Birmingham News fires more than 100 employees


Advance cuts 400 jobs statewide, 200 more in New Orleans

Birmingham News staff

Birmingham News staff outside of its downtown headquarters

By Wade Kwon

The Birmingham News fired more than 100 employees today, including more than 60 in the newsroom, as part of owner Advance’s new strategy. Their last day of work will be Sept. 30.

Said one employee who will be staying, “I’d rather be waterboarded than go into that office on a daily basis.”

As previously reported, managers held one-on-one meetings all day long to notify staffers whether they would be terminated with severance packages, asked to stay on or asked to apply for new jobs at the company.

Similar meetings took place at the Huntsville Times, the (Mobile) Press-Register and the Times-Picayune in New Orleans. All four newspapers will cut back to publication on Sundays, Wednesdays and Fridays in the fall, while ramping up content on recently redesigned news sites al.com and nola.com.

Advance is cutting some 400 jobs at its Alabama operations, and another 201 in New Orleans. A report in the Times-Picayune says that is an overall staff reduction of 32 percent, with 84 of the 173 newsroom employees (49 percent) fired today.

The Gambit, a weekly alternative paper there, reported via Twitter that most of the marketing department was fired, as well as all of the special section, library and human resources departments. The new New Orleans company Nola Media Group plans on hiring for 83 positions, including 40 in news.

Neither Advance nor managers at the Alabama newspapers have released specific information about cuts by city or department.

A source at the Birmingham News who asked to remain anonymous said that about 107 would be fired today at the company, and of them about 61 were newsroom employees (55 percent of the 110 staff members listed online). (Several had already left prior to today’s layoffs.) Most of the photographers and copy editors have been let go.

List of Birmingham News editorial staff departures
(to be updated)

Notable editorial departures include business editor Jerry Underwood, photography director Walt Stricklin, 31-year veteran reporter Chuck Dean and Washington correspondent Mary Orndorff. Two newsroom staffers fired today are pregnant, and another staffer was fired a week in advance because of a scheduled cancer operation.

Times-Picayune employees have been asked to sign non-disclosure and non-disparagement agreements as a condition of receiving their severance packages; it is believed Alabama Advance employees have been asked to do so as well.

Cindy Martin, president of al.com and of the newly formed Alabama Media Group, declined to comment on staffing and changes at the News, al.com or Birmingham Magazine. In the media release, she said, regarding those losing their jobs across the state today:

“Their dedication and expertise to our newspapers and the communities they served cannot be overstated. We offer our sincere gratitude to each person for their contributions and years of service to these excellent institutions.”

Birmingham News publisher Pam Siddall (now president of Advance Central Services of Alabama) has not returned a request for comment, nor has Birmingham Magazine editor Julie Keith.

Several staffers staying with the Birmingham company are taking on new titles, such as equality and human rights reporter and, for popular metro columnist John Archibald, local buzz reporter. No clear duties or beats appear to have been assigned to the new titles.

More than 100 vacant positions for the two new local companies will be filled before the fall, with some ads to appear on al.com this week. [Ads have been posted for Alabama Media Group and Advance Central Services Alabama.]

Little is known as to how many, if any, employees were dismissed at al.com, or how its organizational structure might change in the new company.

However, Media of Birmingham has learned that Advance has fired three of the eight Birmingham Magazine staff members: managing editor Carla Jean Whitley (with the publication since 2006) and two on the business side.

Advance and the Birmingham News bought the 50-year-old magazine for an undisclosed amount in October from the Birmingham Business Alliance. Since then, News staffers had taken on duties for the newly acquired publication, after the magazine moved into the newspaper’s downtown offices. Several magazine staff members were fired during the transition.

No information has been forthcoming about the magazine’s place within either of the two new companies.

The firings today had originally been scheduled for last week, but were changed to today both in Alabama and New Orleans. No date has been announced for the thrice-weekly publishing.

Regarding the News’ management to date, one outgoing newsroom employee said, “They’re such assholes.”

Additional coverage:

Also:

  • Birmingham social media expert David Griner set up a Twitter account @ALNewsJobs and Facebook page today to connect unemployed journalists with career opportunities.

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.

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

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34 responses to “Birmingham News fires more than 100 employees

  1. Fucking sick. Absolutely fucking sick.

  2. I “liked” this post, because I appreciate quality journalism. Despite the efforts of Wade and others, it’s apparent this town will soon deprived of much quality journalism because of these firings. It is hard to adequately express the depth of my sympathy for the talented, hardworking folks at the News and Birmingham Magazine. To call this a shame is a painful understatement.

    • when you consider what the loss of “quality journalism” will mean ito birmingham, this is catastrophic beyond imagination. by loss i mean there will be many, many fewer professional eyes and ears looking at and listening to what’s going on in this city. in short, the citizenry will learn much fewer critically important things about this community. the public wlll be considerably less likely to learn about the treacherous, shameful, criminal things that take place daily, not to mention the proud, noble, inspiring things people in this town often are capable of. i suspect alot of elected officials, bueaurcrats and sleazy businessmen are giddy and celebrating. there’s no telling what they will get away with now that many fewer people will be looking over their shoulder every hour of every day. it is NOT possible to “do more with less,” as some newspaper editors in similar circumstances have stupidly said. heaven help birmingham.

  3. Irresponsible to put up phone numbers and email addresses. Use some common sense.

  4. It’s not irresponsible. It is in attempts to assist those now out of work in finding new jobs. Who knows what employer might be looking at this page needing quality help.

  5. I just hope the ones they keep can spell and write properly. That would be a nice change.

  6. Mandy, “Advance” Publications fired most of the copy editors and the editors. If you think the spelling and writing was bad, just wait. You have seen nothing yet. You have no idea how many screw-ups were caught and fixed by these editors before they made it to print. This is the end of respectable journalism in Birmingham. Watch it sink slowly (or not-so-slowly) from here through September, and then fall off the table entirely in October.

  7. helenaalabama

    I hate to see this. There are some really talented people on that list.

  8. helenaalabama

    I hate to see this happen. There are some really talented people on that list.

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  11. I join with all others, as a longtime subscriber and avid reader of The Birmingham News, this is a sorry step in the wrong direction for Birmingham. My thoughts and prayers are with the News employees and their families, at this time.

  12. As a baseball fan, letting Doug Segrest go is terrible news. He is a great writer and I enjoy reading his articles on all topics, especially baseball. Good luck Doug, keep your head up, you did a great job.

  13. As a former news journalist, now employment lawyer, a few things: The severance agreements will come at a cost of giving them immunity from litigation. Think carefully. The settlement amount will be a pittance. Because the terminations were selectivite, some bias may be provable. Too old, female, medical problems, racial bias? The cancer patient has an immediate cause of action. The pregnant mother may, depending on her due date. When Siddall came in, she was said to have been a hatchet boss for the chain. I guess in a year’s time, people forgot that. Journalists are among the most unsophisticated people on earth with regard to their legal rights. Get a group together and go to a good employment attorney. Haynes-Haynes, Jeff Bennitt, Heather Leonard, Wiggins & Childs, Adam Porter, David Arendall and more. Most will not charge for an initial consultation.

    • i was fired from a paper once (quite unjustifiably) and when i talked to a couple of lawyers, they said i had NO course of action. the reason: ala law allows any company to fire anybody for any (or no) reason. there are, of course, some exceptions re federal law.

  14. I’ve known and worked with all of these people for several years. I left “the news” in January of last year for a better opportunity and because of an uncertain future. It’s ironic, if you look at their contact list of all the people in the newsroom and look at the picture above the names, only 2 of the people in that photo were saved from the ax. I’m curious to know how many, from the other departments (circulation, marketing, classifieds, HR, etc), are being shown the door.

  15. Wade,
    Any word on who is being let go in other parts of the operation such as IT, Advertising, AdGroup, Circulation?

    • I am waiting on specifics for other departments. Hopefully soon.

      The word out of New Orleans and Mobile was pretty grim. Birmingham benefits slightly, because both new companies are headquartered here.

  16. Grim news indeed. So sorry to read this. While a cub reporter, I worked with William Singleton (and you, of course, Wade) at the B’ham Post-Herald (RIP). After that paper was shut down, I was glad to see William had landed at the News. Now this. Hang in there, folks — and let me know where I can send my contribution for any forthcoming liquid commiseration.

  17. Just FYI, The Mobile Press-Register gave 185 employees their notice. That leaves 237. Nearly 44 percent of the total 422 employees were given their notices.

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  19. Dead man walkin’…Advance is slowly cutting their losses, they are only about big profit. They bought papers when they were still profitable. That’s why AL.com and all the affiliated ones are such crappy web sites (very little profit). I wouldn’t work for those people. It’s not that they don’t know what they are doing. Those staying are just enabling them. It certainly is no longer about journalism.

    • Actually, Advance’s history has not been about profit at all cost. In fact, the Birmingham News lost money, big money, for several years, and not a word was said from the corporate folks, at least that filtered down to the troops. There were buyouts in the past four years, but never a layoff in the newsroom until now. Funny thing is the News has apparently been making money the past couple of years, and now the ax swings. This is the next generation of the Newhouse family taking control and, for them, it appears to be all about profit. Short-term profit, at least.

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  21. There was quality journalism in Birmingham, Alabama? Like when?

    • Interesting, a large portion of a marketing department got fired. Aren’t these the people that are supposed to go out there and get advertisers? (or am I thinking sales?)

      Anyway, looks like quite a huge cut – 40%+ of those working got a notice. Good luck to them, and to the remaining employees.

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