Advance cuts 400 jobs statewide, 200 more in New Orleans
Birmingham News staff outside of its downtown headquarters
By Wade Kwon
The Birmingham News fired more than 100 employees today, including more than 60 in the newsroom, as part of owner Advance’s new strategy. Their last day of work will be Sept. 30.
Said one employee who will be staying, “I’d rather be waterboarded than go into that office on a daily basis.”
As previously reported, managers held one-on-one meetings all day long to notify staffers whether they would be terminated with severance packages, asked to stay on or asked to apply for new jobs at the company.
Similar meetings took place at the Huntsville Times, the (Mobile) Press-Register and the Times-Picayune in New Orleans. All four newspapers will cut back to publication on Sundays, Wednesdays and Fridays in the fall, while ramping up content on recently redesigned news sites al.com and nola.com.
Advance is cutting some 400 jobs at its Alabama operations, and another 201 in New Orleans. A report in the Times-Picayune says that is an overall staff reduction of 32 percent, with 84 of the 173 newsroom employees (49 percent) fired today.
The Gambit, a weekly alternative paper there, reported via Twitter that most of the marketing department was fired, as well as all of the special section, library and human resources departments. The new New Orleans company Nola Media Group plans on hiring for 83 positions, including 40 in news.
Neither Advance nor managers at the Alabama newspapers have released specific information about cuts by city or department.
A source at the Birmingham News who asked to remain anonymous said that about 107 would be fired today at the company, and of them about 61 were newsroom employees (55 percent of the 110 staff members listed online). (Several had already left prior to today’s layoffs.) Most of the photographers and copy editors have been let go.
List of Birmingham News editorial staff departures
(to be updated)
Notable editorial departures include business editor Jerry Underwood, photography director Walt Stricklin, 31-year veteran reporter Chuck Dean and Washington correspondent Mary Orndorff. Two newsroom staffers fired today are pregnant, and another staffer was fired a week in advance because of a scheduled cancer operation.
Times-Picayune employees have been asked to sign non-disclosure and non-disparagement agreements as a condition of receiving their severance packages; it is believed Alabama Advance employees have been asked to do so as well.
Cindy Martin, president of al.com and of the newly formed Alabama Media Group, declined to comment on staffing and changes at the News, al.com or Birmingham Magazine. In the media release, she said, regarding those losing their jobs across the state today:
“Their dedication and expertise to our newspapers and the communities they served cannot be overstated. We offer our sincere gratitude to each person for their contributions and years of service to these excellent institutions.”
Birmingham News publisher Pam Siddall (now president of Advance Central Services of Alabama) has not returned a request for comment, nor has Birmingham Magazine editor Julie Keith.
Several staffers staying with the Birmingham company are taking on new titles, such as equality and human rights reporter and, for popular metro columnist John Archibald, local buzz reporter. No clear duties or beats appear to have been assigned to the new titles.
More than 100 vacant positions for the two new local companies will be filled before the fall, with some ads to appear on al.com this week. [Ads have been posted for Alabama Media Group and Advance Central Services Alabama.]
Little is known as to how many, if any, employees were dismissed at al.com, or how its organizational structure might change in the new company.
However, Media of Birmingham has learned that Advance has fired three of the eight Birmingham Magazine staff members: managing editor Carla Jean Whitley (with the publication since 2006) and two on the business side.
Advance and the Birmingham News bought the 50-year-old magazine for an undisclosed amount in October from the Birmingham Business Alliance. Since then, News staffers had taken on duties for the newly acquired publication, after the magazine moved into the newspaper’s downtown offices. Several magazine staff members were fired during the transition.
No information has been forthcoming about the magazine’s place within either of the two new companies.
The firings today had originally been scheduled for last week, but were changed to today both in Alabama and New Orleans. No date has been announced for the thrice-weekly publishing.
Regarding the News’ management to date, one outgoing newsroom employee said, “They’re such assholes.”
- Birmingham Business Journal: “Advance layoffs to impact about 400 in Alabama”
- Weld for Birmingham: “Advance cuts 400 employees statewide, more than 100 from Birmingham News”
- WBHM (90.3 FM): “Birmingham News and Other Papers Let Staff Go”
- Poynter: “Advance Publications lays off 600 people at Times-Picayune, Alabama papers”
- The Gambit: “After the cuts at The Times-Picayune”
- Lagniappe: “Lagniappe – An unfortunate -30- for many at Press-Register”
- Poynter: “What the future of news looks like in Alabama after Advance cuts staff by 400”
- Talking Biz News: Birmingham News features editor Alec Harvey to oversee business, features and sports; technology reporter Martin Swant switches … to Huntsville.
- Times-Picayune: Photo essay on staff layoffs
- Birmingham social media expert David Griner set up a Twitter account @ALNewsJobs and Facebook page today to connect unemployed journalists with career opportunities.
More stories on the Birmingham News
More stories on Advance Publications
Wade Kwon is a co-founder of Media of Birmingham and a Birmingham journalist for 25 years.