ADVANCE CRISIS: The insanely obsessive guide to the Birmingham News/al.com implosion


June 2012

June 1: Times-Picayune employees fire off some 60 questions to their bosses about the coming changes. They even ask about an ad for Director of State News for the new Alabama Media Group, the editorial arm of the two newly formed companies.

June 2: An editor in Ann Arbor, Mich., had seen the Advance model in action for 3 years. She says it’s the wrong model for the Times-Picayune.

June 8: Editor of new media Kyle Whitmire rolls out an in-depth report for Weld for Birmingham. He theorizes that the Newhouse family, owners of Advance, are deliberately running the chain into the ground to squeeze out as much cash as possible. Two months later, Whitmire leaves his own company to join Alabama Media Group as a reporter.

June 12: The Birmingham News fires more than 100 employees, including 61 from the newsroom. Overall, Advance cuts some 400 jobs across its Alabama properties, including one at al.com and three at Birmingham Magazine (though managing editor Carla Jean Whitley would be rehired at the same position later in the summer).

The News’ own report borders on winking lunacy: “Alabama newspapers, al.com notifying employees about job offers for new companies.”

PR vs. news

How Alabama newspapers covered their own layoffs
vs. the Times-Picayune.

[larger version]

June 13: All three Alabama newspapers use murky headlines to mask the massive layoffs (shown above).

June 15: Mod Mobilian discusses the Advance approach for Alabama.

“Advance Publications’ plans that have leaked out thus far seem to show a new approach with no assignment editors, little oversight and a system that will reward hype. Wonderful, huh?”

June 16: Alabama Media Group’s vice president of content Kevin Wendt begins a cheery series of weekly columns explaining the coming improvements to the newspaper, website and staff. He is kicked upstairs 10 months later to Advance Digital in New Jersey to become director of special projects.

June 18: Al.com rolls out its new real-time commenting system. No longer are readers subjected to hundreds of hate-filled comments and taunts. (Just kidding.)

June 20: Kyle Whitmire writes the Weld cover story on his soon-to-be employer, the Birmingham News.

June 21: The Birmingham Bargain Mom column sees a dramatic surge in comments, mostly negative. Why? The new al.com front page, awkwardly dubbed “the river,” displays all stories equally, giving “12 alternative [sic] uses for baby oil” the same heft as a terrorist bombing.

See more examples of the front page navigation problem.

June 26: OregonLive.com is next in switching to the new site design, while the Oregonian escapes the thrice-weekly publishing plan.

June 29: The exodus of veteran reporters at the Times-Picayune is under way, one that has continued ever since.

JULY 2012

July 3: The changes in New Orleans and Alabama fuels paranoia across the chain. To wit, this dustup over a NJ.com phantom job ad.

July 5: A look at how New Orleans’ “digital divide” will affect residents.

July 8: Times-Picayune reporter: “Everyone hates our website and is losing respect for us as a hard news leader.”

July 9: Jules Bentley launches an incredible six-part online series about “The Murder of the Times-Picayune.”

Also, the New York Times takes Advance to task over its New Orleans strategy.

“Advance’s regional Web sites have generated traffic and have active forums, but they are a miserable place to consume news. Balky and ugly, with a digital revenue base below much of the rest of the industry, they seem like a shaky platform on which to build a business.”

July 10: Alabama Media Group names its content leaders.

July 11: Law of unintended consequences: Times-Picayune loses millions of dollars in ad revenue for printing legal notices.

Also, Digital First Media CEO John Paton admires the Times-Picayune thrice-weekly strategy. He loves it so much he copies it for one of his New York papers 6 months later.

July 13: It’s official: America hates Advance’s news sites.

July 15: The printing presses go silent in Huntsville.

July 19: The Huntsville Times leaves out an entire section because of an error on its third day of printing in Birmingham.

July 23: Competitors start lining up to take on the Times-Picayune.

Video: The Lagniappe “Downfall” parody casts
Press-Register publisher Ricky Mathews as … Hitler.

July 31: Kyle Whitmire leaves Weld for the Alabama Media Group, and Weld publisher Mark Kelly unleashes a “public excoriation.” Two more Weld writers (who had also worked with him at Birmingham Weekly) would soon join him at the new venture.

Continued on page 3 …

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9 responses to “ADVANCE CRISIS: The insanely obsessive guide to the Birmingham News/al.com implosion

  1. Richard Kirby

    Excellent piece, Wade. It’s been a shame to watch what was once a proud daily newspaper transform into little more than a click counter.

  2. Ironically, one of the story links you shared has a typo in its second graf:

    The city was the test for a business model similar to one used at other Advance-owned papers in New Orleans, Harrisburg, Syracuse and other cities in Alabama and Michican.

    http://www.wkyc.com/news/politics_government/article/283320/130/Part-2-Whats-life-like-with-no-daily-paper

  3. Pingback: Do everything wrong and backwards | Birmingham Blogging Academy

  4. new-jersey based, wayne? everyone knows advance is based in nyc.

  5. Pingback: Blood on the Newsroom Floor: Now with Greece | eats shoots 'n leaves

  6. Pingback: Questions on the 1-year anniversary of the Alabama Media Group | Media of Birmingham

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