The irregular, diminished patchwork of media that remains – which encompasses fewer seasoned reporters – won't come close to offering the same intensive coverage that a full-force daily did, says activist Anne Milling. On the watchdog side, that means reduced government accountability. And on the information-delivery side, in a city where a third of adults lack home Internet access, the new Web focus will leave the most vulnerable Picayune readers behind.
"A daily Times-Picayune has been the backbone of the community in our post-Katrina environment and provides the foundation for all civic dialogue and discourse," Ms. Milling wrote in a notice announcing the launch of The Times-Picayune Citizens' Group, an alliance she founded to amplify readers' concerns.
And readers were upset.
Hundreds of them attended rallies, waving placards that said "Don't Stop the Presses." More than 9,000 signed an online petition. "Save the Picayune" lawn signs and Wild West-style "Wanted" posters with the new publisher's face cropped up across town. The New Orleans City Council passed a resolution calling unanimously for the paper to remain a daily. Readers began to boycott what they now called "The SomeTimes-Picayune."
Their daily paper had remained well read and profitable despite the newspaper industry's overall decline. Three-quarters of residents saw the paper each week, making its stories a centerpiece of conversation from barbershops to city hall.
New Orleans was about to become the largest city in America without its own daily paper. But beneath the drama was a quieter question: Does it matter?
More than sentiment is at stake. The number of American daily newspapers has fallen from 1,878 in 1940 to 1,382 last year. When daily newspapers die, communities become less connected and collaborative, new studies suggest. Economists and media researchers are seeing a drop-off in civic participation – the same kind of collective vigor readers showed in fighting for The Times-Picayune – after the presses stop rolling.