Just over a week after editorial staffers at the Press-Register and other Alabama Media Group-run newspapers across the state were brought in to have management “raise a glass” to them for helping the al.com website collect nearly a billion clicks last year, some of those very staffers were abruptly fired this past Monday.
According to insiders, Press-Register reporters Tommy Hicks, Thyrie Bland and Sally Ericson — last year’s Nappie Award winner for best al.com reporter — were dismissed along with community news director Randy Kennedy and managing producer Jackie Byrd. Gareth Clary, who oversaw editorial duties at The Mississippi Press in Pascagoula, also was released according to inside sources. One other local staffer was fired, although who it was could not be verified before press time.
Staffers were apparently called into a 9:30 a.m. meeting Monday and met individually by Alabama Media Group Vice President of Content Michelle Holmes, who informed them the company was undergoing some restructuring, offered a severance and told them it would be their last day. Several of those who were fired had been with the paper for several years or even decades.
According to those familiar with the company’s inner workings, a total of nine reporters were fired across the state, along with at least one other community news director — a position akin to what was once called the newspaper’s editor. The dismissal of nine reporters would represent more than a 10 percent reduction in AMG’s overall reporter pool one source placed at between 70 and 80 scribes.
Efforts to get any comment from Holmes or other AMG leadership was, as usual, unsuccessful. However, a letter sent to AMG employees by Holmes was leaked by Monday afternoon and it offered some explanations for the firings.
“Today, we made a variety of changes in our staff. In our quest to constantly focus on a sustainable future, we have had to make some very tough decisions about which positions and who best fits into that future…. We have been clear for the last several months that we are regularly assessing our staffing needs, our skills and our overall performance in building and serving our audiences. Today’s moves are part of that process,” Holmes wrote. “As you know, we have recently hired several people in different roles, and we have job postings active for others. We remain committed to building this company, ensuring we have the right people in the right roles and adding to the overall skills and abilities of our teams in all locations.”
The new round of layoffs come at a time when Randy Siegel, president of Advance Local, the highest-ranking non-Newhouse member of Advance Publications, has made the bold claims the company’s digital advertising gains will exceed print newspaper ad losses this year.
“Our local sales and marketing teams have leveraged their entrepreneurial abilities and expansive digital knowledge to prove they can grow digital ad revenue faster than we’re losing print ad revenue,” Siegel wrote to employees early this month. “In 2015, our local leadership teams plan to generate higher total ad revenue in every one of our markets, reversing a longstanding trend of decline.”
But even with those predictions of an improved financial future for the company’s digital offerings, Siegel’s letter also foreshadowed more cuts, which may have been realized — at least in part — in this week’s firings.
“It’s clear we’re on the right path to building sustainable, thriving media organizations. But this journey will take a little longer and be a little harder than we originally anticipated, which is why we continue to need to recalibrate our expenses,” he wrote.
Still, while the company has clearly placed its money on digital and predicts bold growth this very year, the layoffs — along with AMG’s stubborn refusal to stop throwing largely unwanted advertising circulars Yes and Bargain Finder, despite the mayor’s office declaring them a major source of litter — might suggest they’re still not very sure of the digital future. Whether Siegel’s plans to further reduce print losses could include more job cuts and reduced printing remains to be seen this year.
Washington Brantley mourned
Longtime Press-Register reporter Cheryl Renee Washington Brantley passed away after a long illness Jan. 23.
Brantley worked as a lifestyle reporter and design editor for more than 20 years. She was the wife of reporter and photographer Michael Brantley.
Her remains will lie in state on Jan. 30 from 1 p.m. – 8 p.m. at Small’s Mortuary in Mobile and visitation will take place the next day from 9 a.m. – 10:30 a.m. at Aimwell Missionary Baptist Church. Her funeral will take place following the visitation. In lieu of flowers, memorials may be made to the Lupus Foundation of America (www.lupus.org) and the National Kidney Foundation (www.kidney.org/support).
John and Johnna back at WABD
Following the departure of Glenn “QTip” Johnson, a pair of old names are returning to the local airwaves to fill his spot.
John Marty and Johnna Farmer, who had previously been heard on the former WABB-FM, are returning to the air Feb. 2.
“I couldn’t be happier to be back in one of the best cities on the Gulf Coast and working again at an amazing and legendary station! I can’t wait to work with Johnna again! I’m a lucky guy to be able to come back home to great people and a great station!” Marty said in a press release.
Johnson left the air recently to pursue his fiancée Cherish Lombard, who took a job with a TV station in Nashville. Johnson said he hasn’t quite figured it all out yet as far as what he’ll be doing in the Music City, but he has a few irons in the fire.
“Cherish and I talked about what cities we would leave for if either one of got an offer and Nashville was my number one pick. The reason was because of all the opportunities. I love radio, but I also love the music industry. So I am talking with Cumulus right now on options of joining the Nashville cluster of stations in some way, but I’m also looking toward the industry side also,” Johnson said.
He added that his fellow WABDer, Nick Fox, is also headed to Nashville.