Newspaper continues its streak of burying critical stories, columns
John Archibald, the Birmingham News’ metro columnist, has disappeared.
His most recent column appeared Wednesday, but his Friday and Sunday columns didn’t run in their scheduled slots.
Is he on vacation? Did he take a buyout?
We asked Archibald and editor Tom Scarritt for comment; we received no reply.
Instead, MOBster Kyle Whitmire was kind enough to share a copy of Archibald’s most recent column, one that apparently will never run in the News. The column focuses on newsroom staffers who took buyouts and the recent economic troubles that plague most daily newspapers. Archibald notes that more than 500 years of reporting experience have walked out the door in just 2 years.
Whitmire tweeted this pithy observation …
We have reprinted it below.
The News has been wildly inconsistent in reporting on its own business. While Scarritt had no problem writing about the the publication’s recent promotions or cuts to specific sections earlier this month, the paper has been mostly silent on its circulation problems, its rounds of buyouts and even the closing of its Lipstick magazine venture.
And the last time anyone saw Archibald in public? He was on a panel last Tuesday night at the Birmingham News for a Society of Professional Journalists event. The topic of discussion?
Journalism and ethics.
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John Archibald: You have a right to know about News buyouts
It’s hard to look at Ginny MacDonald today and not hear the Neville Brothers in my head, singing their version of that old hymn, “Will the Circle Be Unbroken.”
Won’t you please drive real slow?
That Miss Crazy, that you carry,
I sure hate to see her go.
I hate to see her go.
Plus, I want to see the bumper snicker on her hearse. What does it say?
Reports of her death have been greatly exacerbated.
No. Ginny Mac — Birmingham News transportation diva and Driver’s Side columnist — is not exactly dead. Not to you, anyway.
But today is her last day as a full-timer in the newsroom. She’ll keep writing a weekly column on Mondays, but no more front page stories from her about bridge collapses, speed traps or trooper madness.
Why do I tell you this? Because you buy the paper, most of you, and you know Ginny. You have a right to know that she, like so many experienced and trusted news gatherers, has taken a company buyout.
Today is a dark day at The News. It marks the last day not only for Ginny, but for health writer Anna Velasco. By May veteran political writer Tom Gordon — with more stored memory than an iPad — will be gone. So will young Erin Stock.
It’s not just a News thing, it’s a news thing. They tell us, in fact, that our readership is good and ad revenue is rebounding. But technology and economics have worn on profitability in all news operations. Ours is no exception.
But it hurts. In all, since buyouts were offered in 2008, The News has lost more than 500 years of reporting experience. Decorated reporter Dave Parks — who pretty much discovered “Gulf War Syndrome” — went. State editor Glenn Stephens, who could pilot a newsroom through a storm with an even keel, is gone. Food writer Jo Ellen O’Hara left us, as did outdoors writer Mike Bolton.
We’ve lost 32 people in the newsroom. Twenty were reporters, the real workhorses.
That may look small next to losses at the Raleigh News and Observer, which has seen its news staff fall from 250 to 115, or the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, which cut 93 news staffers in one chunk last year. But it hurts.
If there is good news, it is that The News still has 125 people working to gather the news in Alabama’s largest newsroom.
Still, we mourn the losses to the News family. We mourn the loss to readers, to this community, to the republic.
As legendary editor Gene Roberts told a group of journalists last week in New York, journalism job cuts are more than economic news. They’re a matter of public interest.
“This not just a problem for journalism, this is a problem for democracy,” he said. “What a democratic society does not know, it cannot act upon.”
He is right. You need to know. Think of what you know of your government, and try to separate it from the news. Alabama’s most notable corruptions — Don Siegelman, Guy Hunt, Larry Langford, Jeff Germany, the 2-year college system — all started with reporters on the ground. Issues such as the county’s bond debt and crime in neighborhoods bubble to light in the press.
Those of us left in the newsroom will keep digging. For readers. For the republic. For ourselves, for Ginny and Dave and Anna.
We believe there will always be a need, and a market, for news.
There better be. News, as Roberts put it, is “democracy’s food.”
“If we are going to come up with solutions, then democratic society has to understand that there is a problem,” he said.
It’s not just our problem.
• • •
- “I Saw a Newspaper Die …” by Jim Little
- A recap of the journalism and ethics panel that included Archibald
- Archibald spoke at UAB Wednesday: “Archibald calls for greater communication in community”
- Occam’s RazR: “Is Birmingham Ready for an Online Newspaper?”
- Capstone Report: “The News today is more interested in hiding the truth than reporting it.”
- The Ben Franklin Follies: “I don’t believe a news enterprise committed to investigative reporting and quality journalism can produce profit margins that will satisfy Wall Street, hedge funds or institutional investors.”
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Update: The Birmingham News did run Archibald’s status in the print edition. However, you can judge the progressive wording.
April 16: “John Archibald is taking a break.
His column will resume Wednesday.”
April 18: “John Archibald’s column will return soon.”
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Update April 21: Archibald and Scarritt did comment … to Poynter, a journalism institute in Florida.
“I told them at that time that I’d try to make it work, and if not, I’d walk away from it. … I had been here for 11 hours and just couldn’t do it. I was angry.
“I don’t think it (not publishing the column) was a good call, but I understand the pressures (Scarritt is) under.”
“I believe strongly in the future of newspapers and the vital role they will play in our communities going forward. I believe there are ways to talk about our current challenges that recognize we do have a future.”
Archibald’s column resumed this morning, today focusing on Alabama oddities.
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Update April 22: Archibald discussed the column flap today during his weekly segment on WBHM (90.3 FM).
“I would have preferred to keep it in the family,” Archibald said.
(He discusses it from 0:30 to 1:45.)
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