The Times-Picayune River Parishes Bureau is experiencing major layoffs in their transition from a daily newspaper to a semi-weekly publication this week.
Longtime reporters Lori Lyons, 50, and Matt Scallan, 57, spent a combined 48 years with the organization. They were the first staff members laid off by the bureau that covers St. Charles, St. John and St. James parishes.
Scallan, the former River Parishes government correspondent, spent his first Monday without a job at his home in Destrehan.
"I walked out this morning and I just wasnít thinking and I picked (the newspaper) up and all I saw was the Saints Extra. Speaking strictly as a reader I was disappointed and Iím someone who gets most of his news online," Scallan said. "I kind of missed that feeling this morning of just seeing the paper."
The night before, Scallan attended ĎLoLoís Layoff Luau,í a retirement party Lyons, the former prep sports and crime reporter for the River Parishes Bureau, held for herself at her Norco home.
"I gave myself a farewell retirement party because no one else did," Lyons said. "I was anticipating at the end of my career we would have something at Commanderís Palace or something like that, but no."
Lyons did not think she would handle her first day outside of the organization well.
"When I planned it I thought I might be a hysterical mess, but I ended up not being one," she said.
Lyonsí only professional job was with the Times-Picayune. She started off as a part-time clerk in 1986 and worked her way up to reporter. She joined the River Parishes Bureau in 1991 and was a prep sports reporter before being assigned to the crime beat two years ago.
"They had already taken my job away two years ago," Lyons said. "I used to say they forced me into this life of crime – they turned me from a prep writer into a crime writer and I did it kicking and screaming."
Despite not wanting to give up her beat as a local sports reporter, Lyons was happy with the work she was able to do.
"I am very proud of the legacy I left, especially in the past few years," she said.
Lyons did admit it was a difficult transition from when the layoffs at the newspaper were announced to when they actually occurred three months later.
"It was the longest goodbye because we found out in May that something was coming then we found out in June that I was going to be laid off and I had to go to work every day since June and it was terrible, it was horrible," Lyons said. "But I had the chance to cover some important stories in that time."
During the time between the layoff announcements and their final day at the River Parishes Bureau a major shooting occurred when two St. John deputies were killed. Then, Hurricane Isaac struck and flooded 7,000 homes in St. John Parish.
Scallan also provided intense coverage in his last few weeks with the organization. At one point he waded through flood waters to speak with St. John residents who had just lost their homes.
Before Scallanís 22 years with the Times-Picayune he spent time with five other newspapers including the Daily Comet in Thibodaux, where he got his start, and the Daily Iberian in New Iberia, where he served as managing editor.
Scallanís experience in the 1980s when the local economy soured after the price of oil bottomed out helped him when he found out he was being laid off from the Times-Picayune.
"It was in the depths of the oil bust and you see things in a very, very difficult time. This is important – having covered the oil bust and the aftermath it really gave me less of the sense of poor, poor me," Scallan said. "It was just a terrible, terrible time. So I put that in perspective."
Scallan said he saw the newspaper industry declining and anticipated the layoffs before they happened.
"The old model was clearly not working. If you donít adapt, you die. And that is clearly what happened in the early 2000s and late 1990s," Scallan said. "They were making so much money on the traditional news model, the publishers were reluctant to buy into something that might cut their pay. They were reluctant to change until it was too late, until the bottom just fell out which led to massive cut backs and changes in the news industry."
Scallan said changes at the Times-Picayune are just a sign of the times and are not purely indicative of problems within the organization.
"The staffs of every one of the five papers Iíve worked at are dramatically smaller than what they were ten years ago," Scallan said. "This is not something where I can say Ďthe Newhouses are just mean.í"
Now, Scallan believes there is a chance for other media organizations to fill any void that might be left by the Times-Picayuneís changes.
"I think this is going to be an opportunity for the smaller papers and I think that you guys–The Herald-Guide in particular–have a strong product," Scallan said.
As far as the rest of his career is concerned, Scallan said his life as a journalist is over.
"We all had the opportunity to apply for open positions and I chose not to do that because I just thought that eventually I am going to leave the news business. I just figured Iíd rather do it at this time rather than later," he said. "Iím 57. My health is good and everything. I wanted to choose something new," Scallan said. "My career has been very rewarding, exciting, fulfilling. Not too many people get to do exactly what they want to do in life and Iíve been able to do that."
Scallan said his next move will be to start his own company that will provide a video biography service so the descendants will be able to see their ancestors on video and get to know more about their lives.
For Lyons, she said she was not ready to leave the organization although she thinks the change will be a good thing for her in the end.
"There were some bright spots and dark spots, but I wouldnít change anything. I can honestly say I loved what I did. I loved what it was," Lyons said. "What am I now? What am I going to be now that I am not ĎLori Lyonsí of the Times-Picayune? Iím a storyteller and I always was. I certainly wasnít the best crime writer, I can tell you that. Iím a storyteller and I think I am a damn good storyteller."
Lyons plans on pursuing her teaching certificate and hopes to teach creative writing. She also plans on devoting time to a few book projects she has in the works.
Right now it is unclear if the Times-Picayune will replace Scallan or Lyons. In the next month the River Parishes Bureau is planning on laying off at least two more of their editorial staff.
|Matt Scallan worked for the Times-Picayune for 22 years. On Monday, Scallan said he missed the feeling of seeing the Times-Picayune on his doorstep.|