perfected capitalism, the state has settled into its proper, pure role as a coercive, tax-funded adjunct to the business interests of the ruling class. We in the U.S. must cloak this approach in the language of encouraging and rewarding "job creators," but in China no such prevarication is necessary. Their state's apparatus of oppression nakedly and undilutedly exists to serve the absolute wealthiest. Consolidated, centralized control of media is one piece of that.

We're running to catch up, because capitalism demands it. Those petty privileges America's upper-middle-class took for granted-- that Bill of Rights stuff poor Americans never got in the first place-- were just inefficiencies for the global market to iron out. It's already too late to argue. All that's left is watching the pisant "free-market" advocates who mistakenly & inaccurately conflated their interests with those of the Romneys and Newhouses find out the hard way which side of the 99% divide they're really on.

The tarted-up tinpot tiny-town tyrants of Comus and Rex, who for all their faux-royal folderol couldn't even get an audience with the real decision-makers at Advance, are swallowing that bitter pill right now. Not even their generations of slave-earned wealth can buy them the newspaper they think they deserve. Oh, they're rich... just not rich enough.


a six-part series on the destruction of New Orleans' daily newspaper
Part  One - Two - Three - Four - Five - Six
written by Jules Bentley

Monday, July 9, 2012

The Murder of the Times-Picayune: Part One

first in a six-part series analyzing the destruction of our city's newspaper


Speaking at the 2010 Jackson Square rally against BP, surprise guest Dr. John let 'em have it with no problem. "Dis was no accident," he said of the fatal explosion aboard the Deepwater Horizon oil rig. "What happened out there was a MOIDAH! It was a moidah, and now they got the moiderers in charge of the moidah scene!"

Just as BP would have you believe the systematic criminal negligence that killed those men on the oil rig was an accident, just as the Army Corps of Engineers would have you believe the 2005 flooding of New Orleans was a "natural disaster" caused by Katrina, so there are those who want you to believe the death of New Orleans' storied daily newspaper, the Times-Picayune, is not murder.

There are those who will say the loss of our paper is the inevitable result of cosmic forces, a death attributable to natural causes. It's because of the internet, because of changing times, because the newspaper isn't profitable any more.

Those are all lies.

The Times-Picayune was murdered, and it was murdered for money. Specific men with names and addresses murdered the Times-Pic for money. It's a long and sordid story, and it's one I'm not sure we can rely on corporate-owned media to accurately report.

The account that follows draws heavily from multiple sources. Wherever I can, I've linked to those sources as I quote them. The links are just citations; you don't need to follow the links to understand my essay or the arguments I'm making. Most of all, what I write here stands on the (perhaps unwilling) shoulders of the tremendous ongoing work done by the Gambit, particularly the coverage provided by Kevin Allman.


On a panel at Harvard in spring 2007, Content Director James O'Byrne, then a Features Editor at the Times-Pic, discussed the difficulties of having out-of-town brass making decisions about New Orleans news coverage. "So there is clearly this thing where editors who make decisions about coverage think they know what New Orleans looks like, and they don’t. They don’t have a clue..."

He was speaking specifically about Katrina. In its aftermath, he said, "Our staff shrunk with our circulation; it was 265 before the storm and right now we are around 200, which isn’t bad. Our strategy to focus a lot of our efforts over the last 20 years in the suburbs paid off in big ways. No one was fired."

"No one was fired," marveled Susan Feeney of NPR. "That’s a pretty big issue when every other newspaper in America is laying people off."

We'll get to layoffs. For now, the point is that the Times-Picayune in its last twenty years indeed focused hard on the suburbs; the mostly white, mostly conservative suburbs. The comment sections are overwhelmingly full of people from outside the city, most of whom hate and revile-- and yet cannot stop thinking about-- New Orleans. White, right-wing suburbanites also made up the bulk of the print edition's subscribers, and it was thus their tastes and their prejudices the newspaper flattered and sought to please, to whatever degree it deviated from the perspective of the ancient, dwindling Rex/Comus Uptown elite.

Whither this withered elite? Post-Katrina, this same Uptown ruling clique gathered in a fancy Dallas hotel to devise the now-notorious Green Dot/Reduced Footprint plan that would have converted black neighborhoods to greenspace. Similarly, this hometown one-percenter set greeted the devastating news of the Times-Picayune's demise by convening in a stately Uptown home and deciding what should be done.

But oh, what a shock to their sensibilities-- rather than their internal consensus having immediate force of law, these Boston Club Brahmin have been given the brush-off. You'd think they were non-whites trying to join Comus!

Quelle horreur-- the Newhouse family declines to sell them the Times-Pic, and that bounder Ricky Mathews, the out-of-town overlord appointed by the New York Newhouses, doesn't seek to please these garden-district dress-up dukes and doyennes. Why, far from kissing Rex's mystickal Ring, he's sashaying around town with that no-account megadeveloper Sean Cummings!

Alack, the moldy Comus-tose "elite," so used to lording it over the puny pond Pontchartrain, have now learnt a terrifying lesson: under global capitalism, their blueblood family trees and exclusive carnival-club memberships really don't mean shit. They can write angry letters to the editors and demand the caddish Newhouses hand over the reins; they can stack signatories to the sky. Their old money merely mumbles. They've got no pull.

Welcome, Krewe of Comus fuddy-duddies, to the ugly realities of capitalism. Welcome to the only game in town.


I think it's important, as we mourn the murdered Times-Picayune, that we don't lionize it as something it wasn't. Still, for all the negativity I express above towards the newspaper's role as servant of the cotillion cults and online playground for white supremacy, I love the Times-Picayune and I'm outraged by its destruction.

In mounting a defense of the Times-Picayune I'd would point, as many have, to the their awesome recent series on Lousiana's world-beating incarceration rate. I would direct readers to the work of unwilling hurricane prophet Mark Schleifstein. I would invoke the inarguable heroism of the Times-Picayune staff during the post-Katrina flooding, and most of all I'd let others who have said it better speak for themselves.

A superb post on The Lens by New Orleans hero Karen Gadbois makes three very important points: The Times-Pic was always indispensable even to its harshest critics : most of what's worthwhile about "digital journalism" draws from print, usually from work done by paid professional reporters : those in charge of the Times-Pic's bottom line have been blind to the newspaper's strengths for a long time.

Award-winning historian John Barry, author of Rising Tide, told The Nation simply, “This is one of the dumbest decisions by any newspaper publisher ever.”

For a digital-media perspective, WWNO brings us a report that includes words from Robert Morris, a round-the-clock energizer bunny powering the "hyperlocal" Uptown Messenger website. Morris and his site are a living and very accomplished example of what a small, dedicated tech-savvy team can accomplish. Still, he's horrified by the layoffs. He sees the loss of reporters, not the reduction in print frequency, as the big story. After all, he says, "No city has ever been made better from fewer journalists."

Beyond all of this, beyond all the ways the murder of the Times-Picayune hurts our community, it's simply unacceptable that New Orleans be the laboratory for this misguided digital experiment, and that the lives and careers of hard-working New Orleans journalists be sacrificed to this experiment.

In a smug contrarian essay for the Gambit, cashed-out patrician Jack Davis finds "opportunity" in the hundreds of firings and the death of a 175-year-old newspaper. Note that word, opportunity; we'll see it again. According to Davis, "This is a rare opportunity for New Orleans to lead the nation, to be the pioneer in digital transformation... This experiment was bound to happen in some substantial American market sooner or later... We just drew the short straw, and became the test tube."

The furious final words in defense of the Times-Picayune against this vivisection should rightly go to activist Brad Ott, who commented in response to Davis' head-patting condescension:
This aspect is another major reason why this scheme needs to be vigorously resisted. Since Hurricane Katrina's August 29, 2005 landfall and the resulting federal flood, we denizens of New Orleans have been experimented upon -- mostly with devastating consequences.

More than 7,000 certified Orleans Public School educators and support staff, most of whom were African American women, were summarily fired and replaced by fresh-out-of college Teach For America docents to lead to the largest collection of privatized charter schools in the nation (with only marginal improvement).

Our public housing developments, most of whom had ably survived the storm, were demolished after locking out their leaseholders (indeed -- many residents were unable to retrieve their possessions!) and replaced with so-called "Choice neighborhoods" -- which have effectively locked out most of the original HANO residents.

And our main trauma center Charity Hospital was shuttered even after its workers and the U.S. military had its first three floors ready to reopen within one month of the storm. Subsequently Lower Mid-City has been demolished, displacing hundreds of residents and scores of businesses to make way for a medical complex in which its needed financing still remains to be secured.

So now New Orleans is part of an experiment in newspaper media. This is no accident. We were chosen (along with sister papers in Birmingham, Huntsville and Mobile, Alabama) BECAUSE WE IN THE DEEP SOUTH DON'T MERIT MUCH NOTICE...

Brad Ott calls out Mayor Landrieu over the destruction of Lower Mid-City -- photo by John McCusker, Times-Picayune 


a six-part series on the destruction of New Orleans' daily newspaper
Part  One - Two - Three - Four - Five - Six
written by Jules Bentley