Tag Archives: Pam Siddall

Insiders detail Birmingham News’ lurch toward digital future

Birmingham News - perception problem

Slide from Birmingham News/Big Communications
branding strategy presentation

By Wade Kwon

The mass firings start next week.

That’s the word at the Birmingham News and other Advance newspapers pushing forward the digital agenda. The master plan was to have been announced June 5, but the New York Times’ scoop forced Advance’s hand in New Orleans and across Alabama.

Sources within the Birmingham News who wish to remain anonymous confirmed details of the transition for staff and operations. Much still remains up in the air, as the newspaper scrambles to prepare for the historic changes afoot, dropping to three print editions a week.

“This is a disaster,” a veteran reporter said. “It makes me physically ill.”

It appears that employees will find out early next week if they will have a job at either of the newly formed companies, Advance Central Services Alabama or Alabama Media Group. If not, their employment will be terminated with a possible severance package.

Three major departures are already confirmed:

Those remaining with the company could see cuts in salary and benefits. (Gambit reports that New Orleans Times-Picayune staffers who receive offers may still have to reapply for those jobs.)

Staff members have seen several rounds of buyouts and layoffs in the last few years. The News could see an influx of younger, cheaper journalism school graduates — a sea change in the paper’s past hiring practices — to help create more posts in the new digital model.

Perhaps the most drastic change will be the moving of the newsroom from the News’ downtown headquarters. In its place will be support services for the News, the Huntsville Times and the Press-Register. The new newsroom location has not been determined, though the News owns two other commercial properties.

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

All reporters and photographers will have company-issued laptops and cell phones, filing content to al.com rather than for the next day’s print edition. Plus, they’re expected to shoot photos and videos and participate in social media. One staffer said the editors will “dip” into the “rivers” of posts for the Sunday, Wednesday and Friday newspapers.

“(Publisher) Pam (Siddall) keeps saying the journalism is still important, but I don’t believe that. How do we do in-depth, investigative pieces in short posts?”

Birmingham News - brand revitalization

Slide from Birmingham News/Big Communications
branding strategy presentation

Siddall, publisher of the News for the last 28 months, will head up Advance Central Services Alabama, while Cindy Martin, president/CEO of al.com since 1997, will be in charge of Alabama Media Group.

For the past few months, early shift reporters have been instructed to post just about anything every 15 minutes from 7 to 9 a.m. to al.com to drive traffic. Often, the posts would be based primarily on media releases.

Journalists are also now being instructed to participate in the often unruly comment sections following most stories, a directive that is already meeting resistance.

Because Huntsville’s paper will be printed at the News’ press starting in the fall, some Times production employees could shift to Birmingham. But it remains uncertain how many News production staffers will keep their jobs, though at least one department has been told it will remain intact with no planned layoffs.

A longtime production employee said, “There was a complete lack of respect and consideration for the employees in this.

“There is obviously a certain amount of discomfort in everyone’s stomach about all this. We all feel betrayed to an extent and see Newhouse/Advance as just trying to improve their bottom line by shaving even more off their expense reports.

“It is theirs to do with as they wish, although it would have been more considerate of them to have done this in a much more above-board manner.”

A reporter added, “I suspect that most of us will be gone, even those of us who have worked to develop the skills necessary in this brave new world.”

The biggest change of all may simply be stature. With Birmingham, Huntsville and Mobile dropping daily print coverage, the state’s largest newspaper will be the Montgomery Advertiser.

Birmingham News - Twitter billboard

Mockup of Birmingham News billboard with
Twitter updates using the #this_is_our_story hashtag

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.

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

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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.

Alabamian Pam Siddall named Birmingham News president and publisher

First time in 100 years without a Hanson at the helm

The Birmingham News named Pam Siddall as president and publisher today. The Phenix City native spent the last 2 years a publisher of The Wichita (Kan.) Eagle, part of the McClatchy chain.

Siddall, 41, starts Jan. 11, replacing Victor Hanson III, who retired in December. A member of the Hanson family had served as publisher of the daily Advance Publications newspaper since 1909.

Siddall, the News’ first female president and publisher, said in a written statement:

“I am thrilled to be the next publisher at The Birmingham News. … The Birmingham News has an outstanding reputation as the leading source of news, information and commentary — in print and online.  I am extremely excited about working with the team to embrace the transformation into a 24/7 multimedia organization.”

She was also the Eagle’s first female publisher. Her last day there is Friday.

Siddall graduated summa cum laude from Columbus State University in Georgia with a bachelor of arts degree in accounting. Her past experience (via her LinkedIn profile):

  • President and Publisher, Columbus (Ga.) Ledger-Enquirer, August 2004 – November 2007
    • Vice President & General Manager, December 2003 – August 2004
  • Vice President, Chief Financial Officer/Circulation, Macon (Ga.) Telegraph, March 2001 – December 2003
  • Chief Financial Officer, Columbus Ledger-Enquirer, May 1997 – March 2001
  • Division Controller, Russell Corporation, February 1994 – March 1997
  • Senior Financial Analyst, WC Bradley, January 1993 – February 1994
    • Junior Analyst, May 1991 – January 1993

She also has profiles on Facebook and Twitter (@siddallAUfan).

Photo: Mike Hutmacher/The Wichita (Kan.) Eagle

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