Chris Rose: Seeds of revolution

It's impossible to know what reaction The Times-Picayune expected when they announced plans to cut back from daily publication to three days a week, starting this fall.

Some outcry was inevitable, if for no other reason than New Orleanians are congenitally averse to change.

But events this weekend revealed a newspaper operating in sudden damage control, indicating something over on Howard Avenue has gone wrong, terribly wrong.

The paper took the extraordinary step of publishing two front-page stories, written by executive editor Jim Amoss on Friday and newly-minted publisher Ricky Mathews on Sunday.

They both employed oblique – and borderline cloying – Katrina memoirs as somehow relevant to their promise that the newspaper's transformation to a primarily digital format was in everybody's best interest.

Mathews' article – its cheery headline declaring The Times-Picayune is "Here to Stay" – was awash in irony; the rest of that page was produced entirely by writers and photographers whom the newspaper terminated earlier in the week.

Can you say: Awkward.

If Facebook can be considered a reliable indicator of consensus – that determination is yours – the two articles were widely perceived as glorified print-fomercials, trying to tamp down the growing "noise" of a community in unanimous discontent.

It is on a Facebook site, curated by current and former Picayune employees, where the seeds of revolution are being sown.

The Friends of the Times-Picayune page began as a forum for commiseration, consolation and the occasional rage against the machine, but it has morphed into a militant assemblage of one mind and mission: To create an insurgent publication with a goal of:

  • A) Providing New Orleans with a professional, comprehensive, investigative and entertaining daily newspaper and;
  • B) Crippling, if not destroying, what many view as a new, heretical, dumbed-down online version of a once-great and proud newspaper – unworthy to call itself The Times-Picayune.

You can see how this might send the newspaper's owners in New Jersey into a dither.

Critics of the newspaper's crass and clumsy handling of this beloved New Orleans institution comprise a formidable cross-section of the region: journalists, academics, politicians, philanthropists, students, titans of industry, cubicle dwellers, clergy, entrepreneurs, members of Rex, Zulu and Krewe de Vieux.

Only one such lofty coalition has come together for such a noble and common cause in recent memory.

The enemy was Katrina.

To find out who won that battle for the soul of this city's great traditions and institutions, just take a look around you.