Tag Archives: New Orleans

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

By Wade Kwon

Birmingham has seen one of its most tumultuous years in its media landscape. The last 365 days have brought layoffs, departures, closings and a few victories among local outlets.

It was 1 year ago today that the New York Times scooped New Orleans’ venerable Times-Picayune on its own impending upheaval: layoffs, a drop to publishing three times a week and the formation of two new companies.

Before that explosive announcement, Advance’s online portal al.com joined nola.com and mlive.com in a drastic and comprehensive site redesign. Reaction by readers nationwide — as Advance switched all its sites over to the 2012 look — was overwhelmingly negative.

The following day (May 24), owner Advance Publications announced hurriedly what Times-Picayune staffers had already learned online. In addition, the New Jersey-based chain rolled out a similar Alabama-wide strategy for the Birmingham News, the Huntsville Times and the Press-Register of Mobile.

See full coverage of Advance Publications.

Before reviewing the Advance Crisis of the last 12 months, just look at the other major events on Birmingham’s media scene during the same period …

A look at the ups and downs since Advance’s restructuring of its Birmingham operations …

May 2012

May 24: Birmingham News reporters tweet the stunning morning announcements on publishing schedule and company reorganization.

At the same time, the media release appears on al.com, similar to the one on nola.com and that would appear in coming months for other Advance properties.

Naturally, layoffs were part of the deal.

I threw in an appropriate hashtag.

Birmingham News staffers (and others) weighed in via Twitter.

While New Orleans felt the ire of a large, loyal readership, Birmingham faced a more muted response. That afternoon, New Orleans residents spring into action with a Save the Picayune campaign. No such reaction in Birmingham.

May 25, 2012 newspapers

Mobile finds layoffs ‘exciting’ for its May 25, 2012, edition.
[larger version]

May 25: Print editions across the state splash the announcement across the front page.

May 30: Our special Media of Birmingham report details worries about layoffs and the new model for the Birmingham News.

May 31: Another Media of Birmingham report shows one key company, al.com, seemingly lost in the shuffle. While the newspapers would fire hundreds, al.com would fire only one employee.

Continued on page 2 …

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Birmingham News fires more than 100 employees

Advance cuts 400 jobs statewide, 200 more in New Orleans

Birmingham News staff

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.”

Additional coverage:

Also:

  • 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.

If you have more info on changes at the Birmingham News, al.com or Birmingham Magazine, please contact me.

Birmingham News, other Advance papers to cut jobs, print editions

Birmingham News

By Wade Kwon

The newspaper world was hit with some bombshells this morning, all lobbed by Advance Publications.

Wednesday night, unconfirmed reports popped up suggesting its New Orleans’ paper, the Times-Picayune, would undergo severe cuts and reduce to three times a week publication. This morning, it became a reality, as staffers found out — not from their own supervisors — but from Web and TV reports.

The New Orleans operation will reform under two companies, one handling digital operations and one handling print operations. The paper will run Wednesdays, Fridays and Sundays starting in the fall, instead of seven days a week.

Pam SiddallThis morning, staff members at the Birmingham News found out from publisher Pam Siddall in a hastily called staff meeting that they too would roll out the same plan for all Alabama Advance papers, including the Huntsville Times and (Mobile) Press-Register.

Wednesday marked the rollout of a new front page design for al.com, which had previously been debuted at Advance sites mlive.com and nola.com. The new look was met with much criticism from the readers.

See Twitter reaction from Birmingham News staffers

Siddall will head up one new company, Advance Central Services Alabama, handling production, distribution, technology, finance and human resources for all three papers in Birmingham. That means the Times will be printed in Birmingham starting at a date to be determined in the fall and the Press-Register will continue to be printed in Mobile.

All three papers will run on Wednesdays, Fridays and Sundays, with special editions (such as Thanksgiving) as needed. Sunday papers will remain $2, and Wednesday and Friday papers will remain $1. Subscribers will also be given access to the e-edition.

News operations will be handled in “hubs” across the state.

Cindy MartinCindy Martin, president of al.com, will be the head of Alabama Media Group, over all three newspapers and al.com. It is to be a “digitally focused media company.”

Martin said in the press report that the change in organizational structures across all departments will lead to a reduction in the overall size of the workforce, with details still to be worked out.

Advance owns the Birmingham News and Birmingham-based al.com, as well as the weekly Birmingham Business Journal. Its Ann Arbor (Mich.) News ended its print run in 2009 after 174 years, switching to an all-online model at annarbor.com with reduced staffing and a twice-weekly print edition.

Forbes blogger Micheline Maynard predicted that New Orleans would see similar results as Ann Arbor did:

“No offense to its staff, but AnnArbor.com, online at least, is a constantly updated blog, which gives equal play to impaled cyclists and rabid skunks as it does to politics and crime. The printed edition is newspaper-like, but with a different style and less gravitas than its predecessor.”

News industry analyst Ken Doctor is calling the transformation a “forced march to digital.”

Also, it was announced that the News’ 37-year veteran Tom Scarritt, editor since 1997, would retire in the fall. He became the newspaper’s vice president in 2001.

Andrew Beaujon at journalism institute Poynter reports that the News’ Sunday circulation jumped significantly between March 2011 and March 2012, while the rest of the week fell:

“The Birmingham News’ average Sunday circulation increased from 153,023 to 173,187, a 13 percent increase mostly attributable to the inclusion of ‘YES! Your Essential Shopper,’ a home-delivered collection of flyers. Its average daily circulation declined 7.5 percent, from 112,209 to 103,729.

“The Press-Register’s Sunday circulation was basically flat, going from 103,300 to 103,373 and its daily circ dropped from 87,518 to 82,088; both figures rolled in distribution of The (Pascagoula) Mississippi Press.

“Average Sunday circulation rose 1 percent at The Huntsville Times, to 68,092 from 67,286, and daily fell 5.5 percent, from 47,366 to 44,725.”

The Birmingham News, the state’s largest newspaper, won a Pulitzer Prize in 2007 for reporter Brett J. Blackledge’s investigation into corruption in the state’s 2-year college system. Wednesday, it was a finalist for several Green Eyeshade Awards, including its extensive coverage of the April 27, 2011, tornadoes and its 2011 series on “Reinventing Our Community.”

Some Birmingham News staff members are still in shock over the surprise morning bombshell announcement. Siddall said to them at the meeting, “At the end of the day, each employee has to decide if they believe in the new direction.”

See how the Birmingham News is implementing the new plan.

Additional coverage:

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.