Tag Archives: buyout

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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EXCLUSIVE: Birmingham News could face layoffs by February

Owner Advance Pubs ends long-standing no-layoffs policy

Advance Publications’ Newhouse Newspapers will end its policy of no layoffs, announcing the change to staffs today, including the Birmingham News. The pledge ends in six months, meaning the staff at the News (as well as the Press-Register in Mobile and the Huntsville Times) could face layoffs by February.

Media of Birmingham has learned that staffers with at least 5 years at the Birmingham News were offered buyouts, two weeks salary for every year (six month maximum).

In June, the News cut salaries 5 percent to 8 percent, ended furloughs and offered a round of buyouts.

• • •

Read more Birmingham media updates.

Have a news tip? Let us know!

EXCLUSIVE: Birmingham News cuts salaries through 2010, eliminates most part-time positions

Most part-time positions eliminated; furloughs ended

Media of Birmingham learned through Twitter that the Birmingham News is cutting salaries. Our newsroom sources indicate that salaries will be cut 5 to 8 percent, based on salary level, through 2010.

ike-pigott-tweet-birmingham-news

Also, the News has offered voluntary buyouts to employees with five or more years experience. The newspaper offered its first ever round of buyouts in 2008 and started mandatory furloughs and a benefits freeze in March.

The News has ended its furloughs.

In addition, the News is cutting most part-time positions in the coming months. No word on how many positions will be affected.

dshirey-tweet

Lastly, it appears that the News is dropping internships, too, according to a Twitter update from University of Georgia student Daniel Shirey.

The budget cuts come at an odd time: While print and online readership are both up for the Birmingham News, advertising remains down.

Also: Kyle Whitmire at the Birmingham Weekly has more specifics on the salary cuts. The Weekly is also reporting that the Birmingham News will close suburban bureaus by the end of summer.

Update: Publisher Victor Hanson III says, “It is imperative that we maintain a robust, independent voice for news and commentary in Birmingham, as well as an effective vehicle for our advertisers.” (Birmingham News: “Birmingham News announces employee pay cuts”)

• • •

kpoythress-tweets

Also, Anniston-based Consolidated Publishing cut salaries 10 percent today for all employees at all of its newspapers, including the Anniston Star, (Talladega) Daily Home and the Jacksonville News. The news comes from a series of tweets by Daily Home reporter Katherine Poythress.

The Star laid off 15 employees in November.

Birmingham News cutting back

Birmingham News

Birmingham News

Also: Newhouse shutting down wire service

Some are calling 2008 the worst year ever for newspapers, citing declines in ad revenues.

Like many newspapers this year, the Birmingham News is trimming its operations by offering buyouts and early retirement to employees:

The Birmingham News Co. is offering voluntary buyouts or early retirement to a limited number of employees, Publisher Victor Hanson III said Friday. The issue is revenue, not readership, Hanson stressed. “Our readership is as high as it has been since 2004, and our online home at al.com is the most-visited local Web site in Alabama,” he said. The number of buyouts will depend on how many employees accept the offer, he said, but it will be limited by department and job category to protect the essential missions of the newspaper to inform and serve the community.

Meanwhile, Newhouse News Service is shutting down after Election Day.

WASHINGTON (AP) — Newhouse News Service, a supplemental wire service founded in 1961, will close on Nov. 7, after the election.

The news service is also the Washington bureau of Advance Publications Inc. of New York, which owns 26 daily newspapers.

“The decision to close followed the direction of our clients, the editors of our papers,” said Linda Fibich, editor and Washington bureau chief. “They felt they could not afford to pay for a central Washington bureau at a time when they were steering all available resources to local coverage back at home.”

The news service has 24 employees. Of those, 11 are reporters who write for specific newspapers and “are being offered opportunities to join the staffs of those newspapers,” Fibich said. “Whether the individual papers maintain a presence in Washington is up to each individual paper.”

Advance Publications owns both the wire service and the Birmingham News. Fortunately, Washington correspondent Mary Orndorff will continue her beat for the News, even as NNS folds.