News blackout at al.com? State’s biggest site at loss for words


al.com victory party

Staff members at al.com celebrate a contest victory
with a Google-sponsored party in January.

By Wade Kwon

While the Birmingham News’ reduction in print editions and jobs has received much attention, the plan to put al.com at the forefront has received relatively scant attention.

The largest website in Alabama recently changed its front page, and just today changed its dominant color from yellow to a warm gray (as did sister site nola.com). But aside from cosmetic changes, questions remain as to what’s next for the company.

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

Cindy Martin, president and CEO of al.com, will become president of the newly formed Alabama Media Group. Owner Advance has also created Advance Central Services Alabama, to be headed by News publisher Pam Siddall.

Martin and various al.com staff members declined requests for interview.

Martin told the Birmingham Business Journal that her new company will be based in Birmingham, with offices in Huntsville, Montgomery and Mobile. In an interview with ABC 33/40, she said, “We’ve really got to change our business to keep and stay ahead of the consumer media habits.”

And in the announcement, Martin said:

“We’re excited to bring together the quality journalism of The Birmingham News, the Press-Register of Mobile and The Huntsville Times and the up-to-the minute immediacy of al.com. This is obviously a dramatic change, but we believe our award-winning journalism, top-notch advertising services and the largest website in Alabama position us to be a healthy, growing company.

“There are always painful choices when you begin a process that will lead to people losing their jobs. But at the same time, we must position ourselves to be sustainable businesses going forward. The new companies we launch in the fall, we believe, not only achieve that, but will serve our growing audiences and advertisers better than ever before.”

How many staff members al.com will gain or lose, if any, remains to be seen, as well as how Martin and Siddall will work together in daily operations and hierarchy.

The Alabama Media Group management:

  • Vicki Applewhite, vice president of advertising at the (Mobile) Press-Register, will be vice president of marketing and strategy;
  • Mike Marshall, editor of the Press-Register, will be Statewide Commentary Director;
  • Dee Dee Mathis, director of sales at al.com, will be vice president of digital solutions;
  • Natalie Pruitt, vice president of advertising at the Huntsville Times, will bevice president of sales;
  • Kevin Wendt, editor of the Huntsville Times, will be vice president of content.

To mark the Times’ 100th anniversary in 2010, Wendt wrote:

“There remains no better avenue for disseminating information – both news and advertising – than the printed newspaper. … The printed paper, The Times included, will continue to adapt in times of change.”

The Advance Central Services Alabama management group:

  • Vicki Catlett, controller/treasurer at the Press-Register, will be executive director of finance and accounting;
  • Troy Niday, vice president of operations at the News, will be executive director of operations;
  • Diane Romine, regional vice president of technology at the News, will be executive director of technology;
  • Ellen Williams, human resources director at the News, will be executive director of human resources.

More stories on al.com

More stories on Advance Publications

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

If you have more info on changes at the Birmingham News and al.com, please contact me.

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7 responses to “News blackout at al.com? State’s biggest site at loss for words

  1. Let me start by saying that I cannot begin to imagine the turmoil in the newsrooms and papers at the moment. I’m not a news person. I’m not a media person, though I have been following this because I have friends who are affected. I have also been in the “uncertainty” boat with company changes. It’s not fun. At all. In fact, it flat out sucks!

    Not being a news person, please forgive the bluntness – I’m honestly curious. This seems sensationlized. Reporting will still be needed and important. I’m unsure of your point is in using the quote by Wendt. Do you see the reduction to 3 a week as Wendt going back on what he said in 2010. If so, did you catch the last part of the quote? The part about adapting in times of change? From the announcement: “The Alabama Media Group will dramatically expand its news-gathering efforts around the clock, seven days a week, while offering enhanced printed newspapers on a schedule of three days a week.” To me, that sounds like more stories online and more indepth papers on days it’s printed.

    I’m also curious as to the point of this post in general, if not to sensationalize – the opening bit about all the news around the papers (that points to an article you did) but little from the digital side, then the ominous “questions remain as to what’s next for the company” followed by bits from stories that have already been published elsewhere. I’m sorry, but from an outsider, it comes across as complaining because you can’t get the same insider information from anyone at al.com as you were able to get from your sources (co-workers?) at Bham News. Reiterating – from what’s been published online and in the papers already, it seems to me that neither group really knows details – it was released before they could work them out because of a NYT scoop. IMO, anything more is pure speculation at this point and doesn’t help calm anyone in a time of uncertainty.

    • Elizabeth, the point of this report is to neither calm troubled souls nor to sensationalize the issue. When the state’s largest website (and now possibly largest news-gathering organization) won’t answer simple questions on its future or its employees, that’s a red flag to me.

      If al.com wants people to get news, sports, entertainment and more from its website, it’s reasonable to ask: who’s providing the info, how will operations run, who’s in charge, etc.

      When a news organization relies on spin rather than giving truthful answers, I hope that would be cause for alarm for anyone.

      Thanks for your comment. I hope you’ll continue reading.

  2. Seems like your tactic here is to assume that because no one will talk to you, things must be bad. Perhaps after having read your unequivocally negative piece on The Birmingham News, the folks at al.com wisely avoided sharing information with you that might be spun into a negative piece about the company they hope to be working for in the future. Just a theory…

    • How very flattering you think all al.com employees have read my stories on the Birmingham News over the years. If only that were the case …

      Thanks for your comment.

  3. Bravo for chasing this story and please continue to pursue it. The cities being affected deserve far better than three days of publication. The other four aren’t important enough? If I were an advertiser I would tell the newspapers AND the online site to go screw themselves. No one looks at online advertising anyway, hates the scroll-over and pop-up ads, and few ever click on an ad even for a free bed or coupon or food.

    It is obvious through the hires of these people making up the new management structure that this shift to digital has been planned for years. Anyone who was denied a buyout – and there were several – but now may be terminated should pursue legal action. Being told you can’t take a buyout when hundreds of others have done so but then getting terminated is, at the very least, immoral.

    Providing “news” from press releases and television show morning reports to get the early morning online quotas filled is not journalism. Posting short reports to keep the online ticker ticking during the day is not journalism. Combining insipid tidbits from the “river” of online quota posting into a newspaper is not journalism. Terminating veteran reporters and hiring social media whiz kids who don’t know the communities will backfire.

    Please keep up the good work on this developing story.

  4. Pingback: Birmingham News fires more than 100 employees | Media of Birmingham

  5. Pingback: ADVANCE CRISIS: The insanely obsessive guide to the Birmingham News/al.com implosion | Media of Birmingham

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