Birmingham Weekly’s new site design for 2010.
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Less than a year after completely revamping the website, Birmingham Weekly is set to roll out a new online design Thursday.
Incoming editor Sam George mentioned the redesign in an earlier interview. He added by e-mail that the new site will be done in collaboration with Wisconsin-based Wehaa, a Web company specializing in content management systems for print publications.
The previous design had debuted in April 2009.
Birmingham Weekly’s website front page from 2009 to 2010.
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George described the upcoming changes:
“Readers should expect a site that is much easier to navigate, a slick interface with bells and whistles that actually enhance the browsing experience, rather than distract from it, and a comprehensive city directory and event calendar. For the first time ever, many sections of the paper that were overlooked on the website will be available online as well.”
“On our end, the process of getting our content online has been streamlined, largely thanks to the new digital edition of the paper which will be available every Thursday along with the print edition. The digital edition is processed from the same PDFs we send to our printer, and getting the individual articles plugged in is a snap.
“Also, the online events calendar allows us to reverse publish everything, including user-submitted events, making it easier for us to provide a calendar in the print paper that is concise, comprehensive and easy to use.
“These are just a few of the many new features I am excited about. You’ll just have to browse on over to the site on Thursday to check out the rest.”
George, left, has been a staff writer since May. He also works as a freelance graphic designer and lead singer for Birmingham-based rock band Bright Henry. Previously, George was editor and lead designer of local music site, Bham.fm.
Chambers, right, said via e-mail that George is a “smart, talented, passionate, hard-working guy with enormous enthusiasm for making a great paper and website. He has my complete confidence and support.” Chambers said he had wanted to fill in until a permanent replacement was hired. He will continue as staff writer, including editing the Green Space section.
• • •
Update June 26: Sam George shared more answers to our questions via e-mail …
Will you still continue to write and edit for Bham.fm?
Unfortunately, I will no longer have time to continue Bham.fm. I spoke with Whitney Sides (Mitchell), my co-editor there, and we both agree that the site has been suffering from lack of attention lately and that the best thing to do would be to shut it down. I plan to post an announcement saying as much there this weekend. (Note: Bham.fm started publishing in November 2008.)
It’s been a great pleasure covering the local music scene, and I hope to continue doing so with equal passion at the Weekly, including continuing my regular post “The Daily Dose,” though I plan to expand its scope beyond music. We will also have plenty of support for local bands on the new website we are launching.
Why did you decide to become editor?
I had approached (publisher) Chuck Leishman about writing a regular music column, and he offered me the managing editor gig instead. I decided to take the job because it combines a number of interests I have in one spot. It allows me to continue to cover local music and appeals to my design and photography side while expanding the scope of what I am able to accomplish for the city as a whole.
Also, it’s much better than slinging coffee, which is what I had been doing in the daylight hours.
What are your plans for the Weekly?
The first order of business is to launch our new website. I’ve been spending most of my energy here designing and implementing a brand new site for the Weekly that is really in a different stratum of excellence than the one we have now. It looks great, is easy to navigate, increases the functionality and scope of our site and integrates it further with social media. It also has a really cool digital interactive version of the paper.
I’ve put a lot of love and elbow grease into this thing, and I’m pretty excited to hear what Birmingham thinks about it when we launch, which should be Thursday, provided we can iron out the last wrinkles.
As for the paper itself, I’m still learning what it takes run the thing. I believe that Birmingham has the wealth of culture necessary to become a vibrant and modern metropolis with a strong urban center, and I would like to focus the Weekly on celebrating the things that can lead us towards that goal.
• • •
Update June 27: Whitney Mitchell clarified Bham.fm’s future via e-mail …
“The band is staying together (somewhat). It’s been hard for much of anyone to concentrate on writing with losing jobs (two-thirds of our writers), being full-time students and having “real” jobs. When I started it back in ’08, I had much more time to dedicate to organizing show schedules and attending three to four concerts a week.
“While the site won’t be the detailed info mecca it was, it is definitely staying alive and restarting as Birmingham’s only kickass music site. (We mean that … it would suck to see it die, y’know?)
“Chris (Mitchell, photo editor) is pretty psyched about revamping the site, so stay tuned for a new layout and daily (still music and regional-focused) postings.”
The company, founded in 1997, owns 86 daily newspapers, 46 nondaily papers and four TV stations. In Alabama, it owns the News Courier in Athens and the Cullman Times.
RSA helps fund CNHI. According to the story, “The company will bring 70 high-paying jobs with salaries averaging $75,000 to the area.” Another report says that current employees will be offered the chance to move from Birmingham to Montgomery, and that replacements will be found for those not making the move.
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.
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.”
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.
“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.
Occam’s RazR: “Is Birmingham Ready for an Online Newspaper?”
Capstone Report: “The News today is more interested in hiding the truth than reporting it.”
The Ben Franklin Follies: “I don’t believe a news enterprise committed to investigative reporting and quality journalism can produce profit margins that will satisfy Wall Street, hedge funds or institutional investors.”
• • •
Update: The Birmingham News did run Archibald’s status in the print edition. However, you can judge the progressive wording.
April 16: “John Archibald is taking a break.
His column will resume Wednesday.”
April 18: “John Archibald’s column will return soon.”
“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.”
“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.”
Publisher Maury Wald laid off editor Cara Clark in March “due to the economic slump we’re continuing to struggle with.” The newspaper also laid off Lucy Merrill, features writer for 14 years.
On Monday, Laura McAlister began as the new editor of Over the Mountain Journal. McAlister, shown at left, formerly served as Web editor for the Birmingham Business Alliance and Birmingham Magazine.
Clark, shown at right, said by e-mail:
“As it was explained to me, (Over the Mountain Journal) has sustained revenue losses for many months now, and the publisher could no longer afford to pay my salary.
“With the newspaper industry suffering nationwide, it has been a concern, but our editorial staff (both of us) thought we had a strong enough niche in the community to keep things going. It was quite a surprise when we were told the situation.
“For me, it came at a time when I’d just returned from nearly a month-long embed with the troops in Afghanistan. I think it was time for a change, but a bit more preparation would have been helpful. Still, I hope to return to Afghanistan this summer. Meanwhile, I’m looking for work locally, as I’d just signed an apartment lease before the layoff.
“Being with the troops and experiencing life in Afghanistan was a long-time dream and life-changing experience. It taught me much about myself, including my ability to adapt to inhospitable circumstances in a war zone. I left at the end of December and returned near the end of January.”
Co-assistant managing editors Chuck Clark and Scott Walker are now co-managing editors, effective today. Clark oversees metro, business and features, while Walker oversees editing, production, photo, art and sports.
Birmingham Weekly editor Glenny Brock has been laid off after more than 9 years at the alternative newspaper, Media of Birmingham has learned. She characterized the decision and the discussion with publisher Chuck Leishman as “mutually agreed upon.”
Her last day and issue will be March 11.
Brock said by phone, “Freelancing not withstanding, it’s the only job I’ve ever had as a grownup, and it has made my career.”
Brock, who recently returned from an extended vacation in India, declined to give specifics on her next endeavor, except to say that she planned to stay in Birmingham and that she would pursue freelance and creative projects.
She started as a freelancer at the publication in August 2000, becoming a full-time staff member in December of that year, serving as contributing writer, staff writer, calendar editor and managing editor. Brock became editor in September 2002.
She added this statement by e-mail:
It’s time. I will always consider the Weekly my proving ground and the first great love of my professional life. I’ve done a lot of good work there and perhaps some great work. Now, after overseeing the completion of more than 460 issues of the paper and dozens of supplemental publications, it’s time to do something else.
When I became editor, I was fortunate to inherit a stable of writers that included Courtney Haden, Scot Lockman, Allen Barra, Kenn McCracken and Brent Thompson. Surely my greatest accomplishment was the recruitment of strong writers such as Kyle Whitmire, Jesse Chambers, Brooke Michael, Molly Folse, J’Mel Davidson, John Seay, Phil Ratliff and many, many others. Dynamos such as Phillip Jordan, Jonathan Purvis, Wes Frazer, Carey Norris, Andrew Thomas Clifton and Ingrid Norton came to the Weekly on their own, but I believe the relationships I have cultivated with these and other writers and artists are what has made the Weekly a respectable publication.
At this point, I can’t say what my future plans are, but my work at the Weekly has made my future possible.
She said that special projects editor Jesse Chambers has been tapped to succeed her as editor. Chambers began freelancing for Birmingham Weekly in 2004 and became a full-time staff writer in 2009.
A message was left with Leishman, and we hope to update with his response shortly.
Hunter George is stepping down at the Birmingham News on April 30. The newspaper’s executive editor sent an e-mail to his newsroom colleagues on Wednesday to announce his departure:
At the end of April, I plan to retire after 42 years in the newspaper business. That career includes
covering Jane Fonda while getting pepper-gassed at the Republican National Convention in Miami Beach,
interviewing Otis Redding, Little Richard and B.B. King,
covering one Super Bowl and two Orange Bowls,
enticing 30 Miami cops to leave their duty posts and meet me at the FOP hall to complain about the chief,
covering a Beatles concert,
covering two plane crashes,
covering the 1972 Senate race in Florida,
supervising 150 summer interns,
working 40 election nights,
taking a call from Jimmy Cagney at 8:30 on a Sunday morning,
and telling the executive editor of The Miami Herald that there was nothing going on one morning and having him respond: “There’s plenty going on; you just don’t know about it.”
What we journalists do is more interesting than what most people do. It has been a privilege to work with you for the past 12 years. I shall think of you all fondly and I promise to call whenever I see a typo.
The News has seen several changes at the top, most recently the arrival of new publisher and president Pam Siddall. Also, buyout offers have been made to the entire staff, with the deadline extended till March. Parent company Advance Publications will end its “no layoffs” pledge at the end of next week.
No word on if or how George’s position will be filled.
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