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JournalistI’m an editor-in-chief in one of the great news towns in America, New Orleans, and I’m on the front lines of the battle to preserve local journalism in the digital age. AMA!

May 22nd 2017 by MarkLorando • 21 Questions • 72 Points

I’m Mark Lorando, editor of The Times-Picayune and V.P. of Content of NOLA.com. We’re the oldest (180 years) and largest (more than 100 full-time journalists) news organization in New Orleans. We reach more people, engage them more deeply and tell stories in more ways than we ever have before. But the digital revolution has disrupted our business model, and everybody else's. What is the future of local news media? Nobody knows for sure. But we’ve got some ideas. Let’s discuss.

Proof: https://twitter.com/NOLAnews/status/865998470741667841

EDIT (4:12 p.m.): Loving this but I'm late for weekly editorial board meeting. Will jump back in after 5 and answer as many more of your questions as I can before I leave. Thanks everyone for an awesome conversation! Back in a bit.

EDIT (5:41 p.m.): Back from my meeting and back in the comments for another hour, or until I lose the feeling in my fingers, whichever comes first.

EDIT (7:16 p.m.): Calling it a day. I'll jump back in Tuesday morning for one last ride through the comments. Thanks everybody for the great questions.

THE END (Tue 8:45 a.m.): That's a wrap for me, folks. Enjoyed the exchange immensely, and answered as many (and as honestly) as I could. Feel free to email follow-ups to [email protected]; I try to answer all civil inquiries, eventually. And follow my profile page (linked above) if you want to join the ongoing conversation about local journalism. Excited to join the Reddit community. Thanks for having me. M.

Q:

When can we expect more flipped car coverage?

A:

The next time a car flips.


Q:

Soooo....tomorrow? Us kind folk over at r/neworleans know a thing or 2 about inverted automobiles

A:

No flipped cars as of 7:10 a.m. But the day is young!


Q:

Everyone in the city does.

A:

We distribute a free version of the community news sections to non-subscribers across the metro area. It's not the same newspaper delivered on Wed-Fri-Sun or sold in racks 7 days a week.


Q:

the most memorable story you have covered?

A:

Anyone who worked for The Times-Picayune and NOLA.com during Katrina will tell you that was the story of their lifetime. But my personal most memorable moment came in Miami, when I pulled rank and assigned myself to cover the Saints in the Super Bowl. I was sitting in a makeshift open-air press box in the end zone that Tracey Porter ran to with the game-clinching pick six. To say I'll never forget that moment is an understatement. I just got chills typing it!


Q:

I won't read a mobile link anymore because of the intrusive ads.

A:

Dagger. I've complained about this in the past and have been told that if you've got multiple tabs open on your mobile browser -- and since mobile tabs run in the background, most people do -- it may not be our site serving the ad.


Q:

Archives of nola.com at archive.org seem to stop in November of 2016. (https://web.archive.org/web/*/www.nola.com/news)

I believe something changed in the robots.txt to prevent public archival services from crawling your site. Can you tell me if this was intentional, and is there a chance that you could get this fixed so public archives of the website are available for free online in the future?

A:

Not sure about this, but will ask our Dig Ops team to look into it and add a response when I know what's up.


Q:

It what ways have you had to adapt in local news reporting where everyone with a smartphone can "break" a story?

Has the new landscape forced to to do more investigative long-form pieces, quicker digest pieces or hasn't changed?

A:

You've identified two of our biggest challenges: verification of social media reports, and mounting enterprise projects with fewer journalists juggling more assignments and reporting/interacting in real time. We have a four-person social media team who bring significant expertise and help the entire newsroom vet social media content. And we stress constantly that while our goal is to be first and right, it's far more important to be right. The biggest change on the enterprise side is our pursuit of partnerships. All local news organizations are facing the same the same challenge we are. It makes sense to combine journalism resources in the pursuit of more ambitious investigative projects. Our first such partnership -- an examination of campaign finance fraud, "Louisiana Purchased," with FOX-8 in New Orleans -- won a Peabody Award in 2014. We've been all in on partnerships since.


Q:

What are some of the stories that you're working on that we wouldn't see from national papers? ... any thoughts on how non-locals can help support local news?

A:

Best current example is our "Cracking the Code" series that looks at New Orleans health care costs. It's driven by crowd-sourced data -- basically New Orleanians sharing their stories and medical bills to create a local searchable database of the real cost of common medical procedures (blood tests, mammograms, colonoscopies, etc.). An intensely local look at a national issue. And the kind of micro reporting that only local news organizations can do effectively. You can see some of the reporting here


Q:

Is it true that Picayune Mississippi is named after the newspaper? Have you been there and if so what is the town like?

A:

Ha! I haven't heard that one. I've been there (and through there) many times, and like a lot of towns in Mississippi, it's quite beautiful, and quite small.


Q:

Maybe they could have a college intern moderate the comments?

A:

I disagree that (a) we produce "non-stories designed to bring out the worst trolls in the area" and (b) that our comments are nastier than those on other major metro websites. It's an industry-wide concern. More Q's about comments here, so I'll elaborate elsewhere in the thread.


Q:

What is your professional opinion of when the owner of your newspaper decided to forgo seven days a week publishing and allowed the Advocate to hire over half of your staff (either laid off or quit)? I used to be a subscriber before that happened and now I'm a daily subscriber to the Advocate because of their policy of publishing the paper every day of the week and delivering it, notably from writers I was used to at Times Pic.

A:

History will show that the decision to reduce the number of home delivery days was the right one. Two Gannett newspapers in Louisiana made the same decision this year (Shreveport and Opelousas) and others around the country will eventually follow, or cease publishing altogether. At some point all legacy newspapers have to decide whether to spend their money on printing and delivering a newspaper, or journalists to report the news. We chose to cut expenses on the production and distribution side, and invest those resources where more and more of our readers and advertisers were going, which is to digital.


Q:

I enjoy Jarvis's work as well. Lately I've seen less of him and more Tim Morris shit.

A:

We added Tim's column but didn't reduce the frequency of Jarvis's. If you've seen less of him, it's only because he's had a few days off this month. They both write roughly the same number of columns each week.


Q:

I'm in my early 30s and know very few people my age and under that read the newspaper in any form, what efforts is your newspaper doing to get folks ages 18 to 39 to read your newspaper in any form?

A:

Our focus is not in trying to convert young people to newspaper readers, but to inform readers on their own terms, whether they prefer print, desktop, mobile, tablet, social, video or all of the above. It's a multi-platform world, and if you're a one-dimensional media company, you're dead. And just so we're clear: I'm not one of those people who thinks newspapers will ever go away completely. I think they'll outlive me. There's a place for a permanent, curated record of recent events. The question is how many days of home delivery will the business ultimately support. The old business model for seven-day home delivery is dead, and has been for years. Most newspapers haven't fully come to grips with that fact yet, but they will.


Q:

Check out the mobile site. It is almost unusable with the way ads format and work after you go in to an article.

A:

Our site-wide switch to optimized article pages in June should address that problem.


Q:

I find it funny that an "editor" would have such a poorly-punctuated post title. Is "America" a neighborhood in New Orleans?

A:

Yeah, that thing's a mess. My first AMA title. Cut me some slack.


Q:

for the thousandth time, will you please stop throwing your northshore racist-plagued, mississippi-printed, new jersey-owned trash on my fucking property? the poker-george trash-on-rouge advocate scooped your market when you became a sub-daily part timer paper.

A:

OK. Since you said please.


Q:

What still fairly new technology (not yet widely adopted) do you think will have the biggest impact on the future of your paper and how your team is reporting local stories?

A:

Intriguing question! Wish I had a good answer. I'd settle for a spellchecker that works.


Q:

Do you have a friendly competition with Newspapers in Biloxi, Jackson, Shreveport, Baton Rouge, Houston, etc?

A:

More a fraternity than a friendly competition. It's a challenging business environment. We're all pulling for each other.


Q:

NOLA.com has quite a passionate commenting audience.

Aside from obviously offensive and vulgar comments, how do you manage your commentary to minimize non-constructive statements, while also allowing for healthy debate?

A:

Great question. You've identified the sweet spot. At its best, online commenting deepens the journalism by creating a dialogue among readers, our staff and, in some cases, the subjects of the reporting. At its worst, it is a powerful platform for intolerance and hate speech. We get literally thousands of comments a day. Moderating them is a joint effort among our staff and company we contract with to assist us. The community standards are explicit, but consistent enforcement is damn near impossible. I have tremendous respect for our online community, and bristle at the crass generalization of commenters as "trolls." The vast majority of commenters engage in the spirit intended. But when it's bad, it's bad.


Q:

In terms of quality, how do you decide which articles get four sentences and which articles get more in depth reporting?

Sometimes when I read an article on your site in the morning it will be 4 sentences long. When I go back in the afternoon, the same article will have some new information added. Is this a function of trying to get the news up quickly and following up with more in depth reporting later? Do you ever direct your reporters to get additional information for articles based on comments and clicks?

A:

What you're describing is incremental reporting, which is our default approach for breaking news stories -- we tell readers what we can verify when have verified it, and add details and context as they become available throughout the day. It's a judgment call as to whether we pull the trigger on the initial post or wait for more detail and context. Our reporters and editors pay attention to comments that question our reporting or ask questions that our stories don't answer. Commenters occasionally dismay us but more often keep us on our toes.


Q:

Enjoy the paper! Not being a local, it's a nice link to the city.

1) How has the paper and the way you distribute news changed since scaling back physical circulation from every day to 3 days a week

2) Do you see climate change as a significant threat to the city, and if so, in what ways?

A:

Short answer: We've changed EVERYTHING about the way we work. And climate change, coupled with the man-made environmental catastrophe along the Louisiana coast, is the most important story this news organization will cover for the foreseeable future. Longer answers:

http://www.nola.com/opinions/index.ssf/2017/02/how_much_has_local_journalism.html

http://www.nola.com/environment/index.ssf/2017/01/the_times-picayune_establishes.html