Tag Archives: Birmingham Weekly

EXCLUSIVE: Birmingham Weekly, the untold stories

By Wade Kwon

Stephen Humphreys, Chuck Leishman

Stephen Humphreys, left, and Chuck Leishman

Birmingham Weekly made its reputation on untangling the lies and the financial misdeeds of former mayor Larry Langford. Just 2 years later, the alternative paper now finds itself enmeshed in its own set of accusations and denials, questionable figures and sobering facts.

Birmingham Weekly 09-01-11 coverIn June, the weekly publication quietly changed hands from publisher Chuck Leishman to Stephen Humphreys. In doing so, it began to dig itself out of a financial hole that continues to limit its operations.

Friday, editor Sam George tweeted his resignation over a pay dispute. In his statement published on his personal website, he wrote, “I can no longer ask myself, my employees or my writers to continue to work with out the compensation and com fort they are due.”

In this exclusive investigative report for Media of Birmingham, we talk to staff members who shaped the paper over the past decade and uncover the internal troubles that have placed it in its current situation.

(Note: The author co-owns Birmingham media outlet Magic City Post.)

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Sneak peek: Birmingham Weekly changes website look

Birmingham Weekly 2010

Birmingham Weekly’s new site design for 2010.
(Click image for larger version.)

Less than a year after completely revamping the website, Birmingham Weekly is set to roll out a new online design Thursday.

Incoming editor Sam George mentioned the redesign in an earlier interview. He added by e-mail that the new site will be done in collaboration with Wisconsin-based Wehaa, a Web company specializing in content management systems for print publications.

The previous design had debuted in April 2009.

Birmingham Weekly 2009

Birmingham Weekly’s website front page from 2009 to 2010.
(Click image for larger version.)

George described the upcoming changes:

“Readers should expect a site that is much easier to navigate, a slick interface with bells and whistles that actually enhance the browsing experience, rather than distract from it, and a comprehensive city directory and event calendar. For the first time ever, many sections of the paper that were overlooked on the website will be available online as well.”

“On our end, the process of getting our content online has been streamlined, largely thanks to the new digital edition of the paper which will be available every Thursday along with the print edition. The digital edition is processed from the same PDFs we send to our printer, and getting the individual articles plugged in is a snap.

“Also, the online events calendar allows us to reverse publish everything, including user-submitted events, making it easier for us to provide a calendar in the print paper that is concise, comprehensive and easy to use.

“These are just a few of the many new features I am excited about. You’ll just have to browse on over to the site on Thursday to check out the rest.”

The Terminal has another screenshot of the new design.

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More coverage of Birmingham Weekly.

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EXCLUSIVE: Sam George named new Birmingham Weekly editor

Media of Birmingham has learned that Birmingham Weekly staff writer Sam George will become the alternative newspaper’s editor, starting with the July 8 issue. He succeeds interim editor Jesse Chambers, who served since Glenny Brock’s departure in March.

Sam GeorgeGeorge, left, has been a staff writer since May. He also works as a freelance graphic designer and lead singer for Birmingham-based rock band Bright Henry. Previously, George was editor and lead designer of local music site, Bham.fm.

jesse chambersChambers, right, said via e-mail that George is a “smart, talented, passionate, hard-working guy with enormous enthusiasm for making a great paper and website. He has my complete confidence and support.” Chambers said he had wanted to fill in until a permanent replacement was hired. He will continue as staff writer, including editing the Green Space section.

• • •

Update June 26: Sam George shared more answers to our questions via e-mail …

Will you still continue to write and edit for Bham.fm?

Unfortunately, I will no longer have time to continue Bham.fm. I spoke with Whitney Sides (Mitchell), my co-editor there, and we both agree that the site has been suffering from lack of attention lately and that the best thing to do would be to shut it down. I plan to post an announcement saying as much there this weekend. (Note: Bham.fm started publishing in November 2008.)

It’s been a great pleasure covering the local music scene, and I hope to continue doing so with equal passion at the Weekly, including continuing my regular post “The Daily Dose,” though I plan to expand its scope beyond music. We will also have plenty of support for local bands on the new website we are launching.

Why did you decide to become editor?

I had approached (publisher) Chuck Leishman about writing a regular music column, and he offered me the managing editor gig instead. I decided to take the job because it combines a number of interests I have in one spot. It allows me to continue to cover local music and appeals to my design and photography side while expanding the scope of what I am able to accomplish for the city as a whole.

Also, it’s much better than slinging coffee, which is what I had been doing in the daylight hours.

What are your plans for the Weekly?

The first order of business is to launch our new website. I’ve been spending most of my energy here designing and implementing a brand new site for the Weekly that is really in a different stratum of excellence than the one we have now. It looks great, is easy to navigate, increases the functionality and scope of our site and integrates it further with social media. It also has a really cool digital interactive version of the paper.

I’ve put a lot of love and elbow grease into this thing, and I’m pretty excited to hear what Birmingham thinks about it when we launch, which should be Thursday, provided we can iron out the last wrinkles.

As for the paper itself, I’m still learning what it takes run the thing. I believe that Birmingham has the wealth of culture necessary to become a vibrant and modern metropolis with a strong urban center, and I would like to focus the Weekly on celebrating the things that can lead us towards that goal.

• • •

Update June 27: Whitney Mitchell clarified Bham.fm’s future via e-mail …

“The band is staying together (somewhat). It’s been hard for much of anyone to concentrate on writing with losing jobs (two-thirds of our writers), being full-time students and having “real” jobs. When I started it back in ’08, I had much more time to dedicate to organizing show schedules and attending three to four  concerts a week.

“While the site won’t be the detailed info mecca it was, it is definitely staying alive and restarting as Birmingham’s only kickass music site. (We mean that … it would suck to see it die, y’know?)

“Chris (Mitchell, photo editor) is pretty psyched about revamping the site, so stay tuned for a new layout and daily (still music and regional-focused) postings.”

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More coverage of Birmingham Weekly.

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Kyle Whitmire launches Second Front

The Second Front

Former Birmingham Weekly columnist unveils political news site today

Kyle Whitmire, former Birmingham Weekly columnist, has started blogging for his own news site, The Second Front. He plans to cover political news and public policy as part of Weld, a yet-to-be launched local news site.

Kyle WhitmireHe left the Weekly in January. Also working on Weld is Glenny Brock, who departed from the newspaper in March.

Whitmire talked about his new operation via e-mail earlier today.

MOB: What is Second Front?

Whitmire: It’s a niche-specific blog covering political culture and public affairs important to Birmingham.

MOB: How does it relate to Weld?

Whitmire: Back in the day, Southern Progress used to have test kitchens. I was always kind of jealous of that. I suppose you can say it’s a sort of test kitchen where I get to cook and hopefully not make too big of a mess.

Already some tech-savvy friends have figured out what platform The Second Front is built on, so that will be out there soon. But that’s as good a hint as you’re going to get.

There’s something behind Door No. 3, but I can’t tell you what it is yet.

MOB: What can readers expect?

Whitmire: The focus of The Second Front is politics and public policy.

As a journalism model, The Second Front will follow the lead of The Daily Beast, Slate and many other new media startups. The site will have original content, both reporting and analysis. It will have a great deal of curation, links to pertinent stories from around the web. It will provide context when it can. And it will leverage social media to reach the largest possible audience in ways that are most useful to individual users. [The Second Front on Twitter / Facebook]

I’ve committed myself to waking up a 6 a.m. every day to compile the Frontlines, links to today’s most important stories. I’m not a morning person, so that’s not going to be a lot of fun.

I’m going to spend a lot of time in public meetings, sifting through public documents and nosing around other people’s business. All of this is much the same as I did at Birmingham Weekly, only I want to explore the blog as a new form. I don’t have to fit whatever I’m writing into a 1,000-word hole anymore.

MOB: Will it be free? Subscription? Ad supported? Something else?

Whitmire: I’ll have to dive deep into some jargon and minutia, but I think it’s important to understand the nature of the problems first.

The CPM [cost-per-thousand impressions] advertising model will not support local public affairs journalism.

To make matters worse, users are adopting “ad blindness.” Either they use ad-blocking plugins in their browsers, or they just ignore the ads altogether. As a consequence, online display advertising has a lousy ROI for the advertisers.

The other fallback option has been a subscription model, but subscription-based services do only one thing well: Prevent mass reader migrations away from print. It’s a good way to mitigate the problem, but it doesn’t solve the problem. What’s more, it goes to the Clay Shirky Principle: “Institutions will try to preserve the problem to which they are the solution.” If your job is to distribute news, you can’t do that by keeping it away from people.

What are the answers?

For the moment, I’ll have to neglect the specifics. Sorry, but that has to stay behind Door No. 3. I can share a few basic principles:

  • The digital marking solution should enhance the user’s experience, not disrupt it.
  • Users should be able to distinguish online marketing from other content, but the medium must not treat that message as if it’s radioactive or otherwise marginalize the sponsor.
  • Digital marketing should be clearly labeled but be treated as an equal citizen in the medium’s space.
  • Finally, digital marketing should be native to the Internet, and not simply an appropriation of print or broadcast forms, which we have now.

There is hope on the horizon in the form of geotagging and location-aware ads. Other kinds of micro-targeting will soon be practical. In the meantime, there are some low-tech methods to achieve the same ends, and I hope everyone will get to see them soon at The Second Front.

Why did you decide to do this site?

Whitmire: I love journalism and probably couldn’t do anything else. It has given me a front row seat to history.

The day Eric Robert Rudolph bombed the clinic on Southside, I got to get as close as the police would allow. The day they brought him back to Birmingham, I was there for that as well. I got to sit close enough in the courtroom that I could hear the chains between his feet and see his collarbone protruding against his skin.

I was there the day Richard Scrushy was acquitted and I was there the day he was convicted.

And then, of course, there was Langford. I got to cover Langford for one paper or another for nearly 10 years. It’s incredibly interesting work.

But it’s also very important work. I believe there is a reason the right to do what I do is codified in the First Amendment of the Constitution. Good journalism is a prerequisite for a healthy society. And that’s what troubles me.

While I’ve been a professional witness to history, I’ve also seen what’s happening to the media. When covering Rudolph or Scrushy, I had to fight and scrap with other reporters for stories. In contrast, all it took to prove Langford was not a legal resident of Birmingham was to pull his homestead exemption at the tax assessor’s office. No one else did that.

I’m proud of the work we did at the Weekly, but some of those scoops we got were just too easy. This never would have been the case were the (Birmingham) Post-Herald still alive.

I’m doing this because I love journalism and I love the adventure it allows me. But I’m also trying to save the Fourth Estate.

Compared to waking up at 6 a.m., that part should be easy.

Also:

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Read more Birmingham media updates.

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EXCLUSIVE: Birmingham Weekly editor laid off

Birmingham Weekly editor Glenny Brock has been laid off after more than 9 years at the alternative newspaper, Media of Birmingham has learned. She characterized the decision and the discussion with publisher Chuck Leishman as “mutually agreed upon.”

Glenny BrockHer last day and issue will be March 11.

Brock said by phone, “Freelancing not withstanding, it’s the only job I’ve ever had as a grownup, and it has made my career.”

It’s the second recent high-profile exit from the publication in less than 5 weeks: Columnist Kyle Whitmire left in late January.

Brock, who recently returned from an extended vacation in India, declined to give specifics on her next endeavor, except to say that she planned to stay in Birmingham and that she would pursue freelance and creative projects.

She started as a freelancer at the publication in August 2000, becoming a full-time staff member in December of that year, serving as contributing writer, staff writer, calendar editor and managing editor. Brock became editor in September 2002.

She added this statement by e-mail:

It’s time. I will always consider the Weekly my proving ground and the first great love of my professional life. I’ve done a lot of good work there and perhaps some great work. Now, after overseeing the completion of more than 460 issues of the paper and dozens of supplemental publications, it’s time to do something else.

When I became editor, I was fortunate to inherit a stable of writers that included Courtney Haden, Scot Lockman, Allen Barra, Kenn McCracken and Brent Thompson. Surely my greatest accomplishment was the recruitment of strong writers such as Kyle Whitmire, Jesse Chambers, Brooke Michael, Molly Folse, J’Mel Davidson, John Seay, Phil Ratliff and many, many others. Dynamos such as Phillip Jordan, Jonathan Purvis, Wes Frazer, Carey Norris, Andrew Thomas Clifton and Ingrid Norton came to the Weekly on their own, but I believe the relationships I have cultivated with these and other writers and artists are what has made the Weekly a respectable publication.

At this point, I can’t say what my future plans are, but my work at the Weekly has made my future possible.

She said that special projects editor Jesse Chambers has been tapped to succeed her as editor. Chambers began freelancing for Birmingham Weekly in 2004 and became a full-time staff writer in 2009.

A message was left with Leishman, and we hope to update with his response shortly.

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EXCLUSIVE: Kyle Whitmire, Birmingham Weekly part ways

Media of Birmingham has learned that columnist Kyle Whitmire is leaving Birmingham Weekly after 9 years with the publication. Whitmire characterized it as a mutually agreed upon split.

His final War on Dumb column will appear in Thursday’s issue, while his last official day will be Sunday. Whitmire covered city politics, winning several awards for his coverage. Most recently, he reported on the federal trial of former mayor Larry Langford and the resulting special election.

Whitmire was also the principal architect in bhamweekly.com’s current site design. He was most recently featured as the subject of the cover story, “Fighting City Hall,” in B Metro magazine, discussing how he wants to be remembered someday:

“I have this revenge fantasy that centuries from now an historian or archeologist will find what we’ve written in the Weekly and wonder, ‘Why weren’t these people in charge?’ So whenever I think no one is reading what I’m writing, I say to myself that I’m writing for posterity. Someone might mistake ‘War on Dumb’ for the Dead Sea Scrolls.”

He’s also a co-founder of Media of Birmingham.

Whitmire declined to reveal his immediate plans, other to stay in Birmingham.

Update Jan. 27: Whitmire offers an instant history lesson in his final column

At the turn of the 21st century, Birmingham pined to be more like Atlanta. Little did it know it was well on the way toward making that nightmare come true.

The city ended the decade as it had every one before, as the “city of perpetual promise.” Some perceived this as an indicator of incessant failure. Others, rightly, knew its true meaning — the city of perpetual hope.

Also, Whitmire penned a farewell note via Facebook:

I’m incredibly grateful for my time at the Weekly and the opportunities it has given me. For the last nine years, I’ve been able to cherry-pick my assignments and I’ve had the editorial latitude to have a point of view as a columnist — things I never would have had at any other media, at least not at such an early stage in my career.

Whatever happens next for me, my time at the Weekly made that possible.

Plus, AL.com sports producer Dennis Pillion has his theories about the sudden departure of the Weekly’s best-known columnist.

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Awards roundup: Birmingham Weekly, Lipstick, WBHM

Awards roundup: awards for Birmingham media folks …

• WBHM (90.3 FM) picked up three first place awards in the 2009 Public Radio News Directors Incorporated Awards.

  • Commentary: “Crossing the divide” by Marie Sutton


  • Interview: “Larry Langford” by Tanya Ott


  • Series: “Considering Faith”
    Links to stories

[The full list of PRNDI awards.]

• • •

• Birmingham Weekly’s Kyle Whitmire picked up his second consecutive first-place award in the Association of Alternative Newsweeklies’ Alternative Newsweekly Awards, his fourth overall.

[Original post | full list of AltWeekly Awards]

• • •

• In the Society of Professional Journalists’ 59th Annual Green Eyeshade Awards, Alabama media outlets took home five first-place awards, and WBHM (90.3 FM) took home its second consecutive divisional win in radio. [The directors of the Green Eyeshade Awards canceled this year's banquet because "the news media’s economic problems made it difficult to guarantee attendance."]

Divisional Winner

  • Radio – WBHM (90.3 FM) of Birmingham, for “Considering Faith,” by its news team.
    Links to stories

1st Place

  • “Collection of Editorials” Mac Thrower, Mobile Press-Register
  • “Lauren,” Laurel Mills, Lipstick Magazine, Birmingham
  • “This one time at camp …,” Laurel Mills, Lipstick Magazine, Birmingham
  • “Skimboarding” Bronwyn Coffeen, Mobile Press-Register
  • “Considering Faith,” News Team, WBHM (90.3 FM) [Links to stories]

2nd Place

  • “Rumble, Rumble, Rumble” Challen Stephens, The Huntsville (Ala.) Times
  • “Sky-High” George Talbot, Jeff Amy, Dan Murtaugh, Press-Register, Mobile
  • “Series of Columns” Tim Sanders, The Post, Centre
  • “Theology of the Dispossessed” Mark Potok, Intelligence Report
  • “Beer Law, Wilcox Gas, Fight Song” Tanya Ott, WBHM-FM

3rd Place

  • “Big Bad Wolf Hunt” Brendan Kirby, Press-Register (Mobile)
  • “Desperate Search” News Staff, Press-Register, Mobile
  • “Outside Agitators” David Holthouse, Intelligence Report, Montgomery
  • “Spaceships and Playoff Systems” Scott Wright, The Post, Centre
  • “Capital Murder Trial Coverage” Scott Wright, The Post, Centre
  • “J.D. Crowe Editorial Cartoons” J.D. Crowe, Mobile Press-Register

[hat tip to The Terminal]

[Original post | full list of Green Eyeshade Awards]

EXCLUSIVE: Birmingham News cuts salaries through 2010, eliminates most part-time positions

Most part-time positions eliminated; furloughs ended

Media of Birmingham learned through Twitter that the Birmingham News is cutting salaries. Our newsroom sources indicate that salaries will be cut 5 to 8 percent, based on salary level, through 2010.

ike-pigott-tweet-birmingham-news

Also, the News has offered voluntary buyouts to employees with five or more years experience. The newspaper offered its first ever round of buyouts in 2008 and started mandatory furloughs and a benefits freeze in March.

The News has ended its furloughs.

In addition, the News is cutting most part-time positions in the coming months. No word on how many positions will be affected.

dshirey-tweet

Lastly, it appears that the News is dropping internships, too, according to a Twitter update from University of Georgia student Daniel Shirey.

The budget cuts come at an odd time: While print and online readership are both up for the Birmingham News, advertising remains down.

Also: Kyle Whitmire at the Birmingham Weekly has more specifics on the salary cuts. The Weekly is also reporting that the Birmingham News will close suburban bureaus by the end of summer.

Update: Publisher Victor Hanson III says, “It is imperative that we maintain a robust, independent voice for news and commentary in Birmingham, as well as an effective vehicle for our advertisers.” (Birmingham News: “Birmingham News announces employee pay cuts”)

• • •

kpoythress-tweets

Also, Anniston-based Consolidated Publishing cut salaries 10 percent today for all employees at all of its newspapers, including the Anniston Star, (Talladega) Daily Home and the Jacksonville News. The news comes from a series of tweets by Daily Home reporter Katherine Poythress.

The Star laid off 15 employees in November.

AltWeekly Awards Finalists include Birmingham Weekly writer Kyle Whitmire

2009 AltWeekly AwardsAmong the finalists for the 2009 AltWeekly Awards is the Birmingham Weekly‘s Kyle Whitmire in the Political Column (circulation under 50,000) category. (Whitmire is also a co-founder of Media of Birmingham.) The list came out Tuesday.

This is Whitmire’s third AltWeekly award, sponsored by the Association of Alternative Newsweeklies. His entries:

The competing entries come from Ted S. McGregor of the Pacific Northwest Inlander (Spokane, Wash.) and the staff of the San Luis Obispo (Calif.) New Times.

Also:

The winners will be announced June 26 in Tucson.

AltWeekly Award for Kyle

Kyle WhitmireCongratulations to MOBster Kyle Whitmire, who won first place in Political Column (under 55,000 circ.) Saturday at the 2008 AltWeekly Awards for his War on Dumb column in Birmingham Weekly.

This is the newspaper’s first win in nine years, though it has picked up several runner-up honors.

War on Dumb wins AltWeekly Award

On Saturday, the Association of Alternative Newsweeklies and the Medill School of Journalism announced the winners of the 13th annual Altweekly Awards at the association’s convention in Philadelphia. Birmingham Weekly’s ‘War on Dumb’ took first place for best political column in the 55,000-and-under circulation division.

The weekly column by staff writer Kyle Whitmire examines political culture in Birmingham and Alabama.

Birmingham Weekly last received a first place award in 1999 for media criticism by then-staff writer Tom Spencer. In recent years, Birmingham Weekly writers have been runners up for commentary, political commentary and arts criticism.

You can find the rest of the 2008 Altweekly Award winners at www.aan.org.

The winning submission included three columns from 2007 — two about Birmingham Mayor Larry Langford and one about Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney’s Alabama PAC scheme to sidestep federal campaign finance laws.

You can read the winning columns by following the links below.