Times Picayune Demise and Chris Rose

Today is the last day that the Times Picayune is printing a daily paper. Who better to reflect on this than Chris Rose?

I’ve been a fan of Chris Rose (formerly of Times Picayune) since high school. My family used to get the Picayune delivered to our home every day and, back when I was living at home, I would look forward to the days that Chris Rose’s column would be published. I’d sit at the kitchen counter and read his witty writing and dream about the day that I would be as successful as him.

Chris just gets New Orleans. That’s the short story.

A perfect New Orleans morning includes this and the paper.

Once, I actually found myself sitting next to Chris at a show at the (now defunct) Saenger Theater in New Orleans – I was probably as giddy as a girl meeting Justin Beiber would be.

A few years later (and just days after Hurricane Katrina), my grandmother found out that Chris Rose was staying at a neighbor’s house for a few days in Baton Rouge and arranged for me to meet him. It was awkward – everyone was awkward the first few days after Katrina – but I got to introduce myself and tell Chris just how much I appreciated his work. The Picayune staff was also taking over my J-school at that time. All of this made life even more surreal after the storm.

As you are probably aware, the Times Picayune has made the decision to print only three days a week and focus on their website, Nola.com instead of print. Chris hasn’t worked at the Picayune for several years now, but of course he wrote an amazing piece for Oxford American about his take on the development.

Take the time to read the whole piece, but here a few highlights:

Chris on his first perceptions of the paper before getting hired:

I was charmed by other novelties I had never seen in a newspaper before—at least, not in the rarefied pages of the Washington Post. For instance, the obituaries used nicknames. In the days preceding my visit to New Orleans, men named “Concrete,” “Side Porch,” and “Man-Man” had gone to their eternal rest.

On the star-studded lineup of former Picayune reporters:

In a city with a dozen distinct accents, the Picayune was the voice of them all. A million stories. A million storytellers. Some of the best there ever were.

While living on Pirate’s Alley behind the old cathedral, where he toiled away on his first novel, Soldier’s Pay, William Faulkner published his first stories in the Times-Picayune.

William Sydney Porter was a young, ambitious reporter on the run from legal troubles in Texas, where he had been accused of embezzling four thousand dollars from his employer. To avoid detection, he changed his name to O. Henry.

On delivering the few copies he could find of the Times Picayune on the early days after Hurricane Katrina:

Driving towards Uptown, I spied two women who appeared to be in their sixties sitting on their front porch fanning themselves in the crushing afternoon heat. I pulled over, greeted them, and asked if I could step inside the gate.

They eyed me suspiciously until I held up the newspaper and identified myself. “Oh my God!” they said in unison and rushed down the steps to embrace me. Then they stepped back and I handed them each a copy of the paper.

Tears rolled down both of their faces. One said very softly to herself, “The Times-Picayune,” and clutched it to her breast. They thanked me and returned to their porch, holding each others’ arms and their papers, lost in the reverie of a familiar feeling in their hands, the return of a cherished ritual, a fabled institution, their daily bread.

And, finally, the scariest thing I’ve read about the future of journalism:

The preoccupation with the website was already in full bloom; “blogging” was the daily mantra, all the better if it were video. We were feeding an insatiable beast; it felt like half of my output never even made it into the paper—just the website.

Like so many others of my tenure and temperament—stubborn ancients, I suppose—web reporting is anathema to everything I love about newspapering: getting a tip, developing leads, fleshing-out the details, then telling the story.

Now it stops with the tip. Just verify (hopefully!) and post it. I didn’t write stories anymore; I “produced content.”

Read Chris Rose’s Oxford American piece here.

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About Stephanie Y.

I'm a professional news writer in Frederick, Maryland. I blog at S.Y. Ciphers.

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