In an unfamiliar role for college presidents, Xavier University chief Norman Francis and the leaders of New Orleans-area universities and community colleges have joined a community campaign to champion a local newspaper against its owners.
Francis, the widely-respected president of Xavier University of Louisiana, is part of a broad-based coalition of city leaders asking the Newhouse family, owners of The Times-Picayune for nearly 50 years, to sell the daily paper rather than implement a plan to cut it to three days a week starting this fall. Newhouse plans to do the same at its papers in Huntsville, Birmingham and Mobile, Alabama.
“It is painful to report that right now it is nearly impossible to find a kind word in these parts about your family or your plan to take away our daily newspaper,” says a July 6 letter, signed by Francis, the Tulane University President Scott Cowen, Loyola University President Rev. Kevin Wildes and 11 other prominent individuals in the Times-Picayune Citizens’ Group. The entire group includes representatives from nearly 70 organizations.
“Our community leaders believe that your decision is undermining the important work we continue to face in rebuilding New Orleans [in the years after the deadly Hurricane Katrina]. Whether you intend to or not, you have already created the impression that our recovery is so tepid that we cannot support an important civil institution like a daily newspaper,” the letter continues. “If your family does not believe in the future of this great city and its capacity to support a daily newspaper, we will find someone who does,” Francis and the others wrote.
The group protesting the proposed newspaper cutbacks includes the area’s Catholic Church Archbishop, jazz musician Wynton Marsalis, the owner of the New Orleans Saints professional football team, chiefs of several major local banks, major business groups and the non-partisan Bureau of Government Research. In addition to the chiefs of Xavier, Tulane, and Loyola universities, academic leaders in the Times-Picayune Citizens Group include Dr. James E. Lyons Sr., interim president of Dillard University; Dr. Joe Welch, chancellor of River Parishes Community College; and Dr. Thomas R. Warner, chancellor of Nunez Community College.
The protest letter was the latest in a growing salvo of complaints to and against the Newhouse family since their announcement in May that the Times-Picayune and three other Newhouse papers in Alabama were rolling back printing of the newspapers and focusing more effort on on-line publishing.
“I gave the paper hell when I needed to,” said Francis, a member of the Times-Picayune advisory board since 1969 and a frequent critic of the newspaper’s coverage of Xavier and other minority community activities. Xavier, like most HBCUs across the country, has had expressed ongoing concerns with the paper about the level of coverage of its intercollegiate sports events, among other things.
Faults aside, Francis said the larger issue of the city possibly losing its only daily paper prompted him to join the larger movement to save it.
“I have championed causes I felt were good for the city,” said Francis, explaining the Newhouse family’s decision to withdraw from daily publication in New Orleans “came as a big blow to the city.”
Francis said New Orleans has been on the rebound since the flood waters of Hurricane Katrina gutted much of the city and asserted the Newhouse decision hit the community as hard as the storm
“We will not be a good city” without a daily newspaper,” Francis said. “The community and [Xavier] felt we need to have a newspaper, like New York, Chicago and the rest.”
A recent story in the Times-Picayune about the letter said the Newhouse family turned a deaf ear on the appeal.
“We have read the letter with great respect and concern,” the paper quoted Donald E. Newhouse, president of Advance Publications, owner of the newspaper, as saying. “Advance Publications has no intention of selling The Times-Picayune.”