News-hungry New Orleanians, take heart: The hole in the city’s news scene the cuts to the Times-Picayune’s newsroom and print distribution are expected to leave when they take effect (barring a last-minute purchase of the paper) will be filled by no less than three news initiatives, all announced last week.
NewOrleansReporter.org, a partnership between the University of New Orleans and NPR affiliate WWNO, was the most recent to enter the increasingly crowded field, joining the New Orleans Digital News Alliance and Baton Rouge Advocate’s New Orleans edition.
Unlike the latter two, which were created in response to Times-Picayune’s cuts, New Orleans Reporter has been in the works for at least three years, according to Adam Norris, University of New Orleans’s director of public relations. Norris said there is a definite “need and a thirst” in the area for the kind of nonprofit multimedia newsroom New Orleans Reporter hopes to provide.
To prepare for this, WWNO changed formats early last week, going from all classical music to filling the 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. hours with news and information programs. The next step, WWNO general manager Paul Maassen said, will be “to strengthen our online and digital platforms for delivering content.” Like WWNO, New Orleans Reporter will be based on the university campus.
The Picayune’s announcement may not have been “the driving force” behind New Orleans Reporter, but it didn’t hurt matters. “It just seemed like there was a little bit more momentum to do something,” Maassen said. “More resources might be available for this hopefully we can expand a little bit beyond what we were originally planning to do.”
Could some of that expansion include new jobs for Picayune’s many laid-off reporters? Maassen wouldn’t say, but noted that New Orleans Reporter will be hiring. According to the Wall Street Journal, it’s looking for a staff of 10 to 20. Maassen said there is no firm launch date yet, but expected the site to be up and running by the end of this year.
The expanded news coverage will be aiming for the kind of in-depth journalism other nonprofit news providers such as Texas Tribune have proven capable of producing. “It’s paramount to have this be an independent, quality journalistic operation,” Maassen said. New Orleans Reporter will be funded through the usual public radio sources — corporate sponsors, local organizations, and member donations — and the news produced will be free to view and “open source” for other outlets to republish. How extensive its coverage will be depends on how much funding it receives, which means people decrying the lack of news in a post-Picayune New Orleans can show support with their wallets.