Changes at Times-Picayune shake up Louisiana media landscape
When the corporate owners of New Orleans' 175-year-old daily, The Times-Picayune, announced last month they were going to scale back publication to three days a week and gut the paper's newsroom staff, it sent shock waves through a state that treasures its traditions and clings fiercely to its historic institutions. The news touched a nerve in Baton Rouge, too, with many wondering if The Advocate might move into the New Orleans market to fill the void—or if Baton Rouge's daily might be in danger of facing a similar fate as New Orleans'. For now, Advocate Publisher David Manship says neither is an option. But ultimately, change will come to The Advocate, as it has to The Times-Picayune and a growing number of newspapers around the country. "The economics of the business are in permanent long-term decline, so it's inevitable," says Tom Baker, a New Jersey-based media consultant who was co-founder and general manager of The Wall Street Journal Online. "You just have to accept that in 10 or 15 years most cities won't have a daily in the way that most cities have thought of one. It's just the way it is." One model that will likely emerge in place of the printed daily newspaper, for a while at least, is a hybrid approach like the one The Times-Picayune is attempting: where a scaled-back print schedule supplements a primary existence online. Read the complete cover story by Editor Stephanie Riegel in the new issue of Business Report here for an examination of the media landscape now and a vision of its future, conditioning the ways Louisianans receive their news.
B.R. continues 2011 slide in Brookings' MetroMonitor rankings
Baton Rouge steadily fell in the Brookings Institution's 2011 quarterly rankings of economic recovery within the nation's 100 largest metros, and it has started 2012 off on the same trajectory. In the latest MetroMonitor report for first-quarter 2012 performance, released this morning, Baton Rouge is ranked No. 89, down from No. 82 at the close of 2011. Baton Rouge was ranked between No. 40 and No. 60 for the first two quarters of 2011, then slipped into the bottom 40 in the third quarter before ending the year among the 20 worst-performing metros on the list. Prior to today's report, MetroMonitor previously has not ascribed specific numerical rankings to cities, but lumped them into clusters of 20. For the first quarter of 2012, Baton Rouge employment was ranked No. 62, while gross metropolitan product (a measure of products and services generated locally) was No. 67 and unemployment was No. 92. The city's best ranking was for home prices, at No. 28. New Orleans, meanwhile, has slowly risen in the MetroMonitor rankings over the past year and holds the coveted No. 1 ranking in the latest report. See the statistics in the latest MetroMonitor report that are specific to Baton Rouge here; the complete metro rankings in the report here; and Brookings' news release on what the metros' performance during the first quarter of 2012 says about the nation's economic recovery here.
Metro Council to take up increasing library director pay tonight
Officials and board members from the East Baton Rouge Parish Library System are asking the Metro Council tonight to approve a higher pay scale for the next library director, a move the library system says will make the position more attractive to qualified candidates. The library system has been without a director since David Farrar, who was slated to make $89,000 this year, resigned last December after information became public about a 15-year-old criminal case in Alabama in which he allegedly committed sexual abuse while impersonating a police officer. He was only convicted on the impersonation charge. The current pay range in East Baton Rouge Parish for library director is $72,388 to $100,202. The library board wants the incoming director's pay to range between $115,588 and $160,000, with $133,998 being the midpoint. Acting library system Co-director Mary Stein says increasing the pay range quickly is imperative to finding qualified candidates since several library systems—large and small—are advertising for similar positions. The pay range proposal went through the Metro Council's Finance and Executive Committee without a recommendation. Councilwoman Donna Collins-Lewis, a member of that committee, says it's not unusual for such items to go before the Metro Council without a recommendation when members feel they should be fully discussed by the council as a whole. The Metro Council meets at 4 p.m. on the third floor of City Hall, 222 St. Louis St. Check out the full meeting agenda here. —Adam Pearson Read the full story here.
Editor's note: This story has been changed since its original publication.
Today's poll question: Do you support raising the salary range for the next director of the East Baton Rouge Parish Library System?
La. state-run colleges consider cuts, tuition hikes
State-run college systems will receive nearly $66 million less from Louisiana's general fund in the fiscal year starting July 1, prompting administrators to consider remedies such as bigger classes, higher tuition and even layoffs to ease the financial pain, The Times-Picayune reports. "It's hard to make these decisions," says Victor Ukpolo, Southern University at New Orleans' chancellor. "I don't sleep nights." Massive across-the-board cuts aren't the solution, University of New Orleans President Peter Fos says. "They cause an institution's slow death. We're going to try to do it strategically." Some schools will raise tuition by as much as 10% in the fall in an attempt to generate more revenue, but that won't close the gap as state support for higher education continues to drop. The looming cuts stem from the state operating budget adopted by the Louisiana Legislature and signed by Gov. Bobby Jindal this month. The higher education allocations are based on the financing formula developed by the Louisiana Board of Regents, which makes its recommendations based on factors such as enrollment and the types of courses each institution offers. The board, which has oversight authority over Louisiana's public colleges and universities, convenes today to give its final endorsement to the Legislature's spending plan. Get the full story here.
U.S. makes strides in reducing dependence on Middle Eastern oil
America will halve its reliance on Middle Eastern oil by the end of this decade and could end it completely by 2035 as a result of declining demand and the rapid growth of new petroleum sources in the Western Hemisphere, energy analysts now anticipate. The Wall Street Journal reports the shift in supply and demand is due to technological advances in oil extraction techniques, such as hydraulic fracturing—or fracking—which has only become commercially viable during the last decade in U.S. fields previously deemed not worth tampering with. By 2020, nearly half of the crude oil America consumes will be produced at home, and 82% will come from the western side of the Atlantic Ocean, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration. By 2035, oil shipments from the Middle East to North America "could almost be nonexistent," the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries recently predicted, partly because more efficient car engines and a growing supply of renewable fuel will help curb demand. The change achieves a long-sought goal of U.S. policy-making: to draw more oil from nearby, stable sources and less from a volatile region half a world away. But U.S. officials stress that the Middle East will remain important to American foreign policy partly because of the region's continuing influence on global oil prices. Read the full story here.
Industry group develops new standards for offshore safety auditors
An industry safety clearinghouse formed after the 2010 Gulf of Mexico oil spill is about to kick off a program for certifying outside auditors that the federal government may soon require for the examination of offshore operators' safety plans. Charlie Williams, executive director of the Houston-based Center for Offshore Safety, tells The Houston Chronicle editorial board that regulators now allow internal auditors to meet requirements for independent audits of company programs called Safety and Environmental Management Systems. Proposed federal requirements, however, would require that auditors outside of an offshore company must sign off on its safety systems. Williams says the regulatory change was under way before the April 20, 2010, blowout of BP's Macondo well that killed 11 workers and spilled millions of barrels of oil into the Gulf. The disaster, however, led to new focus on industry dangers and to the creation of the Center for Offshore Safety, which is charged with developing auditing procedures and certifying auditors. Williams, a former top Shell scientist, says the audits will help companies with process safety–the management of overall safety systems–as distinct from practices specifically aimed at preventing individual worker injuries. Read the full story here.
News roundup: EBR Council on Aging to open new Greenwell Springs senior center … Deadline for BRAC Leadership Program is Friday … Maryland, N.J. officials to speak to La. Democrats
Golden years: A grand opening is set to take place on Thursday, July 12, for the new East Baton Rouge Council on Aging senior center at 17070 Greenwell Springs Road in Greenwell Springs. The new center will serve as a point of access to the organization's services for all seniors in the area. Grand opening events begin at noon.
Step right up: If you want to be a part of BRAC's Baton Rouge Area Leadership Program, you've got until Friday to submit an application. The program includes nine months of training—complete with a weekend retreat and graduation ceremony—to prepare a diverse group of professionals for leadership positions in the community. From September to April, the class devotes an entire day each month for lectures, discussions, field trips and practical exercises pertinent to community issues. Get the complete program details and apply online here.
Stars from the East: The Louisiana Democratic Party's annual fundraiser on Aug. 4 in New Orleans will feature visits from prominent Democratic political figures in Maryland and New Jersey. Maryland Gov. Martin O'Malley and Newark Mayor Cory Booker will be the keynote speakers at the annual Jefferson-Jackson Dinner. O'Malley is now serving as chairman of the Democratic Governors Association. New Orleans Sen. Karen Carter Peterson, the state party's chairwoman, says the dinner will mark the first time in more than a decade that the fundraiser has been held in the New Orleans area. Tickets start at $150, and go up to $5,000 for a table.