Saturday, May 26, 2012

New Orleans' Times-Picayune Newspaper Going Digital

New Orleans learned last week that one of its bedrock institutions will undergo a major makeover: The Times-Picayune, the city's daily newspaper with a 175-year history, announced it will cut back its newsprint version to three days a week and expand its digital news publications. This change, which was taken because of declining print revenues in a digital age, is scheduled to take effect sometime this fall. When it happens, New Orleans will be the biggest city in the country without a daily newspaper.

A new company - the NOLA Media Group, which will include The Times-Picayune and its affiliated web site - will reshape how the New Orleans area's dominant news organization delivers local news, sports and entertainment coverage in an increasingly digital age. NOLA Media Group will significantly increase its online news reporting 24 hours a day, seven days a week, while offering enhanced printed newspapers on a schedule of three days a week. The newspaper will be home-delivered and sold in stores on Wednesdays, Fridays and Sundays only.

The decision to form a new company signals a change in the way news is delivered to an increasingly wired New Orleans area audience. As printed newspaper circulation declines, online readership is surging. The internet is slowly closing in on television as America's main source of national and international news. The rapid adoption of cell phones and, especially, the spread of internet-connected smartphones and iPad-like devices are changing the way people communicate with others, find information and read the news.

Nearly half (46%) of American adults are smartphone owners as of February 2012, an increase of 11 percentage points over the 35% of Americans who owned a smartphone last May. Nearly every major demographic group — men and women, younger and middle-aged adults, urban and rural residents, the wealthy and the less well-off — experienced a notable uptick in smartphone adoption over the last year. Overall adoption levels are at 60% or more within several cohorts, such as college graduates, 18-35 year olds and those with an annual household income of $75,000 or more. Including those who have iPad-like devices further boosts the numbers who access Internet news sources through through their personal smart devices and these people increasingly prefer to read digital newspapers over newsprint newspapers. BEAM ME UP SCOTTY!

Last year, 41% of all adults said they get most of their news about national and international news from the internet. Since 2007, the number of 18 to 29 year old adults citing the internet as their main source has nearly doubled, from 34 percent to 65 percent. In 2010, for the first time, the internet surpassed even television as the main source of national and international news for people younger than 30.

Even as the world goes digital many are attached to their home time printed newspaper. According to a Pew Research Center’s Project for Excellence in Journalism and Internet & American Life Project survey nearly three quarters (72%) of adults are quite attached to following local news and information, and local newspapers are by far the source they rely on for much of the local information they need. In fact, local news enthusiasts are substantially more wedded to their local newspapers than others. They are much more likely than others to say that if their local newspaper vanished, it would have a major impact on their ability to get the local information they want. This is especially true of local news followers age 40 and older, who differ from younger local news enthusiasts in some key ways.

The reaction to the Times-Picayune's wrenching news by New Orleanians was a combination of shock, incredulity, anger and sadness, expressed in telephone calls, emails, tweets and Facebook (savethepicayune) and at, a website that civic activist Anne Milling bought Thursday morning.

The proportion of New Orleanians who read The Times-Picayune newsprint version is the highest in the nation, and the people who read it daily responded en mass to the news. Telephone calls poured into the newspaper Thursday from subscribers who were irate at the prospect of losing their daily paper.

Freedom of speech, of the press, of association, of assembly and petition -- this set of guarantees, protected by the First Amendment, comprises what we refer to as freedom of expression. The Supreme Court has written that this freedom is "the matrix, the indispensable condition of nearly every other form of freedom." Without it, other fundamental rights, like the right to vote, would wither and die.

Increasingly those freedoms and rights are dependent on the Internet.

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