6. Losing “control of the narrative.” At that same tech community gathering in June, then-NOLA.com Editor James O’Byrne seemed to suggest that the company lost control of its message because The New York Times beat the company to the punch and broke the news about the coming changes. Given that the PR blunders continued to pile up like garbage on Bourbon Street on Mardi Gras for weeks afterward, it didn’t surprise anyone that the message had spun out of the company’s control. The shock, instead, was at the company’s surprise that it did — and that management thought it simply could dismiss or ignore the community’s vociferous and sustained outrage.
7. Shattered friendships and damaged reputations. Although I’ve been gone from the Picayune for almost 20 years, I personally know of several decades-long friendships that have completely disintegrated over the changes. Another laid-off employee reports that her relationship with a relative who kept his job at the paper is strained, although both have made efforts to prevent that from happening. Colleagues who literally spent their entire careers working side-by-side no longer speak. No one’s reputation has taken more of a battering than Amoss’s, a “lifer” who earlier had been named “Editor of the Year” by both the National Press Foundation and Editor & Publisher magazine. “There are reporters who worked with Amoss for years who feel that he has betrayed them and should have retired rather than participate in the restructuring,” the American Journalism Review reported over the summer.
8. Touching and generous acts of kindness. Before we even had a chance to formally create a charity to raise money for employees losing their jobs, restaurateurs, bar owners, and shop owners called, asking how they could help. State legislators joined with philanthropic activists and business leaders to underwrite production of 1,500 “Save the Picayune” signs that then dotted lawns throughout the region. A night club, restaurants, artisans, a supermarket, musicians, a design firm, rental companies, and the Cleveland Scene of New Orleans contributed or subsidized venues, food, drink, entertainment, linens, illustrations, ads, and auction items for a fundraiser/commemoration of the daily newspaper. Newspaper alumni flew in from 10 states spanning from Hawaii to New York to attend the event and show their support. Anderson Cooper, Ellen DeGeneres, Hoda Kotb of The Today Show, and dozens of other national celebrities, news organizations, and ordinary people donated experiences and items for the auction. Retirees and employees losing their jobs joined with newspaper subscribers in contributing literally thousands of dollars to those losing their jobs.
Not a man predisposed to idle hyperbole, Nolan, the newspaper’s former religion editor, characterized the outpouring of support as “the most astonishing thing I’ve ever seen.” He wasn’t alone in his amazement.