Almost immediately after executives at NOLA Media Group, publisher of NOLA.com | The Times-Picayune, announced the company would be merging with the Alabama Media Group to form a new "Southeast Regional Media Group," managers at the media company's offices in One Canal Place met with reporters to announce the newsroom would shrink — again.
"They're being pretty upfront about the fact there will be layoffs," said one newsroom staffer. Another joked grimly that it may be "2012 redux" — referring to the firings of some 200 Times-Picayune employees in 2012, a move which riled the city for months and made national news.
Director of State and Metro Content Mark Lorando and other managers met with small groups within the paper, several people told Gambit. Lorando described layoffs as "deep" to one employee. The restructuring is scheduled to take place in the latter half of 2015 and be complete by early 2016, sources with knowledge of the plan said.
Last October, the company announced The Times-Picayune's printing operations would move to Mobile, Alabama in "late 2015 or early 2016," resulting in the loss of 100 jobs in New Orleans and the likely shuttering of the old Times-Picayune building on Howard Avenue. At the time, management said that the building likely would be donated to a New Orleans nonprofit organization.
NOLA.com's former publisher Ricky Mathews will lead the new Southeast Regional Media Group, and David Francis, executive vice president and associate publisher of NOLA Media Group, will become the new publisher of NOLA.com | The Times-Picayune. The new company's headquarters were unspecified in the press release, but the New Orleans paper soon will be printed in Mobile. Mathews has a long history on the Gulf Coast and operational expenses are expected to be cheaper there.
Francis is a native New Orleanian who has been with the company for 30 years. He will be the paper's first African-American publisher in its 178-year history. He is a more popular figure in the newsroom than Mathews, who has failed to ingratiate himself among the rank and file since he was moved from the Mobile Press-Register to assume the publisher's job in New Orleans in 2012.
An AL.com press release announcing the merger quoted Tom Bates, president of Alabama Media Group, as saying, "Their respective newsrooms will share best practices and work together on occasional enterprise projects, but will continue to operate separately and independently from each other." Later in the press release, Bates was quoted as saying, "Our plan is to work together to find operational efficiencies while also investing in growth opportunities." It was unclear whether those "operational efficiencies" might encompass the company's middle management as well as newsroom staffers.
Francis and Lorando did not return emails seeking comment.