Times-Picayune News Staff Indispensable – A Reader’s Despair

Hyperlinks are to Times-Picayune articles largely by soon to be severed employees. Take a minute and read them for a clear understanding of the talent we are losing. The Pubs fundraiser will take place on June 28th, 2012

On Sept 19th, 2005, news of the levee breaks hit the NOLA.com website. I had evacuated the day of the storm, but my father had remained in the city. Shut out from all communication, my dad had to rely on me calling him with the headlines that flashed across NOLA.com. : “Catastrophic,” “Ground Zero,” “Under Water,” “Hitting Bottom,” “Help Us, Please,” “First water, Now Fire,” “Help at Last,” “7th Day of Hell.”

The chaos that ensued in the city for the next week is now well documented, but at the time the ONLY sources of information were local Times-Picayune reporters who’d stayed put. Through the few remaining landlines and the NOLA.com site, those of us who had left were able to give those who had stayed a broader picture of what was going on around them – basic but critical information that helped them stay alive. In the two weeks after the flood, people in the city found loved ones, rescued pets, made plans to get their friends and family out, found gasoline to fill their cars for escape, found food and shelter – all via NOLA.com. That experience testified to the power of the electronic paper. Its mission was news gathering and dissemination, and it didn’t need a print version to be successful. What it did need – and had in remarkably committed abundance – were veteran, local reporters on the ground.

Back in New Orleans the week before Hurricane Rita came through, we knew that someone was telling the world about the weird, dangerous and scary place New Orleans had become. I spent my days and nights living on the Pub balcony with no running water, poor sewage, eating MREs, enduring sweltering hot temperatures and every manner of biting bug and vermin imaginable. The Times-Picayune staff, including now-severed Brett Duke, Ed Anderson & Paul Purpura, were telling the world of our plight and helping us get the aid we needed. In the months that followed, Chris Rose and Stephanie Grace spoke for us. While we were busy surviving, the staff at The Times-Picayune told the world what survival looked and felt like. Their voices brought us the help we so desperately needed.

The Katrina coverage is just the most dramatic example of what The T-P’s reporting arm does for us as citizens of New Orleans. The news gathering they do daily makes sure we are well-informed. Regardless of your political leanings, you must admit that knowing about political corruption, environmental issues, crime, tragedy, school system failures, etc., is imperative to a city’s functioning. Can our cultural assets be as vibrant without full scale coverage of events like Jazz Fest and the many food events in the city? I don’t think it can. The writers of The Times-Picayune are cultural ambassadors far beyond the parish line.

In the Newhouse environment, however, those voices are not valued. The deep roots and connections needed to sustain the information tree are being cut, and come the next Katrina our city will not have the minds and resources to get that vital information to the public. The voices that braved the storm and gathered that news have been “pruned.” It is unfathomable that Newhouse can ask us to believe in their commitment to this community, or to a journalistic mission, when they have slashed the very roots that sustained the tree. And make no mistake — they have slashed them. Last week’s layoffs encompassed 49 percent of the NEWS staff; the news gatherers, the people that know New Orleans, its neighborhoods and its history as intimately as they know their own families.

The fundraisers that the Pub and many other businesses have organized are a Band-Aid. We all know that. The money we raise will help the families of those who have helped us for years. The real purpose is to raise awareness. My goal is to let everyone who reads about the fundraiser understand that New Orleans cannot be the city it was or wants to be without a fully staffed news-gathering organization. We will not be as safe, we will not eat as well, we will see corruption deepen, we will not be as attractive to outside investment, we will see our schools fall farther behind. A Facebook News feed style NOLA.com along with a smattering of online and weekly publications cannot replace what we are losing.


Polly Watts

Polly grew up in New Orleans and currently owns the Avenue Pub, a 24 hour bar on St Charles Ave. She and her family live in the Lower Garden District.

More information the Fund for Times Picayune employees

The Pubs fundraiser will take place on June 28th, 2012

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