And now for something completely different: Times-Picayune forges transition path

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In May the owners of the award-winning New Orleans Times-Picayune announced they were redefining the way newspapers transitioned into the next life. Rather than die a slow and (to the Newhouse family) costly death, the T-P — which actually still made money as a newspaper — would instead commit print suicide by putting a newspaper in subscribers’ mailboxes just three days a week.

The 200 job cuts in New Orleans — one-third of the staff, or half of the newsroom —combined with other Advance Company-owned newspapers in Alabama to put 600 newspaper employees out of work in October. Those not offered a severance package can stay, but they had better like whatever job they are given in the fall.

Like it? Frankly, they might well have a hard time understanding it. Because just as those who stay will no longer work for the Times-Picayune, but instead for the Nola Media Group, Advance Company has redefined just what it means to be a reporter.

For decades, we all went along with the accepted Webster’s definition of reporter. Mainly, one who reports. If we wanted to sprinkle in some details, we could add “for a newspaper or media outlet”. A news hunter and gatherer.

Such a simple and straightforward definition now appears to have gone the way of a seven-days-a-week print publication. The Nola Group advertised for reporters in June; the ad included a 15-point list of talents and characteristics that even Clark Kent would struggle to understand.

It begins: The Reporter (did the AP Stylebook approve this capitalization?) will report and produce news stories. Ok, so it’s more of a reporter-producer role. Much like a fire truck can be both a tanker and a pumper.

Ah, but the lead-in continues. ‘‘Report and produce for various platforms’’ – platforms, did this get mixed up with an ad for an architect? – and ‘‘act as a statewide expert and discussion leader on high-value topics, meeting audience demand for immediacy, depth and engagement.’’

Statewide expert? Discussion leader? Meeting audience demand? “Hi, I’m Oprah Winfrey and I’m here about the reporter ad.’’

Bullet point No. 1 asks that the reporter, excuse me, Reporter, “write journalistically sound news elements.” A reporter required to be a journalistically sound writer? Isn’t that redundantly obvious? And it goes on, stating “the information must be balanced and factual, timely and topical and well-sourced and contextually correct.’’

Oh, the Reporter is only required to be contextually correct, not factually accurate. If the mayor says that aliens took over the Superdome, no need to check that. Just be sure that you don’t say they are blue if he said they are purple.

Bullet point No. 2 says the Reporter “must learn and employ all techniques for effective digital beat blogging.’’ I’ll give it this: The ad puts “beat blogging” in quotes. And well it should be. But it would be more helpful to have been given hints about the parts of speech “beat” and “blogging” play in this ad. Is it beat blogging as in, “I’ll give you such a punch,” or Dick Clark giving it an 85 for a catchy melody?

And let’s be adult and honest here for a moment. When Reporter comes home and the significant other asks, “How was your day, dear?” will Reporter really answer thus: “Pretty good. I spent a lot of it at my desk ‘beat blogging.’”

While we might have a vague idea “beat blogging” is something we won’t tell Grandma, Bullet No. 4 leaves no clue as to the actual activity. “Engage in story aggregation and topical link posting.”

I had to look up aggregation. It didn’t help. A group, body or mass composed of many distinct parts or individuals. Isn’t that what Jeffrey Dahmer had in his refrigerator?

Bullet No. 7: “Interact on social media platforms (just how big is this platform?) with story shares, objective commentary, promoting your topic and news organization’s content initiatives.’’ Story shares? I’ll trade you one New Orleans Saints bounty hunter story for two BP oil spill updates and a look back at Hurricane Katrina.

And yet, the Reporter is required to be both objective and shamelessly self- and company-promoting. No, really, I’m not just saying this because I wrote it, but you should go to our Web page and share my story with all your friends on Facebook. It would make my boss happy.

I could go on, but will wrap up with this gem. Bullet point No. 9. “Maintain operational communication with editor.” Operational communication? Couldn’t we just … talk? And since when did reporters and editors engage in anything that resembled communication? That’s just not natural.

None of this is natural, actually. It certainly does not seem as if the Pulitzer Prize winning New Orleans Times-Picayune, now to be known as Nola Media Group, is taking steps forward in the name of journalism. Then again, maybe it is. One giant step into nothing, right off that platform.

When Pat Louise started her first job as a reporter for the Corning (NY) Leader many years ago, her boss handed her a map of Steuben County and said, Go find news. She is distraught to realize she is no longer qualified to be a Reporter, even though she spent six years working at a Newhouse-owned newspaper.

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