Times-Picayune food critic says Nieman Fellowship prompted his layoff

A few weeks back, when the New Orleans Times-Picayune announced plans to reduce its print schedule and lay off some staff, it spoke of robust-ifying its coverage in at least one area:

The newspaper plans to continue its highly successful Picayune community news sections, covering neighborhood news in Jefferson, Orleans, St. Tammany, St. John, St. Charles and St. Bernard parishes, [content boss Jim] Amoss said. There are also plans to enhance the paper’s award-winning food and dining coverage, and to continue to offer both the Lagniappe entertainment tab and the Inside/Out home and garden tab each Friday.

Bolded text added to enhance absurdity of a late-breaking news event: As an apparent prelude to its stepped-up food coverage, the Times-Picayune has laid off highly regarded food-and-dining expert Brett Anderson. Just how does that work?

Perhaps Anderson himself was given a full and complete explanation of all the logic behind the move. And then, perhaps not. Anderson on this question:

My meeting lasted less than five minutes, and I didn’t really say anything. I was told I’m being let go because I’m taking a Nieman Fellowship.

Now that’s something. Because according to this May 4 piece on its Web site, the Times-Picayune sounds quite proud of Anderson’s Nieman selection:

Times-Picayune restaurant critic Brett Anderson has been selected as a member of the Nieman Foundation Fellows Class for 2013. He is one of 24 journalists chosen, the Nieman Foundation announced Friday.

The Nieman Foundation administers the prestigious fellowship program, which allows accomplished and promising journalists a year of study at Harvard, with time to pursue individual areas of interest, along with integrated class work to enhance their expertise.

We’re checking with management on this matter.

In the meantime, the Nieman people are saying that the Anderson situation appears singular: “As far as we know, in the past no one else has been laid off specifically because they received a Nieman fellowship,” says Ellen Tuttle, communications officer for the Nieman Foundation for Journalism at Harvard.

Erik Wemple writes the Erik Wemple blog, where he reports and opines on media organizations of all sorts.
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