Kai Ryssdal: The thing about the Times-Picayune is that it isn’t just any daily paper. And that’s really a function of the recent history of the city it serves. During Katrina and right afterward local radio and the Times-Picayune were often the only things holding New Orleans together. Chris Rose worked at the paper for 25 years, including Katrina and the aftermath. He helped the paper win two Pulitzers for its coverage of the storm. We figured he’d be a good guy to talk to about what the Times-Picayune means to New Orleans. So we tracked him down on vacation on a cell phone, so the sound is kinda sketchy. Chris Rose, good to have you with us
Chris Rose: Well it’s a pleasure to be here, I guess.
Ryssdal: Well that’s the thing. This is a family radio show, so we can’t use the words that you used when my producer broke this news to you this morning, but you were surprised?
Rose: Well yeah — surprised, shocked, saddened. I spent 25 years at that that newspaper. I remember back in journalism school when they told us one days newspapers would be a thing of the past. I always found it hard to believe. I figured as long as there were subways and men’s rooms, there would be newspaper. But apparently the day has come.
Ryssdal: One of our reporters in Washington, David Gura, who just did the story before our interview, was talking to a guy in New Orleans today and he said, ‘What are we going to do for crawfish boils’ without the newspaper down there. Everybody uses this thing.
Rose: Well ain’t that the truth. It’s a seafood town, so we’re going to be at a loss. We’ll find something with the free weeklies. But the Times-Picayune is such an institution in that town that you had to figure the dominoes were going to drop across this country, but I didn’t figure it’d happen in New Orleans this early.
Ryssdal: Especially because of what happened after Katrina and that paper really being a lifeline for so many people.
Rose: It really was, but maybe that shows you something ’cause you got to realize that in the first days after Katrina, of course we weren’t publishing a newspaper. We were online — probably our greatest days and our greatest work happened online. But that’s still not much consolation. It’s one of these towns — it’s filled with coffee shops and barrooms and bar shops and the newspaper is omnipresent there.
Ryssdal: You wrote in October of 2006 — about a year after Katrina — on your own deterioration. I think you called it a descent into hell, what that storm had done to you.
Rose: Deterioration is not a term I’ve ever assigned to it, but it’s perfectly accurate. I went mad in the months and year covering that storm and the desolation and the suicides and the destruction. It was crazy. It was crazy. To tie it into the topic of newspaper, that’s what we did. We were warriors. We were war correspondents and it was a time when institutions in New Orleans either stepped up or faded away and there’s no question the Times-Picayune stepped up.
Ryssdal: Do you think, Chris, that there’s a way a website does what the hard copy of this newspaper did in this town?
Rose: No. I know everybody has got their hand-held devices and you can bring ’em anywhere and you can read it anywhere, but the newspaper has it all there in your hands — the obituaries, high school sports, zoning issues, the DWIs. Who else is going to publish the DWI? It’s crazy.
Ryssdal: Chris Rose was for many years a staff writer and columnist at the Times-Picayune down in New Orleans. We got him on vacation on a cell phone somewhere out in Alabama. Chris, thanks a lot.
Rose: Thank you very much, Kai.
Ryssdsal: Chris’ columns from five or six years ago are pretty gripping stuff. He put them together in a book, too. It’s called “1 Dead in Attic.”