Community-funded news projects help fill information gaps in New Orleans

Communities / Article

Photo credit: Flickr user Garry Knight

Below Michele McLellan, a Knight Community Information Circuit Rider, writes about two Knight-funded local news projects in New Orleans.

In New Orleans, cutbacks at the local newspaper are helping to elevate the profile of two foundation-supported news operations.

Paul E. Maassen, general manager of WWNO, said listeners are beginning to take note of news coverage at the local public radio station. The fledgling newsroom was created with support from the Knight Community Information Challenge and the Greater New Orleans Foundation.

The station hired a news director in the spring and is now airing at least one local report or interview every weekday. Stories ranging from cultural reports from partner organization Nola Vie to reporting about violent crime and the city’s proliferation of charter schools with another partner, the nonprofit news start-up The Lens.

The Times-Picayune newspaper cut back from publishing a print edition seven days a week to only three days a week last fall, saying it wanted to focus on its digital presence. To fill the void, another Louisiana newspaper, the Baton Rouge Advocate, began publishing a New Orleans edition  – some of the content produced by reporters hired away from the Times-Picayune. Meanwhile, the Times-Picayune returned to daily print publication last month; in addition to its home delivery service on Wednesdays, Fridays and Sundays, it is printing a new tabloid that is available on newsstands on Mondays, Tuesdays and Thursdays. An early Sunday edition is available on Saturdays. 

The newspaper war has created “a lot of confusion about news sources,” Maassen said. “There’s really no definitive go-to news source in the city right now. We’re seen as a bit more reliable source of news. I think that sets us apart.”

“I think the audience has really picked up on what we’re doing. The feedback is good,” Maassen said. He said part of a recent fundraising pitch asked for help funding local news and programming initiatives and the response was positive.

The Lens, an online nonprofit news start-up and two-time winner of the Knight Community Information Challenge, has also seen an uptick in traffic since the Times-Picayune announced it was cutting back about a year ago, according to The Lens editor Steve Beatty.

The Lens was recently featured on Nieman Lab for its innovative coverage of New Orleans charter schools. With funding from Knight and the Greater New Orleans Foundation, The Lens has monitored and reported on the 45 different school boards in New Orleans that govern more than 60 schools.