Riffing On the Tradition: Open letter to Mr. Warren Buffett re The Times-Picayune
Dear Mr. Buffett:
I am a musician of New Orleans and an advocate for the city’s cultural work force. I have met you only once, about 15 years ago, and not in New Orleans. I was then based in San Antonio, Texas, with a band sponsored by See’s Candy, one of Berkshire Hathaway’s early acquisitions. We performed at some Christmas parties, where you addressed the See’s staff at the factories in Los Angeles and south San Francisco. Remember? You rode up to the podium on the back of a delivery motorcycle? We all laughed when, at the rehearsal, you tested the microphone saying, “Testing ... testing ... one-million, two-million, three-million...”
The reason for my reaching out to you is that, as you know, it has been announced that New Orleans will soon lose daily service of our print newspaper, The Times-Picayune. Last week, Berkshire Hathaway’s acquisition of several print newspapers under Media General’s umbrella brought you to my mind as the ideal person to approach about helping prevent this disgraceful embarrassment.
Regarding that purchase, you said, “In towns and cities where there is a strong sense of community, there is no more important institution than the local paper."
I know you share the world’s admiration for our city’s strong sense of community, and I am hoping that you already have your eye on this situation. When you were here almost exactly one year ago speaking to small business entrepreneurs, you called us a city with spunk and recognized a wealth of talent and energy. Certainly, our newspaper’s Pulitzer-prize winning staff, who never stopped reporting when the federal levees failed, despite power outages and flooded offices, exemplify that well. Indeed, our Times-Picayune, which has been around for more than 150 years, like our music culture that has been part of the city’s lifeblood for more than a century before that, are integral facets of the culture that bind us.
Our Mayor, Mitch Landrieu, once a paperboy in his youth like you, is expecting “ferocious and very aggressive attempts to communicate to the ownership how important this paper is to the city of New Orleans.” In this spirit, if it is possible for you to come down, we would very much like to arrange a meeting with prominent members of our community who share an ambition to maintain daily print news service.
Among them is local activist Anne Milling, who is on the paper’s board and is already forming a coalition of civic and business leaders to consider options. I doubt she reads five papers cover to cover each morning like you do, but you’d appreciate her sentiment that, in New Orleans, "it's part of our tradition: You wake up with a cup of chicory coffee and read the newspaper." Within hours of her call to action, the website www.savethepicayune.com went up, where support is quickly galvanizing.
This support is evidence that many of us believe our paper to be indispensable not only because of its watchdog role, but as a public service and beacon for our city's rich cultural life.
My wife, by the way, is from Omaha. She knows Gorat’s well and says that we should take you to lunch at Dooky Chase, although I think you would enjoy Herbsaint. Regardless, you’ll eat well and I’ll even be sure to have some of my colleagues on hand for some traditional New Orleans music I know you’ll love.
Evan Christopher (musician)
Evan Christopher is a noted member of the New Orleans music community and a founding member of NOLA Art House Music. He writes “Riffing on the Tradition” for NolaVie. All of his columns also are archived at Clarinet Road.com.