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Mardi Gras vs. Bourbon Street

Mardi Gras is over now, so I’m a little late to help this year. But I’m writing this in hopes that some guy will stumble across it and remember it next year.

There’s a strange thing, founded in a misunderstanding, about Mardi Gras. I’ve noticed it before, but the number of times I heard or saw it yesterday baffled me. Men, saying to women (whom they don’t necessarily know that well) some variation on the following:

Wow, look at those beads! I better not ask where you got them!

If you’re entirely unfamiliar with New Orleans, Bourbon Street has a reputation for debauchery. It’s really only half of Bourbon Street that deserves that reputation, but whatever. Yes, women — and more than a few men — do bare their bodies sometimes in exchange for cheap beads thrown from balconies. But that happens year-round. It happens more anytime there’s a big crowd in New Orleans — Super Bowls, Southern Decadence, Essence/Voodoo/Jazz Fest, Mardi Gras — but it’s a Bourbon Street thing, not a Mardi Gras tradition. Millions of strands of beads are thrown from parades, which are overwhelmingly family-friendly affairs. If you whip out your tits or your dick on St. Charles Avenue or in Mid-City, you’re going to jail. So yes, it’s certainly possible to trade flesh for beads in a certain neighborhood of New Orleans. But please, fellas, think about what you’re insinuating before asking a woman that question.

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Automattic’s Team Social came to visit New Orleans for a team meetup, and I had the pleasure of crashing it over the weekend.

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New Orleans

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Reddit, Advance Publications, and listening to your community

Reddit Thrives Under Hands-Off Policy at Advance Publications

David Carr from the New York Times has published a story about the great deal of autonomy that Advance Publications has given Reddit since it took over that site years ago. What I found amazing about the piece is that nowhere in it does Carr mention what Advance has done with some of its other publications (Carr was the journalist who broke the story about Advance cutting their print operation by more than half in New Orleans, Mobile, Birmingham, and Huntsville). This quote from Steven Newhouse couldn’t be a better example of everything they failed to do in New Orleans:

But that is not what happened. Steve Newhouse, the chairman of Advance.net, decided very early on that his company would not be the blob that ate Reddit, and for the most part, left well enough alone. “We had some ideas about what would be good, but it might not have worked,” Mr. Newhouse said. “We paid attention to the community instead.”

Paying attention to the community, you say? How about the community that universally despises what you’ve done to nola.com? What about the community that’s begged you to sell the paper rather than strangle it? You don’t want to be the blob that ate Reddit, but you’re perfectly content to be the blog that decimated the Times-Picayune. If that’s true, man, talk about misplaced priorities. If it’s untrue, Redditors can plan on seeing this soon.

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David Grunfeld’s photo for the Times-Picayune shows a darkened Tremé and Claiborne Expressway as Hurricane Isaac approaches New Orleans.

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Amazing view of New Orleans during Isaac

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From the Louisiana Superdome Dedication Issue.

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Comparative Great Domes of the World

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Live music crackdown continues in New Orleans

Live music permit crackdown unplugs entertainment at two popular New Orleans bars, by Claire Galofaro at the T-P:

“Without live music, the survival of this bar is questionable,” he said. “And without live music, the survival of this city as a tourist destination is questionable too.”

Up ’til now I’ve been a huge fan of Mayor Landrieu and appreciate the steps his administration is taking to clean up the haphazard way the city’s been run for the last few decades, but he’s got to find a saner way than this.

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My advice to the Newhouse family

WWL TV: Tom Benson’s letter stating his interest in buying the Times-Picayune

The city of New Orleans is a city of immense culture, economic growth and host to millions of people annually; it is a nationally and internationally recognized city, it is a city deserving of a seven day a week newspaper.

Gambit: New Orleans City Council Resolution R-12-284

Urging the Times-Picayune to take any and all necessary actions, including sale of the newspaper, to ensure the uninterrupted continuation of seven-day-a-week print publication of its newspaper for the benefit of its loyal readers in New Orleans, the Gulf Coast region, and throughout the country.

Gambit: David Vitter’s letter urging the Newhouse family to sell

Maybe you truly believe that your new model for the Times-Picayune will serve the region well. I do not. More importantly, no citizen of the region whom I’ve spoken to about this does. And I literally mean no one. This includes everyone at the Times-Picayune itself that I’ve spoken to.

And don’t ever fucking make me agree with David Vitter again.

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New Orleans in 3D

New Orleans in 3D

Still waiting for Google to update Street View in New Orleans and have yet to get an Apple Store in the city itself, but I noticed today that the city is now 3D in the new iOS 6 Maps. And she’s looking gorgeous as ever. Flying over the Quarter, the ‘dome, Audubon Park and my old neighborhood was really cool, I can only imagine how handy this will be as more and more cities are added.

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Priorities

From DashThirtyDash, the Times-Picayune Employee & Contractor Assistance Fund, comes an amazing — but depressing — email from a Times-Picayune/nola.com reporter. This is what a new, enhanced digital focus looks like:

I am on the streets talking to a murder victim’s family and friends while his body is being loaded into a coroner’s van after my shift because we don’t have a Saturday night person – apparently we aren’t hiring one. Then I find out there was also a murder-suicide.

I go to nola.com this morning so I know what I need to follow up on today and neither story are anywhere to be found on the home page…

Then I get criticized by nola.com – a group of people who still have all their jobs despite our despised website – because a 4th of July story I pitched, wrote, and blogged is in the holiday blog, which apparently is only for certain holidays.

But as we’ve been told over and over again, we should question everything but their commitment.

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Update Google Street View in New Orleans!

I’m constantly turning to Google Maps’ Street View when I hear about a restaurant or something I want to check out in New Orleans. And every time, I’m reminded that Google hasn’t updated their Street View imagery of the city since I lived there in 2008. Street View is an amazing thing that Google does, but once they’ve photographed a city, they take on a responsibility to ensure it’s an accurate representation of the place. New Orleans is one of the country’s fastest changing cities the country’s fastest growing city, but if someone considering a visit (or a move) there looks at Street View, they would get a terrible idea of its condition seven years after Katrina. I fear that their images are so old they’re now actively hurting the city, and no street view would be better than the inaccurate picture they’re currently painting. I wondered if anyone shared my frustration, and lo and behold I found an excellent blog dedicated to the subject: Update Google Street View in New Orleans! Take some time to browse the examples they’ve photographed — the difference between Google’s 2007 depiction of the city and today’s reality is stark, to say the least.

In 2008, the Lieutenant Governor of Louisiana wrote the post on the Google Blog that announced Street View was coming to New Orleans:

I recently had the opportunity to visit the Googleplex and I expressed my interest in seeing Street View come to Louisiana, so I’m excited to see the launch of Street View imagery for Greater New Orleans, Baton Rouge and Shreveport. This remarkable tool allows us to share with the world life as we see it, here on the ground in my home state.

The author of that post was Mitch Landrieu, who’s since been elected mayor of New Orleans. Five years later, the only thing remarkable about Street View there is how inaccurate it is. Street View cars were seen around the city over a year ago — how out of date will those pictures be before they ever make it online?

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Rolling the Dice at the Times-Picayune

The Nation: Rolling the Dice at the Times-Picayune:

“This is one of the dumbest decisions by any newspaper publisher ever,” states historian John Barry, a New Orleans resident, authority on the levee system and author of Rising Tide, an award-winning history of the 1927 Mississippi River flood. “The Nola.com website is one of the worst I’ve ever dealt with. By coincidence, for the last few years—because I have a personal interest in something that happens in Ann Arbor—I’ve been going to the website and it is exactly the same—awful. Frustrating, unnavigable, with a terrible search engine.”

Today, the layoffs begin at the T-P. It’s a sad day for those who appreciate honest journalism on the gulf coast, and the saddest day hasn’t even come yet.

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My personal redesign of nola.com

If you’re within digital earshot of me, you’ve probably heard about the corporate owners of New Orleans’ daily paper, the Times-Picayune, scaling back to only publishing 3 days a week and focusing on their online presence, nola.com. Without being unnecessarily rude, this is one of my least favorite sites that I spend any measurable amount of time on. Whereas in many cases I can avoid the worst-designed examples in any category, if I want news about New Orleans, I have a limited number of options. That’s why I was so glad to find the User CSS Safari Extension (similar plugins are available for other browsers). It lets you add your own stylesheets that can be applied to specific sites, meaning that I can turn the homepage of nola.com into something I don’t mind looking at. I started by removing everything on the page about which I did not give a damn:

I don’t run Ad Block or similar plugins, because I generally don’t mind web advertising and I understand people have got to pay the bills somehow. But nola.com has lost its license to advertise to me.

I think my favorite part of the redesign is eliminating the cheesy and pointless nola.com branding and focusing on the traditional, infinitely more elegant Times-Picayune nameplate (which, to Advance’s credit, they at least re-introduced in the new design). It may not be around much longer in print, but it will live on in my browser.

It’s still a work in progress, but already I’m able to enjoy reading the news in a way I haven’t in a long time. It’s not a solution for the technically non-inclined, but it’s definitely the solution for me.

UPDATE:A few folks mentioned they’d be interested in doing the same, since Advance’s other web properties like al.com and mlive.com have recently been beaten with the same ugly stick (and no doubt others like oregonlive.com and nj.com have it coming soon). This is extremely messy, even by my standards, but it’s a good place to start. If you improve upon this, I’d love to see what you make with it. Grab the CSS on Pastebin.

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It’s Getting Worse

It Gets Worse

The state of web design in the news business has always been bad, but it seems to be getting progressively, demonstrably worse. It’s not just that the designs are bad. It’s that the people making the designs don’t appear to have any desire at all to make the experience pleasurable for the reader — how likely you are to click an advertisement (intentionally or not) is clearly the only measure of success in this type of design.

NOLA.com recently “redesigned” their site — I use dick quotes because the design of articles has not changed at all — they’ve just added a terrible webfont, a lot of yellow, and a bunch of extra links in the header. Once you get beyond all the yellow, the article still looks exactly like it did 10 or so years ago when the site first launched, Verdana body text and all. They did add a “responsive” stylesheet — one so responsive that it’s been broken ever since the day it launched (prompting this initial reaction from me):

How bad does the business of publishing free news articles in exchange for banner clicks have to get before something fundamental changes? Hard to say — even NYTimes.com, which now requires a subscription to read regularly, still hasn’t even attempted to use the design talents of their staff or modern web technologies to roll out a site more focused on article readability than ad visibility. But looking at the example above, I’d like to hope that we’ve almost hit the bottom.

UPDATE: On May 23, Advance Digital rolled out this new design to al.com, home of the major Alabama newspapers. There’s a great roundup of reaction to the redesign at Wade on Birmingham.

UPDATE 2: On May 24, the news broke that the New Orleans Times-Picayune will cease daily publication, scaling back to a thrice-weekly schedule. I’m sure I’m going to have more to say on this later, but for now, it’s just sad. I don’t know who at the Times-Picayune is being laid off as a result of this decision, but I have a feeling it’s a pretty safe bet to say it includes their entire design staff.

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