The News doesn’t want to be the news

John Archibald believes “You have a right to know about News buyouts.”

The Birmingham News disagrees.

The Birmingham News is dying. They just don’t want you to know about it. So, the venerable (and pro-Auburn) newspaper buried the latest revelation about its decline; it suppressed a John Archibald column on the newspaper’s buyouts.

The column leaked on Facebook and Media of Birmingham. No doubt to the chagrin of the newspaper leadership—who is more interested in dollars than sense. It is what happens when you put an accountant into the role of publisher; they take penny pinching to new levels. Levels that make characters like Jack Benny or Scrooge McDuck seem reasonable. It is parsimony run amok.

For the amateur publisher here is a clue: a newspaper must have content, and writers produce content. And here is a bonus: content isn’t that pabulum of pro-Auburn stuff you spew from the sports page. Content is the superb reporting like the Birmingham News produced with Brett J. Blackledge; this was the reporting that exposed corruption in Alabama’s two-year college system.

The best publishers come from the editorial side. These publishers can balance the bottom line with the headlines; they can maximize revenue while maintaining editorial integrity.

But the News today is more interested in hiding the truth than reporting it. If the Birmingham News suppresses Archibald, how can we trust its reporting to be accurate?

We can’t.

We shouldn’t.

If you aren’t already reading the Tuscaloosa News online for sports coverage and the Wall Street Journal for national, economic and political news then you really should. For local news, just watch television. There isn’t much depth there, but there isn’t much depth on the pages of the Birmingham News either.

32 Comments

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  1. 1
    The Archibald column the Birmingham News doesn’t want you to see « Media of Birmingham

    […] Capstone Report » The News doesn’t want to be the news // April 21, 2010 at 9:40 am | Reply PDRTJS_settings_104973_comm_2790 = { "id" : "104973", "unique_id" : "wp-comment-2790", "title" : "%5B…%5D+column+leaked+on+Facebook+and+Media+of+Birmingham.+No+doubt+to+the+chagrin+of+the+newspaper+leadership%E2%80%94who+is+more+interested+in+dollars+than+%5B…%5D…", "item_id" : "_comm_2790", "permalink" : "http%3A%2F%2Fmediaofbirmingham.com%2F2010%2F04%2F20%2Fjohn-archibald-column-the-birmingham-news-buyout%2F%23comment-2790" } […]

  2. 3
    Finebammer

    And by the way, Matt Murphy did a segment on his morning show about this story with Kyle Whitmire.

    They got on the topic of the editorial scarritt allowed langford to do before he went to the pokey. Upon finishing the writer assisting langford told him some editing would be required. Langford promptly replied the news would print what he told them to.

    The editorial was published in it’s entirity.

  3. 4
    Pluto

    Is there anything outside of getting rid of the Paper – can the Public demand reforms from the News ?
    I just forgot. They are too arrogant to Listen. Especially Colonel Tom Scarritt.

  4. 5
    julio

    Hey Cappy, is it news that yet another O-Lineman just picked AU over Bama? Excuses as to why Dismukes picked AU in 5,4,3,2,1…..

  5. 6
    BamaCLT

    Dismukes picked AU over UA because he’s afraid of the competition. He didn’t like the depth chart. If you want the real reason, there it is. Playing time.

  6. 7
    BamaCLT

    In addition, “Julio Says”, Bama is no longer tethered to the region. One of the luxuries of being a winning program is that it opens up recruiting efforts nationwide. I’ll take Cyrus Kouandjio over a center.

  7. 8
    BamaCLT

    And I have to ask this: Why did Alabama take a top rated DE out of AU’s backyard? It’s in my opinion that Saban ends up with who he wants, and does a fantastic job coaching those athletes up. Not sure you can say the same for Auburn and their pathetic recruiting efforts. I can’t wait to see how excited you get when the barn hosts it’s Big Scat Weekend (sponsored by Secondary Violations: Secondary Violations… When your program isn’t attractive, and you can’t compete, cheat!).

  8. 9
    julio

    Yeah CLT, it was because there would be no competition for playing time. AU just signed the best O-Line class in the country two months ago. Yeah, he didn’t think there would be any competition from those guys.

    AU doesn’t know anything about recruiting out of the region? Cam Newton from Texas, Dyer from Arkansas, Bonomolo and Gayden from California, Mack from SC, Mosley from Kansas, Reed from LA…Hmmmm, might want to rethink that.

  9. 10
    Bamafan

    Julia, check out the following list of 2011 recruits from Scout.com. You remember Scout.com don’t you? They’re the recruiting service that ranked Alabama ahead of aubarn last year. Even aubarn’s self-proclaimed “best recruiting class ever” wasn’t enough to best Alabama. As for Dismukes, Bama signed 4 star Texas center Chad Lindsey last year, a much better prospect than Dismukes. As you’ll see in this link Alabama already has 2 of the top 100, LaMichael Fanning of Auburn HS and Marvin Shinn of Vigor HS. Also, Bama will be getting Cyrus Kouandjio, the #1 overall OL prospect and #5 prospect overall in America out of Maryland. His brother committed to Bama last Feb. As you can see Reese Dismukes is not even on the list. NO aubarn players are on the list. And by the way, with Fanning of Auburn HS and Corey Grant of Opelika HS going to Bama, and Dee Finley of aubarn HS going to Florida 2 years ago, it seems the local players that know aubarn best can’t wait to get the hell out of there. Which means they’re smarter than the average Lee county resident. Enjoy this link.

  10. 11
    Bamafan

    Cap, good job linking Archibald’s spiked article. The Bham News is dying, and I say let it die. Keep turning up the heat on them. Barners like julia like the News because it’s a barner paper.

  11. 12
    Pluto

    There is no upside to this City Losing their Newspaper. I am sorry folks. Let’s talk about what is good or necessary for this Metro for a fucking change. You kill the paper – will I get local News or the rare Investigated Report out of Television or Radio ?
    Hell No. Put the bastard on the Net and charge me.
    Say Cappy – are you going to quit the day job to cover Bama? No hell no. Will I depend on Bloggers to give me hearsay and repeat what they have heard third hand ? Hell No.
    There has got to be a way to change the News and maybe just fucking maybe – we can stay on the Thread ….

  12. 13
    almightytmc1

    about the only use for the Birmingham news would be to wipe my tail on. But toilet paper is cheaper. So once again the News loses out.

  13. 14
    capstonereport

    Actually Pluto, I’m a full time writer. I could theoretically dedicated more time to Alabama if there were more revenue to be had. In fact, I had contemplated hiring a correspondent to do nothing but attend practices, press conferences, etc. However, the University doesn’t like Internet websites (despite that this website has a larger readership that most newspapers in the state.) I contemplated litigating the obvious discrimination. A state institution cannot arbitrarily and capriciously bar websites and allow other websites. The law is very clear on access to media outlets (even those you don’t like). A state entity cannot allow some access and not others. However, I’ve not pressed the matter simply because I’m not sure I want the added hassle of having a correspondent, or covering practices, etc. myself.

    However, IF there were less competition in the space, I would revisit the issue and I can guarantee you would be interested in litigating the issue if necessary to compel the University to treat all outlets fairly.

  14. 16
    capstonereport

    Was it? Interesting. I have only heard the first hour of Finebaum for the last few weeks…and no more than about 15 minutes of Cowherd’s show…so my sports radio info has been limited lately.

    I have no problem limiting credentials in the press box since it has limited seating anyway. You get press passes as a weekly newspaper through a lottery process during football season administered by the Alabama Press Association. I have no problem with that arrangement for small newspapers. Not sure how they do that for A-Day, but my guess is the University handles it and gives priority to larger circulation papers and then filter down to the smaller newspapers.

    Here is the rub. Who gets to define who is or is not in the media. The courts tend to apply a simple test: does it function as a media outlet? ie: regular reporting? Once you answer that question then I have no problem with any rules as long as the rules are applied in a fair and consistent manner.

  15. 17
    CrimsonChicken

    As a crimson-bleeding Bama fan and an employee at The Birmingham News, I almost find the opinions of both the “columnist” and the commenters here laughable.

    You simply have no idea how a newspaper operates if you think the editorial content of the sports page is impacted in any way by who the publisher cheers for. What if the publisher was a Michigan fan? Do you think RichRod would appear every day?

    Also, for those who believe the newspaper is in any danger of dying or going away — even those of you who would love to see it happen — I hate to disappoint you, but it’s not going to happen. We will be around for many decades to come and that’s a good thing in my opinion.

    Blogs are one thing. I enjoy reading them. But they will never be a substitute for AP-style, newspaper journalism.

  16. 18
    capstonereport

    Of course blogs won’t be a substitute for traditional reporting. Most blogs suck. Most blogs cannot admit their own bias. Many of the best blogs are such subject matter experts that it skews the information to the technical instead of the general–thus it limits its appeal. Also, because most blogs are specific interest instead of general interest, bloggers often miss the real story.

    However, many of those same criticisms can be leveled at newspapers and tv reporting. Why is Fox News successful? Because its viewership felt the national media in the NY Times and major networks like CNN were too liberal. If you look at the annual surveys of reporters, you’ll find most are liberal and most do not attend church or synagogue.

    I’ve made this point in the past, how can reporters understand a nation where 60-70 percent of the people attend church or synagogue on a regular basis? They really can’t.

    It doesn’t mean that reporters let bias intrude, but it does mean that reporters often don’t understand the dynamics of what is going on in the communities they cover.

    Now as for the potential influence of the publisher. It doesn’t really matter if she overtly influences. A smart employee is going to do his or her best to suck up to the boss. Don’t tell me that doesn’t happen in the newspaper business. I know it does. I’ve seen it happen.

    But I don’t think that explains why the Birmingham News has provided more positive coverage for Auburn than Alabama over the last 15-20 years. I believe it rests in the mindset of the fans. Alabama fans like to bitch and moan, and will link to any insulting thing. Auburn fans are more like a cult. They attempt to punish and freeze out any dissenting voice. I was told that by someone who worked the beat. The facts tend to bear that out with how the AU recruiting websites’ coverage is even more pro-Auburn than the Alabama recruiting websites are pro-Alabama.

    As for the newspaper’s health, the newspaper will exist as long as their are preprints. Most newspapers have a significant advantage for the distribution of preprints over mass mail. I’ve been out of newspapers for about 3 years now, but when I was in it for about a decade the decline of ROP was offset somewhat by the increase we saw in preprints. As for the decline in classifieds, I’m not sure how to handle that tough issue. And the decline in circulation for newspapers are going to hurt ROP and preprint revenue. (With newspapers going digital you lose preprints, so I’m not a big fan of that to be honest.)

    I wouldn’t own a newspaper today. Well, outside a small market weekly or daily. Large market dailies and weeklies are going to suffer for some time, and I don’t think Rupert Murdoch’s ideas of fighting Google are going to help newspapers become more profitable in the online space; it just isn’t smart to fight Google—Google is responsibile for so much traffic.

  17. 19
    CrimsonChicken

    I believe the reason there was more negative news printed about Alabama prior to Saban coming was because there was more negative news to print about Alabama. But Pam was not the publisher then, so that can’t be blamed on her.

    I also believe she cares more about us getting the news, getting it right and getting it first in a more complete fashion than anybody else. Whether that story is orange and blue or crimson and white or black and white really does not matter. If a single reporter here believes he/she is scoring brownie points by doing an Auburn story, they are truly in the wrong profession or ignorant of the facts or both.

    I know I proudly have my big Bama mug, my Crimson Tide mouse pad and anything else I can hang or display on my desk showing my allegiance. I haven’t been threatened yet.

  18. 20
    capstonereport

    I’ve said the past 20 years can’t be blamed on her. And I’ve defended Finebaum over the years because there was tons of bad things happening at Alabama, and it needed to be exposed.

    I’ve managed a staff of reporters. They have the same vices and imperfections as the rest of society. So while they probably shouldn’t be trying to score brownie points—most will try to do that because people everywhere, including at the newspaper, SUCK.

    I don’t think most of the problems at the News are caused by the publisher. However, I think any publisher that has no editorial experience is a disaster waiting to happen.

  19. 22
    CrimsonChicken

    In this day and age, I care much more about the publisher’s recognition and understanding of the changing landscape and his/her ideas of how to be successful in the mids of it all.

    From my limited contact with Pam, I do get the sense that she has that awareness. To be honest, I’m not sure someone with a heavy editorial background would recognize those very real changes in the business dynamic.

    But even then, I care more about their current comprehension than their background.

    I guess I prefer to think that everyone here is professional and willing to do a good job instead of intuitively looking at them as someone who “sucks” like everybody else “sucks.” I choose to be more positive.

  20. 23
    Pluto

    This thing can be spun anyway you want Chicken – but if the Content of your beloved Paper does not increase – what the hell is the point ? I have been sending e-mails to Colonel Tom for the last year warning him that reducing content is making it difficult for me to keep buying.
    This is the Deal Chicken. People that matter like myself – are not going to support an Rag that has no Content.
    I travel and buy papers and I’m telling you that The News is an extremely poor product.

  21. 24
    CrimsonChicken

    Pluto, I’m sure by content, you probably mean “Crimson Tide content”. But you must realize that our sports page has an obligation to cover more than Alabama football? The overall content is, of course, dictated by the amount of advertising sold.

    I’m glad that you “matter” and are well-traveled and you certainly are entitled to you opinion regard the newspaper. I believe its a great product and I’m not alone in my opinion.

  22. 26
    John Cooper

    CrimsonChicken:

    To be honest, I had no idea that the News had, or was perceived to have, a pro-Auburn bias. In any event, apart from a slight predisposition toward the Tide I don’t give much of a hoot. I’m not a big sports fan.

    If you think, however, that the overall quality of the B’ham News hasn’t sadly deteriorated you are ‘way deep in denial. Local reporting has declined in quality & accuracy. The number of items by local reporters, such as they are, are fewer than news reports out of Huntsville & Mobile plus AP feeds. Staff, & talented staff, is greatly reduced (what on Earth possessed Scarritt to downsize Ms. Crazy? What a bonehead move). The paper is markedly reduced in size despite the new inclusion of giant ads in the front section. The typical paper I pick up in my yard on Monday mornings could almost be stuffed in a staindard letter envelope; smaller than our little local weeklies or, for that matter, than the Sunday insert Academy Sporting Goods ad. Editorial policy has gone to Hell, obsessing on the non-issue of electronic Bingo (although I admit that’s calmed down a little since the antics of that strutting Gauleiter from Mobile was appointed by Riley, who appears to have gone a little nuts himself).

    You work at the paper. Go find some of those award-winning investigative reporters, no doubt just a few cubicles down, & congratulate them on the great job they’re doing. Oh. Elsewhere, huh?

    Prof

  23. 27
    CrimsonChicken

    Prof —

    The size of the newspaper and their staffs have changed across the industry — many papers on a greater scale than The Birmingham News. That’s an industry thing. Could we do more/Should we do more — sure, but no, I would not agree that the newspaper has “sadly deteriorated.” And you’re simply wrong when it comes to local news production. The Birmingham News is still the leader, but we do share resources with our sister newspapers, which is just smart business as well as a smart journalism practice.

    Electronic Bingo was connected to public corruption in Birmingham and now the Legislature it what may end up being the biggest political story of the century. Hardly a non-issue. Maybe your news judgment is of the same quality of your opinion on the newspaper itself.

    I work along smart, committed journalists every day who have exposed more things to the public than every other news outlet in this state combined. The AP still lifts more news from The Birmingham News than any other source. Did you know about Larry Langford’s electronic bingo winnings before The News told you? No. Did you know about the micro- and macro-issues surrounding the JeffCo Sewer situation without The News? No. Occupational tax? Business licenses? McCalla Railroad Hub? Stan Pate? I could go on and on. There is great journalism at this newspaper whether you choose to recognize it or not.

    So I will congratulate them for doing a stellar job under difficult circumstances made even more difficult by unappreciative people like you.

    I can handle consructive criticism, but don’t tell me how hard I and others work at what we do when you have absolutely no idea!

  24. 28
    Pluto

    Nobody is doubting anybody’s work Ethic. We are all having to work harder.
    Just go over to John Archibald’s Cubicle and ask him for your fucking Education.
    Oh by the way – sent John an e-mail telling him that I admire his ethics for making a stand. He replied and thanked me.
    Perhaps one day you will appreciate John’s Views and heed the Lessons.
    Instead of being an Suck-Ass for Colonel Tom.

  25. 29
    CrimsonChicken

    John’s desk is next to mine and he feels the same way I do.

    You obviously are realizing your own ignorance of the situation and are trying to make up with it with profanity.

    I’ve said my piece and defended the newspaper. If you don’t like it, you don’t have to subscribe or read it. It will be your loss.

    Roll Tide!

  26. 30
    John Cooper

    CrimsonChicken:

    There are two aspects of the electronic bingo craziness that the News has actually covered editorially.
    1. Mostly, whether it should be allowed at all, &, to an extent & recently,
    2. Associated governmental corruption.

    As for (1), Since the beginning of the controversy up to the point when Tyson started bounding about like a bull Mobile alligator in rut, the News’ firm editorial stand has been a loud & resounding “NO!” Why? I would be even less likely to be caught dead in a bingo joint than I would in a “real” casino, but apparently lots of people like the things, & lots of other people like the employment. Does it constitute a sort of unofficial regressive “tax” on the people least able to afford it? I guess. But at least it’s voluntary, & the paper ought to shy away from actively helping the government at any level stick its collective nose into private citizens’ private affairs. That’s why I think hand-wringing over the industry per se is a “non-issue.” Turn the seamy little critters loose & rely on zoning ordinance to control it.

    As for (2), go wild. Now, that’s an issue. Seems to me that the up/down vote offered a pair of alternatives; prohibition vs favoritism in some form for Alabama’s pre-exisitng organized gambling lords. That’s an unacceptable stand. Don’t stand there. As for LaLa’s winnings, yep, y’all told me about that allegation. If it’s true then some folks besides our late unlamented mayor should be headed for the hoosegow. Show me some fine investigative reporting along the lines of the JeffCo sewer or 2-year college system scam reporting. I’ll applaud that, & any supporting editorial stand, as much as I applaud the News’ stand on abolishing the sales tax on groceries or replacement of the state constitution. Not only is the implied political bribery totally unacceptable, but also if the damned machines can be fixed to produce individually targeted winners then they can be fixed to produce losers as well. No one, including bingo addicts, bingo hall employees or opponents of out-of-control government mandates & prohibitions like me, should be anything but happy with exposure of that sort of stuff. So? Go wild. Track that wary Pulitzer to its lair. I eagerly await the results. Tick, tick,…

    And, again, why downsize Ms. Crazy? Man, now *that’s* crazy.

    Say hello to JA on my behalf, since he’s at your elbow. Apart from the editorial stances mentioned above, his column is one of the few things left to admire about the News. If your paper wasn’t the only game left in town I’d probably take your advice to Pluto.

    Prof

  27. 31
    capstonereport

    A few comments.

    A newspaper has no obligation to cover Auburn, UAB, etc. A newspaper’s only obligation is to make money.

    There is no real justification for devoting limited resources to irrelevant items like UAB. I could make a strong case that it is wasteful to have a beat writer assigned to Auburn too. I won’t.

    I will argue that Newhouse (or Advance or whatever the hell the company calls itself these days) has a history of hiring professionals to cover Alabama (ie: Rapoport, Kausler) and a history of hiring rubes to cover Auburn (ie: Marshall and Goldberg.)

    As for the loss of not reading the Birmingham News, I have to laugh. I ended my subscription in January when the paper named an AU fan as its publisher. I haven’t missed it. It allows me to spend more time reading the WSJ, FT and NYT. And I can do that without having to throw away all that damn newsprint.

    One word of advice that my first publisher told me. Every complaint from a reader is just a compliment in disguise. They want your paper to be better because they recognize how important it is to the community.

    Instead of being so defensive, it might be a better idea to take the criticism of readers and filter it for ways to improve the product. Pluto and the Prof have outlined several problems with the newspaper. The chief concern is the paper is thinner and contains less information than it did in years past. How do you fix that while maintaining the critical ad ratio?

    I had lunch on Friday with a friend of mine who still owns a few newspapers. We talked a little about that exact problem. There isn’t an easy answer.

    I told him my theory is to refocus. The old newspapers in the 1940s and 1950s were better than what we have today. Why? Because newspapers then (if you look in the archives of the big city papers) knew their purpose.

    I’d argue most major dailies do not know their purpose. When I worked for a large newspaper company, they required all the papers to develop a mission statement. I’m not big on mission statements, so in typical antisocial fashion I crafted my newspapers mission statement: “To be an exhaustive source of news and information for our community while making buckets of money.” All the other mission statements I saw from other papers in the company included things about being a community servant, etc.

    But when I looked over these newspapers and my own paper, I had to ask myself how much of what we delivered really met the goal? How much is in the newspaper that really can’t be found anywhere else?

    For newspapers to survive, the newspaper must become much more fanatical about delivering unique content that matters to readers. And when people tell you they aren’t getting that, stop arguing with them and try to figure out why they don’t think they are getting value.

  28. 32
    John Cooper

    Capstonereport:

    You’re a journalist. I’m not, so I presume here. Your last paragraph is comforting but your first isn’t. “A newspaper’s only obligation is to make money.” is straightforward, & may even be true, but it presents a pretty gloomy picture. If reporting the news is even an additional obligation for a newspaper then the most fertile field for potential coverage here in Alabama has got to be the incredible, pervasive & multilevel political & private sector corruption that’s apparently become a simple matter of business-as-usual here. Gonna be hard to make money stepping on the rancid collection of highly placed toes that will be necessary.

    What sort of buy-out, for example, displaced Ginny MacDonald? Remember, the beginning of this discussion ‘way up above originated with the spiking of John Achibald’s “missing” column. My curiosity about that is what attracted me here.

    Since the News won’t discuss this sort of internal matter, I gotta wonder if Ms. Crazy hadn’t gotten just too much DOT or major contractor toe jam on the soles of her shoes, or something like that. Forced buy-out? Who knows? Not me. Who’s gonna tell me? An investigative reporter from the News? Maybe a letter to the editor. That’s the idea!

    It’s discouraging.

    Prof

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