Journalist Reflects on Future of New Orleans Times-Picayune

By Jason Boog 

hellAuthor and journalist Rebecca Theim wrote about the future of a famous newspaper in Hell and High Water: The Battle to Save the Daily New Orleans Times-Picayune.

The book is out this month, and we caught up with the journalist to find out more about the book and how Mediabistro’s courses helped her write the story.

Her answers follow below…

Q: Could you tell us the story of how you discovered the idea for your book? What was the process like of finding a publisher?

I was a newspaper reporter earlier in my career, most recently at The Times-Picayune of New Orleans. Although I left the newspaper and New Orleans, I always maintained very special feelings for both, and had many, many friends who continued to work there.

Last year, the Picayune’s corporate owners Advance Publications of New York (which also owns the Conde Nast magazine company), put the newspaper at the center of a radical experiment: it made New Orleans the largest U.S. city without a daily newspaper when it cut the Picayune’s publishing schedule to three days a week and instead put its focus on its website, which is widely regarded as mediocre. In the process the company laid off 30% of the newspaper’s total employees, including one-half of the newspaper.

I did try to get noticed by a number of agents, to no avail, but was quite lucky that Pelican Publishing of New Orleans was interested in the book almost as soon as they heard the idea. I developed an extensive annotated table of contents, and Pelican was willing to take a gamble on a first-time-author and offered me a contract based on it.

I guess the lesson my experience offers is know your audience and the publisher(s) most likely to appeal to that audience and approach them. I also had a personal introduction through a dear friend, who’s done a number of books with Pelican, and that always helps.

Q: How did the Narrative Nonfiction class help you work on the manuscript?

I was lucky that I already had a solid idea for the book and a publisher who was interested in it when I began the class. However, Leslie and my fellow classmates were so helpful in both helping me navigate the contract negotiation stage, and in reading and commenting on earlier drafts of the early chapters.

The course was great, in that Leslie included assignments each week that began with helping students to attract the favorable notice of an agent or publisher, through writing several chapters. Again, because I had a publisher, I focused my effort on writing the book, and Leslie and the class graciously critiqued what I wrote.