The Times-Picayune announced plans on Tuesday to lay off an additional 100 workers and abandon its longtime headquarters on Howard Avenue as part of a move to consolidate its printing operations in Alabama.
The outsourcing of the print operation is expected to occur in late 2015 or early 2016, according to an announcement posted on nola.com. The paper will be printed almost 150 miles away at the facility in Mobile, Ala., that now prints The Press-Register, another newspaper owned by the Newhouse family.
The layoffs are the largest since the newspaper’s massive reduction in 2012, which preceded the company’s decision to reduce home delivery to three days a week. In its announcement, the company said most of those who are laid off would be from departments that produce and package the paper, and that other employees who now work at 3800 Howard Ave. — including about 29 employees responsible for laying out the paper — would be moved into The Times-Picayune’s office in Metairie, which was emptied after the company turned its focus to the Web operations. Those who are laid off will be able to apply for positions at other company properties and will be offered severance pay, according to an announcement posted on nola.com.
Advance Central Services Louisiana General Manger Ray Massett, who oversees the print operations of The Times-Picayune, did not respond to a request to discuss the move Tuesday.
But in the announcement, Massett said, “This is a sad day, as our colleagues who are losing their jobs have been loyal and hard-working, courageously seeing us through some difficult times.”
The article quoted NOLA Media Group President Ricky Mathews as saying the decision to stop printing in New Orleans would not alter the paper’s commitment to the region. NOLA Media Group is the company formed in 2012 to oversee newsgathering at nola.com and The Times-Picayune, while Advance Central Services Louisiana was created to handle the production of the paper and other activities.
“We expect these changes will have no impact on our readers and advertisers,” Mathews said. “On the contrary, they will help us even better serve our audience in print and online and pursue new technologies.”
The move fits within a larger trend of newspapers consolidating print operations by either outsourcing or persuading other publications to contract with them for the use of their presses, said Rick Edmonds, a researcher with the Poynter Institute who focuses on business issues related to journalism.
“It absolutely makes sense from a cost-control point of view, and cost controls are pretty important,” Edmonds said. “The biggest potential downside is the further away you get, the trickier it is to have later deadlines and include late sports results and anything else.”
In May 2013, a few months after The Times-Picayune reduced its print frequency, New Orleans businessman John Georges purchased The Advocate, and then hired many of The Times-Picayune’s top journalists to create a competing local daily.
Advocate President Dan Shea, who formerly worked as a managing editor at The Times-Picayune, said he was sorry to see the company’s New York owners continue to disinvest in Louisiana.
“No one in New Orleans is happy with the continuing cutbacks at the T-P and to see jobs move out of state,” he said. “Under our local owners, The New Orleans Advocate will continue to produce and print in Louisiana the seven-day home-delivered paper New Orleanians want and deserve.”
Since it initially reduced its home-delivery schedule, The Times-Picayune has seen its circulation decline by more than 20 percent, according to the Alliance for Audited Media.
In a meeting with reporters at nola.com Tuesday, publisher Mathews said the shift will mean a narrower paper, to match the dimensions of The Press-Register, as well as earlier deadlines for the New Orleans staff, according to a source. Mathews and vice president of content Jim Amoss did not respond to requests for comment.
As part of the consolidation, The Times-Picayune also will leave its plant on Howard Avenue, which had been the home of the paper for almost half a century. The offices near Interstate 10, which include the well-known Times-Picayune clock tower, may be donated to a nonprofit organization, according to the company.
The Times-Picayune and its sister publication, The States-Item, moved from downtown New Orleans to Howard Avenue in 1968, six years after the company was purchased by Advance. The building on Howard, valued at about $6 million, according to records from the Orleans Parish Assessor’s Office, served as the main newsroom, printing facility and primary business office of the paper for more than 40 years.
That changed in 2012, when the company laid off more than 200 employees as part of a new digital strategy. In early 2013, the company moved much of its operation to the top two floors of One Canal Place, leaving a relatively small staff behind at Howard Avenue.
Leaving those offices could have a symbolic aspect as well, said Loyola University instructor Michael Giusti, who has studied the business of news operations.
“They wanted a ‘burn the boats’ strategy, where you come to the new world and you don’t want to have the temptation to sail back,” he said.