Dateline: The second biggest city in America without a daily paper
The Birmingham News: final daily front page from Sept. 30, 2012,
print ad from 2011 branding campaign.
I’ve been away from the daily newspaper biz some 7 years and 1 week. Mighty strange things have happened since I left that scene in Birmingham.
Today marks a new era for my hometown, one in which both newspapers I grew up with are no more. In their place is a new three-times-a-week publication with a familiar name, the Birmingham News.
It is a topsy-turvy world when you realize that the Crimson White, a student-run newspaper down the road at the University of Alabama, publishes more frequently. Or that any number of smaller towns in Alabama still throw papers 6 or 7 days a week: Anniston, Cullman, Decatur, Dothan, Florence, Gadsden, Montgomery, Opelika, Selma and Tuscaloosa.
Or that of the three papers in Alabama shouldering this downsizing wrought by owner Advance Publications (Huntsville and Mobile being the other two), Birmingham was the only one to see a jump in Sunday circulation, a healthy 13 percent increase from March 2011 to March 2012.
And yet Birmingham becomes the second largest city in America without a daily newspaper. New Orleans, which has seen its fair share of hardships, is the largest. Her citizens, business leaders and politicians have rallied to save, even offer to buy, the Times-Picayune, but to no avail. Our city has resigned herself to muddle along as always.
The News has a long and storied history in its 124 years. (I even worked there as a metro reporter for a short period early in my career.) But you can no longer read about it on the newspaper’s discontinued web site; it has been downsized as well to a brisk 127 words on the shiny new Alabama Media Group site.
There you will find the News sandwiched in between all the other properties, be they site, app, mag or rag. Those seeking a more detailed rendition of the newspaper’s back story must rely on the Wikipedia entry or the ever-dependable Bhamwiki.
Don’t bother looking for a list of reporters and photographers. It’s long gone, save for the copy I made to report on the 100-plus firings. Know that in the current mix of employees, some are old hands, some are al.com staffers and the rest are newbies. (And all staff members are now using al.com email addresses, another kiss-off to bhamnews.com, their former domain.)
A long-standing community voice will have to make do with its widely derided web site and three editions a week. Unlike New Orleans, no outlet or blog or billionaire has rushed to fill the ever-growing void of daily, in-depth reporting and investigation that keeps leaders somewhat honest and the public somewhat informed.
I look at the media and no longer miss the heady days in the newsroom. Where once my beloved Post-Herald stood is now a parking lot.
I’ve been away for many years, but some days, not long enough.
Update Oct. 3: Don Keith reviews the new Birmingham News Wednesday print edition: “The Birmingham News is stumbling right out of the block.”
The front pages for the Birmingham News, (Mobile) Press-Register and presumably the Huntsville Times shared the same design for the debut Oct. 3 print edition. Surprising, given that each paper now only has three editions to design every week and more time to do so.
Freelance journalist Charles Apple says: “This lead package is gorgeous.”
Update Oct. 4: Bob Sims, director of community news at Alabama Media Group, spoke to the first edition at a local forum:
Update Nov. 13: Because Baton Rouge-based newspaper The Advocate is publishing a New Orleans edition 7 days a week, this makes Birmingham the largest city without a daily newspaper. The Tuscaloosa News has also started daily delivery in Birmingham, but no special edition. Nitpick: Baton Rouge is 80 miles away from New Orleans — does it still count as local?
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