The Archibald column the Birmingham News doesn’t want you to see


Newspaper continues its streak of burying critical stories, columns

John Archibald, the Birmingham News’ metro columnist, has disappeared.

Sort of.

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

If the Bham News didn’t want anyone to read @JohnArchibald ‘s column, they should have just printed it in their paper. #FreeJohnArchibald

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.

• • •

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.”

Undertaker, undertaker,
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.

• • •

Also:

• • •

Update: The Birmingham News did run Archibald’s status in the print edition. However, you can judge the progressive wording.

Birmingham News - John Archibald

April 16: “John Archibald is taking a break.
His column will resume Wednesday.”

Birmingham News - John Archibald

April 18: “John Archibald’s column will return soon.”

• • •

Update April 21: Archibald and Scarritt did comment … to Poynter, a journalism institute in Florida.

Archibald said,

“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.”

Scarritt said,

“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.

• • •

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.)

• • •

More coverage of  The Birmingham News.

• • •

Read more Birmingham media updates.

Have a news tip? Let us know!

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14 responses to “The Archibald column the Birmingham News doesn’t want you to see

  1. Pingback: The future of journalism « The Ben Franklin Follies

  2. Pingback: The importance of quality journalism « The Ben Franklin Follies

  3. this is the reason no one reads papers much anymore. Publishers have decided to save on salaries and cut staff. Editors don’t do their jobs and let crap pass through. Finally there’s no news; just op / ed and faux news.

    May these sad and tired “news lite” journals fail and may active journals rise in their place

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  5. The News showed bad judgement in suppressing the column, particularly since it leaked out anyway. I would understand if Archibald had been critical of his employer but I didn’t find his column critical of the News or even of overall corporate decision making. The decision to suppress it does expose one of the newspaper industry’s long held paranoid characteristics. Newspapers would like the public to think of reporters as generic commodities that can be plugged in and pulled out at will. They don’t want reporters to gain any individual value with the public. If they gain any individual value, they gain leverage when it comes to hiring and firing. They will allow one reporter in 100 to gain some personal recognition like Archibald. If Archibald disappears, they have to answer questions about where he is. When another reporter’s by line disappears, the public may not notice it for weeks. If Archibald talks about going to another newspaper, they have to consider giving him more money because the public will know he is gone if he leaves. I am a weekly columnist for another Alabama newspaper. For many years, the newspaper’s management labored to keep me an anonymous cog in the wheel. Finally, more enlightened management realized I could add value to the newspaper by giving me a face and a column. It has worked out well for both of us. But, for the most part, newspapers want a legion of faceless “objective” people to report the news. As long as they are anonymous, they can fire them at will without repercussions and get away with paying them low salaries.

  6. This is so typical of The News. They value profit over product. I applaud John for trying to write about this and damn his superiors who trampled on him. If the same people who successfully pulled his column had their first amendment rights getting equally quashed they would be raising cain. The late Ted Bryant of the Post-Herald (RIP) would be proud of John and each and ever person who values journalism should be too. The problem is The News’ attempt to branch out into the new media of the web with al.com has been a lousy effort that’s so 1990s in its thinking that hasn’t helped them one bit. Keep on pushin’ John. They can stand you up to the gates of Hell, but don’t back down.

  7. Stephen Castellani

    Remember the Rocky Mountain News?? It met a fate far worse than buy outs, it closed out. At least they closed with their integrity intact and most of the journalists were able to merge seamlessly over to the only remaining paper in the Denver area, the Denver Post. They never compromised integrity for quality journalism. It is a sad day in journalism when you have to buy out in order to “clear your conscience”.

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  10. I am a businessman living in the State of Washington but I’m from Birmingham. I would love to talk to John Archibald. Maybe it’s time to create a new kind of news paper.

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