A Jan. 7 segment on CBS TV’s “60 Minutes” focused on the loss of daily newspaper subscribers due to the rise of the internet and electronic communication modes featured a discussion of the Times Picayune’s reduction to a three-day delivery schedule, and included commentary from Archbishop Gregory Aymond, Mr. Lolis Elie, and a New York Times editor who praised the historical journalistic excellence of the Picayune while lamenting its reduced publication schedule. The Archbishop referenced the negative impact on the elderly and poor who have limited internet access, while another guest noted that 30 percent of the city lives in poverty.
As a transplant to Los Angeles in the early 1960’s after attending segregated schools and graduating from Xavier University, it is my opinion that the loss of Picayune customers is primarily due to their decades of inattention and indifference to the positive life and culture of the Black Community. I delivered the Picayune to over 150 customers in the 7th Ward as a “paper boy” on a bicycle and noted that most of my customers were not Black although they were the majority residents.
The systematic exclusion of news related to positive activities of Black people including coverage of weddings, church activities, debutante and carnival balls, athletic and academic achievements, operas and celebratory events, provided little incentive for us to subscribe to the Picayune when it clearly excluded our lives and achievements. Notwithstanding the immoral “laws” of segregation, there was no legal mandate that the daily newspaper omit coverage of Black life. However, the Picayune chose to practice discrimination. The Louisiana Weekly was our primary source of news related to our lives. Along with my brother, cousins, teammates, we participated on the numerous athletic teams at St. Augustine and the NORD leagues, and won many championships that were never recognized by the Picayune. However there was regular and disproportionate reporting on crime in the Black community.
With the rise of the Civil Rights Movement and legislation that required the integration of schools, public transportation, restrooms, hotels, restaurants, churches, swimming pools, and other facilities, the White community exited New Orleans in large numbers resulting in a Black residents majority and the election of Black Mayors for 32 consecutive years. The solvency of the Picayune became dependent on the Black citizens, whom they had ignored for generations. The multi-year deterioration of the public schools along with the exclusivity of attendance by white students at selected public schools and their avoidance of public schools by enrollment in numerous catholic and private schools led to lower literacy rate of the predominant group and less need for a daily newspaper. Additionally, the loss of significant numbers of the Black middle class due to hurricane Katrina and the increase in immigrant laborers and other new comers to the city created a disconnect between the coverage by the Picayune and its relationship to a changed population.
By failing to initiate or advocate for equality for representative “news” for generations within the Black community, the Picayune enabled its own demise. Despite the perception of the New York Times editor that the Picayune has been a model of excellence, which is akin to an outsider’s or tourist’s view of New Orleans as a great place to visit and “party” in public, the reality for the Black citizens has been quite different.
The author is a retired educator in Los Angeles who has been featured for his work in several urban school districts.