Thank you, Steve Newhouse

It’s been a week since the jazz funeral for The New Orleans Times-Picayune. For the most part, the “noise” that briefly filtered up to New York and New Jersey from those people down there has quieted down. At the Friday night wake at Rock ‘n’ Bowl, those who were moving on to the Picayune’s digital incarnation; those who either didn’t make the cut or spurned it; and people like me who left the newspaper decades ago reminisced and mourned. The funeral Saturday (fittingly, at Warehouse District music hall The Howlin’ Wolf) included an auction that raised thousands of dollars (final tally not yet in) to benefit the reporters, editors, artists, clerks and news carriers who lost their jobs. On Sunday morning, a few of us sat together at St. Louis Cathedral to hear the archbishop pray for our paper and our city.

Probably no catalyst short of the Picayune catastrophe could have accomplished all that. So thank you, Steve Newhouse.

The Picayune, 175, died after it was an unwilling participant in a medical trial, a lab rat for its owner’s experiments with a new drug, Digital-us. Still, any breakthrough worth its clicks will have a casualty or two before the kinks are worked out. In this case, the kinks included a staff and a city committed to the Picayune in ways that Dr. Advance Publications can’t have anticipated.

For that as well, thank you, Steve Newhouse

The lingering end was first reported last May in the New York Times and since in countless newspapers, television networks and “content providers” both in the U.S. and abroad. At the final weekend, “60 Minutes” was filming, but apropos for a newspaper that is no longer daily, Morley and Crew will get around to airing the Picayune’s obituary in, oh, a few weeks or so. Maybe by then whatever business or monetary or philosophical or whimsical reasons there are for closing a 175-year-old institution in a city that cares so passionately about its traditions will be apparent. Or maybe not.

Visionaries are so often ahead of the rest of us in their quest for the future good that they have to disregard the social conventions that govern lesser beings. In their rush to do what is cutting-edge and profitable, visionaries must disregard such things as appearances. Large minds have no need of PR. If they want to house their publisher in a luxury hotel and let him eat cake while he decides how many and which of the serfs will continue getting bread, then that is a valuable lesson in what is important.

One of the benefits of reaching middle age is achieving perspective, becoming mellow. And that makes me know that as certainly as the levees surrounding the Mississippi River have always withheld any storm, there is a grand purpose to all this. In a month or a year, sheets of ink and newsprint will be but a quaint memory, wringer washing machines in an age of front loaders. will be a permanent fixture on the front screen of hundreds of thousands of iPads. And the visionaries of Advance Publications will have brought us there.

Thank you, Steve Newhouse.

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