Tag Archives: Kyle Whitmire

Whitmire departs Weld, leading to online acrimony from the publisher

Kyle Whitmire, Mark Kelly

Kyle Whitmire, left, and Mark Kelly

By Wade Kwon

The summer of 2012 has been exceptionally weird for Birmingham media. Not that it couldn’t get a little weirder.

The Birmingham News fired more than 100 employees and announced historic changes in its publishing cycle. Alabama Public Television is embroiled in a legal fight and a PR nightmare over the dismissal of executive director Allan Pizzato and chief financial officer Pauline Howland. Atlanta’s Cox Media Group is selling 25 radio stations, including Birmingham’s top-rated 98.7 Kiss and 95.7 Jamz. Radio host Paul Finebaum settled a yearlong legal dispute with employer Citadel Broadcasting.

The weirdness continued Friday when Kyle Whitmire, new media editor and co-owner of Weld for Birmingham, accepted a job offer with Alabama Media Group, one of two new companies succeeding the Birmingham News and al.com.

Within hours of the story breaking on Twitter, Weld publisher and co-owner Mark Kelly issued a strongly worded statement online that drew immediate criticism from readers.

A roundup of online reaction to
Whitmire’s jump and Kelly’s statement

Whitmire’s exit is the second major departure from the startup site and publication in the last 2 months. Editor and co-owner Glenny Brock left in May.

Reached by phone, Whitmire would not comment on the matter, out of deference to his future employer. Instead, he issued this statement: “I’m incredibly grateful for the comments I’ve seen online and support I’ve gotten. I’m looking forward to working for the new company.”

He starts Aug. 20 as a reporter covering local government and politics.

While Kelly had kind words for Brock in May upon her departure, he was less gracious about Whitmire’s exit:

“Over the past several weeks, substantial differences arose between our management team and Kyle. Those differences were related to our plans for the immediate and future direction and priorities of Weld for Birmingham and its online and print publications. They also involved issues related to Kyle’s current and past job performance and fulfillment of his duties as a shareholder in our company. It seems clear that all of that factored into his decision to accept the position he has been offered with our competitor.

“Regarding the issues that contributed to Kyle’s decision, I will not provide specifics, as they involve proprietary information about our company’s operations. We have been aware for a few weeks that Kyle was in discussions with Alabama Media Group, though he did not see fit to share that information with us until yesterday (Thursday), when he told us that he had received and intended to accept a job offer.”

A succession of companies

Whitmire, Brock and Kelly have had considerable history together. Whitmire and Brock worked together for nearly 10 years at alternative newspaper Birmingham Weekly. The close friends and former housemates left the Weekly within 2 months of each other.

And Whitmire and Kelly have been friends as well for around a decade. Like Whitmire, Kelly once worked as a reporter for a local alternative newspaper, Black and White, covering City Hall (later working there as spokesperson for Mayor Bernard Kincaid).

Brock, Kelly and Whitmire had been working on the blueprint for Weld since 2009. After securing investor funding, the three plus Heather Milam launched the new media outlet in 2011: the site in May and the weekly alternative newspaper in September.

Editor Brock left after a year. Whitmire had been in talks with Advance-owned Alabama Media Group for several weeks and discussed his potential move with Brock.

Whitmire had written about Advance’s Birmingham News and al.com for years for the Weekly and for Weld. From June 5:

Weld for Birmingham cover, Paper Cuts“What’s clear to me is that the key to having a good newspaper and maintaining a good audience is knowing when to defy readers’ expectations and when to live up to them. Historically, the (Birmingham) News has done a poor job of doing either.

“The News spent decades building a bad reputation for itself. It defended segregation and was not willing to hold up a mirror to the city it covered. Slowly it moved to the right side of history, but when it did, it did so with reporting that was stripped of any voice or editorial latitude.”

On Thursday afternoon, at a meeting with partners Milam and Kelly along with another individual at the Weld office downtown, Whitmire announced his intention to leave for Alabama Media Group. On Friday, he turned in his key and his equipment to Kelly — and the two have not communicated with each other since.

Digital divorce

Meanwhile, Kelly’s online statement has raised questions about the pair’s split.

“Someone who has intimate knowledge of virtually all aspects of Weld’s operations and our strategy for immediate and long-term growth is now working for our direct competitor,” Kelly said by email. “Kyle (was) a shareholder in the company, which entails certain obligations and responsibilities that are not at play in the simple case of an employee entertaining the offer of another job.

“This, along with Kyle’s handling of his departure, is a serious matter, and we have some shareholders who are very much concerned about the manner in which it transpired. Thus, the admittedly strong wording of the statement.

“As for my personal reaction, I am disappointed. I’m disappointed for us and in Kyle, for both the business reasons I’ve mentioned and for personal reasons you might imagine.”

Kelly would not go into detail on Whitmire’s ownership stake, job performance or shareholder duties, citing proprietary information about the privately held company.

The publisher’s statement has met with considerable backlash, as commenters have called it “unprofessional,” “arrogant” and “disgusting.”

When asked about the feedback, Kelly said:

“As with all comments — positive, negative or neutral — that appear on our site in response to any story or post, I value the time and effort taken by the commenter. As that relates to my statement on Kyle’s departure, whether I feel those who commented negatively are ‘accurate’ in their characterizations of the statement — or, in some cases, of me personally — is really irrelevant.

“The important thing is that I respect their right to express their opinions and, as is apparent, would do nothing to interfere with their freedom to do so on our website and our Facebook page.

“As for the statement itself, it is a statement of fact, and not to stand by it simply because some people react negatively to my choice of words would be an act of both intellectual prevarication and moral cowardice.”

Brock saw it differently, saying by email, “What I read in Friday’s statement was a lot of bitter hurt. I’m glad he spared me a public excoriation.”

At its seams

Since her departure as editor, managing editor Jesse Chambers has filled in as interim editor. (Like Brock and Whitmire, he too worked in editorial at the Weekly before leaving in 2011.)

An anonymous tipster said that Chambers would be following Brock and Whitmire out the door. When asked if he had given notice to Weld, Chambers said by email, “I will remain as interim editor until a new editor is hired. I will have no further comment on this matter. Any further queries should be directed to Weld publisher Mark Kelly.”

Kelly praised Chambers for “doing an exceptional job of filling the editor’s role” and said that Weld plans to conduct a formal interview process for the position over the next few weeks.

As for Whitmire’s vacant new media editor position, Kelly told the Birmingham Business Journal that it was hard to say if a replacement would be hired or the position changed or eliminated in a restructuring.

Weld for Birmingham looks much different with two of the four co-founders now out of the picture. Back at the outset in April 2011, Kelly told the Birmingham Business Journal about the company’s mission:

“We want to succeed in business, and we want to succeed in journalism. And we want to fulfill our community mission to move a fractured community forward.”

The fractures between him and Whitmire have become the latest story in Birmingham’s summer media madness.

Also:

More stories on the Weld for Birmingham

More stories on Alabama Media Group

Wade Kwon is a co-founder of Media of Birmingham and a Birmingham journalist for 25 years.

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EXCLUSIVE: Birmingham Weekly, the untold stories

By Wade Kwon

Stephen Humphreys, Chuck Leishman

Stephen Humphreys, left, and Chuck Leishman

Birmingham Weekly made its reputation on untangling the lies and the financial misdeeds of former mayor Larry Langford. Just 2 years later, the alternative paper now finds itself enmeshed in its own set of accusations and denials, questionable figures and sobering facts.

Birmingham Weekly 09-01-11 coverIn June, the weekly publication quietly changed hands from publisher Chuck Leishman to Stephen Humphreys. In doing so, it began to dig itself out of a financial hole that continues to limit its operations.

Friday, editor Sam George tweeted his resignation over a pay dispute. In his statement published on his personal website, he wrote, “I can no longer ask myself, my employees or my writers to continue to work with out the compensation and com fort they are due.”

In this exclusive investigative report for Media of Birmingham, we talk to staff members who shaped the paper over the past decade and uncover the internal troubles that have placed it in its current situation.

(Note: The author co-owns Birmingham media outlet Magic City Post.)

Continue reading

Kyle Whitmire launches Second Front

The Second Front

Former Birmingham Weekly columnist unveils political news site today

Kyle Whitmire, former Birmingham Weekly columnist, has started blogging for his own news site, The Second Front. He plans to cover political news and public policy as part of Weld, a yet-to-be launched local news site.

Kyle WhitmireHe left the Weekly in January. Also working on Weld is Glenny Brock, who departed from the newspaper in March.

Whitmire talked about his new operation via e-mail earlier today.

MOB: What is Second Front?

Whitmire: It’s a niche-specific blog covering political culture and public affairs important to Birmingham.

MOB: How does it relate to Weld?

Whitmire: Back in the day, Southern Progress used to have test kitchens. I was always kind of jealous of that. I suppose you can say it’s a sort of test kitchen where I get to cook and hopefully not make too big of a mess.

Already some tech-savvy friends have figured out what platform The Second Front is built on, so that will be out there soon. But that’s as good a hint as you’re going to get.

There’s something behind Door No. 3, but I can’t tell you what it is yet.

MOB: What can readers expect?

Whitmire: The focus of The Second Front is politics and public policy.

As a journalism model, The Second Front will follow the lead of The Daily Beast, Slate and many other new media startups. The site will have original content, both reporting and analysis. It will have a great deal of curation, links to pertinent stories from around the web. It will provide context when it can. And it will leverage social media to reach the largest possible audience in ways that are most useful to individual users. [The Second Front on Twitter / Facebook]

I’ve committed myself to waking up a 6 a.m. every day to compile the Frontlines, links to today’s most important stories. I’m not a morning person, so that’s not going to be a lot of fun.

I’m going to spend a lot of time in public meetings, sifting through public documents and nosing around other people’s business. All of this is much the same as I did at Birmingham Weekly, only I want to explore the blog as a new form. I don’t have to fit whatever I’m writing into a 1,000-word hole anymore.

MOB: Will it be free? Subscription? Ad supported? Something else?

Whitmire: I’ll have to dive deep into some jargon and minutia, but I think it’s important to understand the nature of the problems first.

The CPM [cost-per-thousand impressions] advertising model will not support local public affairs journalism.

To make matters worse, users are adopting “ad blindness.” Either they use ad-blocking plugins in their browsers, or they just ignore the ads altogether. As a consequence, online display advertising has a lousy ROI for the advertisers.

The other fallback option has been a subscription model, but subscription-based services do only one thing well: Prevent mass reader migrations away from print. It’s a good way to mitigate the problem, but it doesn’t solve the problem. What’s more, it goes to the Clay Shirky Principle: “Institutions will try to preserve the problem to which they are the solution.” If your job is to distribute news, you can’t do that by keeping it away from people.

What are the answers?

For the moment, I’ll have to neglect the specifics. Sorry, but that has to stay behind Door No. 3. I can share a few basic principles:

  • The digital marking solution should enhance the user’s experience, not disrupt it.
  • Users should be able to distinguish online marketing from other content, but the medium must not treat that message as if it’s radioactive or otherwise marginalize the sponsor.
  • Digital marketing should be clearly labeled but be treated as an equal citizen in the medium’s space.
  • Finally, digital marketing should be native to the Internet, and not simply an appropriation of print or broadcast forms, which we have now.

There is hope on the horizon in the form of geotagging and location-aware ads. Other kinds of micro-targeting will soon be practical. In the meantime, there are some low-tech methods to achieve the same ends, and I hope everyone will get to see them soon at The Second Front.

Why did you decide to do this site?

Whitmire: I love journalism and probably couldn’t do anything else. It has given me a front row seat to history.

The day Eric Robert Rudolph bombed the clinic on Southside, I got to get as close as the police would allow. The day they brought him back to Birmingham, I was there for that as well. I got to sit close enough in the courtroom that I could hear the chains between his feet and see his collarbone protruding against his skin.

I was there the day Richard Scrushy was acquitted and I was there the day he was convicted.

And then, of course, there was Langford. I got to cover Langford for one paper or another for nearly 10 years. It’s incredibly interesting work.

But it’s also very important work. I believe there is a reason the right to do what I do is codified in the First Amendment of the Constitution. Good journalism is a prerequisite for a healthy society. And that’s what troubles me.

While I’ve been a professional witness to history, I’ve also seen what’s happening to the media. When covering Rudolph or Scrushy, I had to fight and scrap with other reporters for stories. In contrast, all it took to prove Langford was not a legal resident of Birmingham was to pull his homestead exemption at the tax assessor’s office. No one else did that.

I’m proud of the work we did at the Weekly, but some of those scoops we got were just too easy. This never would have been the case were the (Birmingham) Post-Herald still alive.

I’m doing this because I love journalism and I love the adventure it allows me. But I’m also trying to save the Fourth Estate.

Compared to waking up at 6 a.m., that part should be easy.

Also:

• • •

Read more Birmingham media updates.

Have a news tip? Let us know!

EXCLUSIVE: Kyle Whitmire, Birmingham Weekly part ways

Media of Birmingham has learned that columnist Kyle Whitmire is leaving Birmingham Weekly after 9 years with the publication. Whitmire characterized it as a mutually agreed upon split.

His final War on Dumb column will appear in Thursday’s issue, while his last official day will be Sunday. Whitmire covered city politics, winning several awards for his coverage. Most recently, he reported on the federal trial of former mayor Larry Langford and the resulting special election.

Whitmire was also the principal architect in bhamweekly.com’s current site design. He was most recently featured as the subject of the cover story, “Fighting City Hall,” in B Metro magazine, discussing how he wants to be remembered someday:

“I have this revenge fantasy that centuries from now an historian or archeologist will find what we’ve written in the Weekly and wonder, ‘Why weren’t these people in charge?’ So whenever I think no one is reading what I’m writing, I say to myself that I’m writing for posterity. Someone might mistake ‘War on Dumb’ for the Dead Sea Scrolls.”

He’s also a co-founder of Media of Birmingham.

Whitmire declined to reveal his immediate plans, other to stay in Birmingham.

Update Jan. 27: Whitmire offers an instant history lesson in his final column

At the turn of the 21st century, Birmingham pined to be more like Atlanta. Little did it know it was well on the way toward making that nightmare come true.

The city ended the decade as it had every one before, as the “city of perpetual promise.” Some perceived this as an indicator of incessant failure. Others, rightly, knew its true meaning — the city of perpetual hope.

Also, Whitmire penned a farewell note via Facebook:

I’m incredibly grateful for my time at the Weekly and the opportunities it has given me. For the last nine years, I’ve been able to cherry-pick my assignments and I’ve had the editorial latitude to have a point of view as a columnist — things I never would have had at any other media, at least not at such an early stage in my career.

Whatever happens next for me, my time at the Weekly made that possible.

Plus, AL.com sports producer Dennis Pillion has his theories about the sudden departure of the Weekly’s best-known columnist.

• • •

Read more Birmingham media updates.

Have a news tip? Let us know!

Awards roundup: Birmingham Weekly, Lipstick, WBHM

Awards roundup: awards for Birmingham media folks …

• WBHM (90.3 FM) picked up three first place awards in the 2009 Public Radio News Directors Incorporated Awards.

[The full list of PRNDI awards.]

• • •

• Birmingham Weekly’s Kyle Whitmire picked up his second consecutive first-place award in the Association of Alternative Newsweeklies’ Alternative Newsweekly Awards, his fourth overall.

[Original post | full list of AltWeekly Awards]

• • •

• In the Society of Professional Journalists’ 59th Annual Green Eyeshade Awards, Alabama media outlets took home five first-place awards, and WBHM (90.3 FM) took home its second consecutive divisional win in radio. [The directors of the Green Eyeshade Awards canceled this year’s banquet because “the news media’s economic problems made it difficult to guarantee attendance.”]

Divisional Winner

  • Radio – WBHM (90.3 FM) of Birmingham, for “Considering Faith,” by its news team.
    Links to stories

1st Place

  • “Collection of Editorials” Mac Thrower, Mobile Press-Register
  • “Lauren,” Laurel Mills, Lipstick Magazine, Birmingham
  • “This one time at camp …,” Laurel Mills, Lipstick Magazine, Birmingham
  • “Skimboarding” Bronwyn Coffeen, Mobile Press-Register
  • “Considering Faith,” News Team, WBHM (90.3 FM) [Links to stories]

2nd Place

  • “Rumble, Rumble, Rumble” Challen Stephens, The Huntsville (Ala.) Times
  • “Sky-High” George Talbot, Jeff Amy, Dan Murtaugh, Press-Register, Mobile
  • “Series of Columns” Tim Sanders, The Post, Centre
  • “Theology of the Dispossessed” Mark Potok, Intelligence Report
  • “Beer Law, Wilcox Gas, Fight Song” Tanya Ott, WBHM-FM

3rd Place

  • “Big Bad Wolf Hunt” Brendan Kirby, Press-Register (Mobile)
  • “Desperate Search” News Staff, Press-Register, Mobile
  • “Outside Agitators” David Holthouse, Intelligence Report, Montgomery
  • “Spaceships and Playoff Systems” Scott Wright, The Post, Centre
  • “Capital Murder Trial Coverage” Scott Wright, The Post, Centre
  • “J.D. Crowe Editorial Cartoons” J.D. Crowe, Mobile Press-Register

[hat tip to The Terminal]

[Original post | full list of Green Eyeshade Awards]

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.

AltWeekly Awards Finalists include Birmingham Weekly writer Kyle Whitmire

2009 AltWeekly AwardsAmong the finalists for the 2009 AltWeekly Awards is the Birmingham Weekly‘s Kyle Whitmire in the Political Column (circulation under 50,000) category. (Whitmire is also a co-founder of Media of Birmingham.) The list came out Tuesday.

This is Whitmire’s third AltWeekly award, sponsored by the Association of Alternative Newsweeklies. His entries:

The competing entries come from Ted S. McGregor of the Pacific Northwest Inlander (Spokane, Wash.) and the staff of the San Luis Obispo (Calif.) New Times.

Also:

The winners will be announced June 26 in Tucson.

AltWeekly Award for Kyle

Kyle WhitmireCongratulations to MOBster Kyle Whitmire, who won first place in Political Column (under 55,000 circ.) Saturday at the 2008 AltWeekly Awards for his War on Dumb column in Birmingham Weekly.

This is the newspaper’s first win in nine years, though it has picked up several runner-up honors.

War on Dumb wins AltWeekly Award

On Saturday, the Association of Alternative Newsweeklies and the Medill School of Journalism announced the winners of the 13th annual Altweekly Awards at the association’s convention in Philadelphia. Birmingham Weekly’s ‘War on Dumb’ took first place for best political column in the 55,000-and-under circulation division.

The weekly column by staff writer Kyle Whitmire examines political culture in Birmingham and Alabama.

Birmingham Weekly last received a first place award in 1999 for media criticism by then-staff writer Tom Spencer. In recent years, Birmingham Weekly writers have been runners up for commentary, political commentary and arts criticism.

You can find the rest of the 2008 Altweekly Award winners at www.aan.org.

The winning submission included three columns from 2007 — two about Birmingham Mayor Larry Langford and one about Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney’s Alabama PAC scheme to sidestep federal campaign finance laws.

You can read the winning columns by following the links below.