On the passing of the Post-Herald 5 years ago
History buffs know today marks the fifth anniversary of the last edition of the Birmingham Post-Herald.
Up until that day, Birmingham had been a two-newspaper town for much of its existence. Well, more like one-and-a-half newspapers, as both were operating under a joint-operating agreement. The Birmingham News was the senior partner, handling the advertising, marketing and circulation for itself and the Post-Herald.
In essence, competitive entities in name only.
Has the News thrived or become complacent since becoming a solo act in 2005?
The News has operated for 5 years without another daily paper competing for scoops, but finding itself competing on a new playing field. It had its traditional competitors: radio, television, even the Internet vying for readers for both news and attention.
But who knew back then that the state’s flagship newspaper would also be fighting Facebook, and blogs, and YouTube, and Twitter, and a publishing industry implosion?
Walk through the News’ building — insiders jokingly refer to the layout as a prison — and you’ll see disturbing signs of a newspaper in decline. Empty desks marking the dozens of jobs cut. The third floor, once home to circulation, now a ghost town; owner Advance Publications consolidated that function for all state newspapers in its Mobile office.
In some ways, the 2006 structure remains a time capsule impervious to a changing world. No wi-fi. Even odder, no AL.com. Though the News and AL.com are separate companies, both are part of the Advance family with the same mission: Turn a profit while informing readers.
And yet, the staff of the state’s largest website sits in its own offices a mile away at Pepper Place, which might as well be a thousand miles away.
The News, rather than embracing its digital destiny, has found it rather loathsome. The columnists decry the online commenters while doing little to fix the system. The editors hold back more and more content for print only. And while other publications have moved toward more interactive features and storytelling, the News largely sticks to its comfort zone of text, photos and graphics.
The print product grows ever thinner, more expensive and less read, a strategy copied straight from the Post-Herald. You may be surprised to learn that at one time, the Post-Herald also had the state’s largest, if only, website, back in the mid-1990s. But by failing to adapt to the audience’s changing news-consumption habits, that advantage was lost over time.
It may seem unthinkable that Birmingham could go from a one-newspaper to a zero-newspaper town. This quiet anniversary should serve as a reminder that no publication is safe, no institution sacred. Hopefully, it is not too late for the Birmingham News to learn from the Post-Herald’s demise, before it also becomes a footnote in history.