7 Stories That Made New Orleans’ Times-Picayune a Legend

In 1837, the first edition of a New Orleans newspaper called The Picayune, named after the Spanish coin worth about a quarter of a quarter, went to press. The paper would eventually be renamed the Times-Picayune, and publish the earliest writings of authors William Faulkner and William Sidney Porter (better known as O. Henry), stand firm in the face of censorship of the press during the reign of Louisiana governor and senator Huey Long, and be nominated for and win several Pulitzer prizes for breaking news coverage, public service, and editorial cartooning. Recently, it was announced that beginning this fall, the Times-Picayune would reduce its print schedule to a Wednesday, Friday, and Sunday edition, while maintaining 24/7 reporting online at Nola.com. Writers and other staff will be laid off as the paper, like so many other major city print publications, transitions into a hybrid digital and print format. Here is a brief look back at some of the writing that made New Orleans’ Times-Picayune a legend.

  1. “New Orleans Sketches”:

    In 1925, after relocating to New Orleans, American author William Faulkner found work as a writer for the Times-Picayune. The paper published 16 essays or “sketches” by Faulkner of New Orleans, the first titled “Mirrors of Chartres Street.” The sketches appeared in the Sunday feature section. All 16 New Orleans sketches, along with writing Faulkner originally contributed to the New Orleans literary journal The Double Dealer, was published in a collection in 1958.

  2. “U.S. High Court Champions Free Press in Killing Newspaper Levy”:

    During the 1930s, the Times-Picayune maintained its dedication to freedom of the press despite unfair taxation, intimidation, and threats of censorship by former Louisiana Senator Huey P. Long. During the 1933 banking crisis, Long attempted to force the newspaper to not publish news about bank closings by threatening the paper with 200 national guardsmen he’d called up to “march down to that paper and break every machine they got.” And in 1934, the Times-Picayune won a lawsuit against Long who had unfairly imposed an additional 2% tax on the paper.

  3. “Oceans of Trouble: Are the World Fisheries Doomed?”:

    Times-Picayune writers John McQuaid and Mark Schleifstein teamed up to write a series of articles detailing environmental and man-made conditions impacting the world’s supply of fish. Topics covered in the series included the uncontrolled growth of the fishing industry, ocean pollution, and the relatively new industry of fish farming, also known as aquaculture. The paper was awarded the 1997 Pulitzer prize for public service by a newspaper for the series.

  4. Walt Handelsman’s editorial cartoons:

    Editorial cartoonist Walt Handelsman, one of the most widely reprinted cartoonists in America, worked for the Times-Picayune from 1989 to 2001. In 1997, in recognition of the quality of Handelsman’s drawing and editorial punch, Handelsman and the Times-Picayune received the Pulitzer prize for editorial cartooning. The awarded cartoons included several comments on the 1996 presidential campaign, featuring Handelsman’s distinctive caricatures of Bill Clinton, Bob Dole, and Ross Perot.

  5. “Unwelcome Neighbors: How the Poor Bear the Burdens of America’s Pollution”:

    The 2000 series “Unwelcome Neighbors: How the Poor Bear the Burdens of America’s Pollution,” written by John McQuaid, took an unflinching look at how our nation’s poor have, and continue to be subjected to, serious health risks by heavy industry and big polluters. McQuaid provided readers with a detailed history of environmental activism, both in Louisiana and other parts of the U.S. He focused on the plight of 26 low-income Louisiana residents in the heavily industrialized community Mossville, who suffered from high levels of dioxin in their blood. McQuaid was awarded the John B. Oakes Award for distinguished environmental journalism for the series.

  6. “Washing Away”:

    Times-Picayune reporter Mark Schleifstein’s 2002 series “Washing Away” accurately predicted the extensive and devastating flooding that occurred throughout New Orleans in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. Schleifstein’s series focused on the city’s low and structurally unsound levees, as well as Louisiana’s decimated wetlands, which once offered a natural barrier between the city and a hurricane. The series won awards from the National Hurricane Conference and, perhaps ironically, the American Society of Civil Engineers, and received a great deal of warranted attention post-Katrina.

  7. “Help us, please!”:

    When hurricane Katrina struck New Orleans, Times-Picayune editor Jim Amoss and several of his staff members hunkered down in the paper’s offices thinking the presses would be rolling a day or two after the storm hit. Although completely unprepared for a storm as intense as Katrina or the city-wide flooding and chaos that followed, the staff bravely ventured outside — into the flooded streets, past looted stores and among crowds of people desperate and pleading for help — in order to provide online, 24/7 coverage of conditions in the city. Times-Picayune photographer Ted Jackson took one of many iconic photos that accompanied the coverage, including one of a woman on her knees pleading for help. In 2006, the paper was awarded two Pulitzer prizes for its coverage of Hurricane Katrina, one for public service and one for breaking news coverage.

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