By Wade Kwon
Birmingham has seen one of its most tumultuous years in its media landscape. The last 365 days have brought layoffs, departures, closings and a few victories among local outlets.
It was 1 year ago today that the New York Times scooped New Orleans’ venerable Times-Picayune on its own impending upheaval: layoffs, a drop to publishing three times a week and the formation of two new companies.
Before that explosive announcement, Advance’s online portal al.com joined nola.com and mlive.com in a drastic and comprehensive site redesign. Reaction by readers nationwide — as Advance switched all its sites over to the 2012 look — was overwhelmingly negative.
The following day (May 24), owner Advance Publications announced hurriedly what Times-Picayune staffers had already learned online. In addition, the New Jersey-based chain rolled out a similar Alabama-wide strategy for the Birmingham News, the Huntsville Times and the Press-Register of Mobile.
Before reviewing the Advance Crisis of the last 12 months, just look at the other major events on Birmingham’s media scene during the same period …
- Birmingham Weekly ceased publication Aug. 15. The publication ran for 14 years; then, under publisher Stephen Humphrey’s reign, barely 14 months. (See the inside story.)
- Black and White went on permanent hiatus Jan. 10 after 21 years of publication.
- Weld for Birmingham lost two of its four founders within its first year of publishing, one last May and one in July under heated circumstances.
- Alabama Public Television fired executive director Allan Pizzato with no cause given. Birmingham Business Journal named him Nonprofit CEO of 2011.
- Magic City Post (disclosure: my former company) stopped operation as a news site earlier this month after 3 years.
- Paul Finebaum, a Birmingham radio fixture for 20 years, left the air in January as his contract expired. He’ll resume his show for ESPN in August from Charlotte.
- Tanya Ott, news director for WBHM (90.3 FM) for 10 years, left the station earlier this month to become vice president of radio at Georgia Public Broadcasting in Atlanta.
- Even Media of Birmingham changed from a professional organization into a news site only.
- A few awards …
A look at the ups and downs since Advance’s restructuring of its Birmingham operations …
May 24: Birmingham News reporters tweet the stunning morning announcements on publishing schedule and company reorganization.
It's official…this fall the Birmingham News will switch to only publishing print editions 3 days a week: Wednesday, Friday and Sunday.—
Marty Swant (@martyswant) May 24, 2012
At the same time, the media release appears on al.com, similar to the one on nola.com and that would appear in coming months for other Advance properties.
Naturally, layoffs were part of the deal.
Cindy Martin, prez of new Alabama Media Group, said change in org structures will lead to a reduction in size of workforce.—
Wade Kwon (@WadeOnTweets) May 24, 2012
I threw in an appropriate hashtag.
Birmingham News staffers (and others) weighed in via Twitter.
While New Orleans felt the ire of a large, loyal readership, Birmingham faced a more muted response. That afternoon, New Orleans residents spring into action with a Save the Picayune campaign. No such reaction in Birmingham.
Mobile finds layoffs ‘exciting’ for its May 25, 2012, edition.
May 25: Print editions across the state splash the announcement across the front page.
May 30: Our special Media of Birmingham report details worries about layoffs and the new model for the Birmingham News.
May 31: Another Media of Birmingham report shows one key company, al.com, seemingly lost in the shuffle. While the newspapers would fire hundreds, al.com would fire only one employee.