Many national commentators and locals have been bemoaning the firings of many Times-Picuyane staff (bad!) and the shift from daily publications to thrice weekly (bad?). The arguments focus on fact that eliminating daily publishing will leave New Orleans as the largest US city without a daily newspaper. Couple the 60% penetration of the Times-Picayune newspaper with the very low internet access in this city and these commentators fear a virtual news blackout in the city.
But I'd actually theorize that this is quite improbable. Past the salient but unoriginal argument that the internet and telecommunications have allowed scores of quality alternate media, there's always been a fundamental artificiality in the newspaper model. As Matt Yglesias writes, "the fact that newspapers cover such a wide array of content has to do with the economics of printing and distributing bundles of newsprint." For example, there's really no reason to believe that a reader interested in the Saints game result would want an update on the Orleans Parish Prison. The marginal cost of adding non-sequitur topics dictated newspaper topic aggregation rather than reader wishes.
Nowadays, however, with the relative near-zero cost of publishing on-line, topic specific disaggregation has given rise to specialization of content. These days, if I'd like to know about the awful shit Bobby Jindal's been doing, my source is the Louisiana Voice, while the SaveCharityHospital blog gives quality updates on the (idiotic) drive to build a new Charity Hospital. These sites provide pretty detailed coverage of locally relevant news.
Evan past these micro-news sites, there may be a fundamental lag in our understanding of the people's news gathering sophistication. On an anecdotal level, I'd challenge the notion that 6 out of 10 of my New Orleanian friends reads the Times-Picayune (obviously this could be observational bias). But I do see that more than 6 of 10 of my friends get local news through texting, email, facebook and twitter. And while the African-American and Latin communities have lower rates of internet access, this is actually a far easier structural problem to solve through hand-held devices than other infrastructure inequalities.
In the international development arena, the simultaneous ease of building cellphone towers, the rise of social media and the plummeting cost of hand-held devices has led to pretty high connectivity in even quite rural areas. The challenge for New Orleans, then, isn't to revive the daily-newspaper model, but to progress to the newer ways of maintaining an informed citizenry which are increasingly successful and inexpensive.