Birmingham News, other Advance papers to cut jobs, print editions


Birmingham News

By Wade Kwon

The newspaper world was hit with some bombshells this morning, all lobbed by Advance Publications.

Wednesday night, unconfirmed reports popped up suggesting its New Orleans’ paper, the Times-Picayune, would undergo severe cuts and reduce to three times a week publication. This morning, it became a reality, as staffers found out — not from their own supervisors — but from Web and TV reports.

The New Orleans operation will reform under two companies, one handling digital operations and one handling print operations. The paper will run Wednesdays, Fridays and Sundays starting in the fall, instead of seven days a week.

Pam SiddallThis morning, staff members at the Birmingham News found out from publisher Pam Siddall in a hastily called staff meeting that they too would roll out the same plan for all Alabama Advance papers, including the Huntsville Times and (Mobile) Press-Register.

Wednesday marked the rollout of a new front page design for al.com, which had previously been debuted at Advance sites mlive.com and nola.com. The new look was met with much criticism from the readers.

See Twitter reaction from Birmingham News staffers

Siddall will head up one new company, Advance Central Services Alabama, handling production, distribution, technology, finance and human resources for all three papers in Birmingham. That means the Times will be printed in Birmingham starting at a date to be determined in the fall and the Press-Register will continue to be printed in Mobile.

All three papers will run on Wednesdays, Fridays and Sundays, with special editions (such as Thanksgiving) as needed. Sunday papers will remain $2, and Wednesday and Friday papers will remain $1. Subscribers will also be given access to the e-edition.

News operations will be handled in “hubs” across the state.

Cindy MartinCindy Martin, president of al.com, will be the head of Alabama Media Group, over all three newspapers and al.com. It is to be a “digitally focused media company.”

Martin said in the press report that the change in organizational structures across all departments will lead to a reduction in the overall size of the workforce, with details still to be worked out.

Advance owns the Birmingham News and Birmingham-based al.com, as well as the weekly Birmingham Business Journal. Its Ann Arbor (Mich.) News ended its print run in 2009 after 174 years, switching to an all-online model at annarbor.com with reduced staffing and a twice-weekly print edition.

Forbes blogger Micheline Maynard predicted that New Orleans would see similar results as Ann Arbor did:

“No offense to its staff, but AnnArbor.com, online at least, is a constantly updated blog, which gives equal play to impaled cyclists and rabid skunks as it does to politics and crime. The printed edition is newspaper-like, but with a different style and less gravitas than its predecessor.”

News industry analyst Ken Doctor is calling the transformation a “forced march to digital.”

Also, it was announced that the News’ 37-year veteran Tom Scarritt, editor since 1997, would retire in the fall. He became the newspaper’s vice president in 2001.

Andrew Beaujon at journalism institute Poynter reports that the News’ Sunday circulation jumped significantly between March 2011 and March 2012, while the rest of the week fell:

“The Birmingham News’ average Sunday circulation increased from 153,023 to 173,187, a 13 percent increase mostly attributable to the inclusion of ‘YES! Your Essential Shopper,’ a home-delivered collection of flyers. Its average daily circulation declined 7.5 percent, from 112,209 to 103,729.

“The Press-Register’s Sunday circulation was basically flat, going from 103,300 to 103,373 and its daily circ dropped from 87,518 to 82,088; both figures rolled in distribution of The (Pascagoula) Mississippi Press.

“Average Sunday circulation rose 1 percent at The Huntsville Times, to 68,092 from 67,286, and daily fell 5.5 percent, from 47,366 to 44,725.”

The Birmingham News, the state’s largest newspaper, won a Pulitzer Prize in 2007 for reporter Brett J. Blackledge’s investigation into corruption in the state’s 2-year college system. Wednesday, it was a finalist for several Green Eyeshade Awards, including its extensive coverage of the April 27, 2011, tornadoes and its 2011 series on “Reinventing Our Community.”

Some Birmingham News staff members are still in shock over the surprise morning bombshell announcement. Siddall said to them at the meeting, “At the end of the day, each employee has to decide if they believe in the new direction.”

See how the Birmingham News is implementing the new plan.

Additional coverage:

More stories on the Birmingham News

More stories on Advance Publications

Wade Kwon is a co-founder of Media of Birmingham and a Birmingham journalist for 25 years.

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29 responses to “Birmingham News, other Advance papers to cut jobs, print editions

  1. David Pelfrey

    RE: “Siddall said to them at the meeting, “At the end of the day, each employee has to decide if they believe in the new direction.”
    That’s right. Nothing to do with the upper echelon’s editorial perspective or management style. It’s all on the employee. Bet these folks are a hoot to work for. I mean “work under.”

  2. Reading the pull quote from Forbes’ Maynard… why does the content suffer whenever there is a seismic format shift?

    • I suspect she means the seismic shift usually means firing reporters, which of course would lead to less (and less interesting) content. But you can ask her yourself, either with a comment on her post or via Twitter.

      • Thanks. I was more or less looking for your opinion. Just wondering if its the format’s fault for allowing fodder to float better or if it’s due to staff cuts and such.

      • My opinion: It’s never the channel. It’s the goals and the people. I’ve seen good news sites and lousy ones, and good newspapers and lousy ones.

  3. I think the whole idea stinks terribly. My 90 year old Mother looks forward to reading the paper everyday. It is one of the very few things she can do anymore and enjoy it. Now, that is being taken away from her 4 out of 7 days. Thanks a lot Bham News. Not everyone is able or capable of reading stuff on the computer, so that is not an option for my Mom and thousands more like her. And, by the way, she has been an everyday subscriber since she moved here several dozen years ago. At one time, she was getting both the morning and evening editions. First that was cut out. Now this. And, you owe me a large refund as I just last month paid you for a whole year of everyday delivery. And.. finally news happens everyday, not just 3 days a week.

  4. When a newspaper puts a Justin Bieber concert announcement story on the FRONT PAGE, they deserve to be slashed…

    And when a newspaper panders to all the Mouth Breathers and small-minded dolts, they get what they deserve too

  5. Hi I delived the daily home for about five years six to seven days a week years ago. So I know what goes into the delivery of those things. But as a customer, on the bham news, i recently bought a wed paper and it did not even have the winn dixie and or publix ads in them, whats up with that, its the reason i want a paper! I fought hard to get the rite aid and walgreens back in the papers on sunday in our area and seem to have suceeded in that, so NOW I want those things or I will not be buying it from you.

  6. I did not get to finish the content scrambled on me! Ok on wed paper you need to have the grocery ADS to keep us that coupon and shop buying the printed papers, its necessary! And on sunday if i were to get it delivered i could not be promised my coupons were in there so i went back to buying them at the filling station, in my area, and they always run out by the evening and i have to go down the street to another one if i dont get it early. keep the coupons and advertisments in them and we that use those will keep on buying it for that.

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  8. In 2006 they destroyed a historic building to build a top notch new building, In 2009 my husband (28 years of service) along with about 21 other area Circulation managers recieved their 30 day notice. Some of those managers werejust a few years from retirement and were left screwed with no insurance etc! By the end of 09/ beginning of 10 the building was down 50% of its employees. That NEW building that they just had to have cost 100’s of jobs. Also they treat all of there employees and contractors like dirt. Carriers go out and work 7 days a week for 1 to 2 cent more pay per paper now than what we paid in 1996 and gas prices have TRIPLED! Plus they double charge them for their supplies and complaints. Lets put it this way, if you get a paper at home and you are missing a ad (that the carrier doesnt even control) and you call in a complaint, that carrier gets paid about 8 -10 cents a paper depending on their route location and the news “Charges” them $5.00 for the ad complaint you called in. They had some Loyal employees now they have employees that I have heard say “Thats not my job, I am just getting by”, I can remember when a Thanksgiving paper was 7 parts now they are a joke. Give it up, they are fighting a loosing battle due to all of their past UPPER MANG. that were new with GREAT idea’s, when in reality they were flushing the paper down the toilet!

  9. Stacey Francis

    This truly makes me sad. While I no longer subscribe to the print edition of the newspaper, I know many others (including my dad) read the paper from cover to cover every day. I know that times are changing and the majority of people receive their news via the internet, but sometimes, there’s just something about holding the actual paper, getting newsprint on your fingers and clipping special articles to save for years to come. Sure, there will still be a print edition three times a week, but before we know it, that will be two, then just Sundays, and the day will come when a newspaper will be a relic of times gone by. It’s such a shame to know that there will be a generation that will not know what a newspaper looks like, when sitting and reading the paper at the breakfast table with my dad is a favorite childhood memory. Okay, I’m going to step off my soapbox now, but news like this just makes me shake my head and wonder if there’s really nothing sacred anymore.

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  11. Urban Spaceman

    Now we’ll just get yesterday’s news on Wednesday, Friday and Sunday. We’ll miss it like we miss the Newsreels. Did everyone learn of this on the internet or TV?

  12. I subscribed to seven day paper. Where do I get my refund and how many others will be demanding the same?

  13. Spaceman yes everyone seems to have learned this on the internet or tv news, even most of the Birmingham News employee’s and all of the Birmingham News contractors. Dear Anonymous they will be crediting your account to go longer on a Wednesday, Friday, Sunday paper, if you are interested in a refund you will need to call the Birmingham News (good luck getting a real person and not a recording.)

  14. Perhaps they could have started their staffing cuts with the Missouri office that calls me three times a day trying to get me to resubscribe to The Birmingham News. Or cut out the bi-weekly letter I get, begging me to come back. I’ve already told them three times this week to please quit calling me, but my caller ID log shows that my opinion on this matter is quite unimportant.

  15. Well, I hope that few publications per week will also mean that we’ll get a lot of news so as to compensate for the days which there will be no papers. However, if this does happen then I think that the news editors will have quite a lot of work.

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