Looking back at 2015 there are a number of notable stories in the Alabama media world. From the city fighting to keep the Press-Register’s circulars from littering streets to Mel Showers getting a much-deserved award, it was a pretty active media year.
Here’s a look back at some of the more important media issues from this year in no particular order.
In mid January, the Alabama Media Group kicked the year off with another round of layoffs, dismissing Press-Register reporters Tommy Hicks, Thyrie Bland and Sally Ericson, 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.
Editorial staffers in Birmingham and Huntsville were also released, while at the same time the company put out a press release predicting financial growth for the year and also claiming digital advertising growth would outpace the revenue losses in print for 2015.
A second round of cuts took place in August, which included outdoor reporter Jeff Dute and photographers Mike Brantley and Mike Kittrell. Reporters Kelli Dugan, Angela Levins, Debbie Lord, Michael Finch and Tamara Ikenberg also were fired.
Similar cuts also took place in Huntsville and Birmingham as well.
Mobile County Probate Court Judge Don Davis announced on his website Feb. 2 that the P-R would no longer be able to handle legal notices associated with his court due to what Davis said were repeated instances of improperly handling the ads and billing. The P-R is one of three publications in Mobile County allowed by law to handle legal advertisements — the others being the Citronelle Call News and the Mobile Beacon.
Davis later lifted the ban after P-R leaders promised to correct the problems.
Circulars go round and round
Perhaps the biggest media issue of the year was the fight between the city of Mobile and the Press-Register over the massive unsolicited throwing of advertising “circulars” into yards across the city and county.
The P-R’s Yes and Bargain Finder (later changed to Coastal Life) products — essentially bags of advertising inserts wrapped in a single sheet of newsprint — were singled out by Mayor Stimpson’s administration as playing a big role in the city’s litter problem. Citing their First Amendment rights, the P-R continued throwing these products, along with free newspapers, into the yards and properties where they were not requested.
The city eventually passed a new litter ordinance, but took the teeth out of it regarding the P-R’s circulars, fearful of an expensive lawsuit with the multi-billion-dollar company.
While the company maintained its ability to toss unsolicited newspapers and circulars, the problem appears to have at least become less prominent over the latter part of the year.
In March a Lagniappe reporter and a Press-Register reporter were both tossed from a Bayou la Batre work session after questioning why they were being forced to move from two seats near the City Council podium, a television reporter was allowed to stand in the same spot and record.
Lagniappe reporter Jason Johnson and P-R reporter Michael Finch were both escorted out of the meeting by a Bayou la Batre police officer after then-Mayor Brett Dungan ordered them removed prior to the meeting’s start. The city clerk asked them to move from two chairs they were occupying near the council podium. When Finch asked why, the clerk said they were too close and would be able to hear what councilors whispered to one another. The clerk contended that only things said through the microphone were public.
Code readers coming
In local TV perhaps the biggest story of the year is that code readers have entered the market.
The Code Readers electronically keep track of what viewers taking part in ratings surveys are watching versus the old method of using a diary to manually write down what they watched. So far, across the country, many markets have seen the disparity between first and last tighten considerably.
The first official numbers should be coming out soon, but the early peeks appear to have tightened things a bit between first and last. Whether it will mean a total change in which station dominates local ratings remains to be seen.
Trice wins national column writing award
Our own Ashley Toland Trice gave Lagniappe its first national first place writing award this year when she won in the general column category for newspapers under 45,000 circulation in the 2015 Association of Alternative Newsmedia Awards.
Trice had been announced as one of three finalists in May. Her win was announced at the AAN annual conference in Salt Lake City.
Trice submitted three humorous and poignant columns, one dealing with Parties for Children on Pinterest, another about her mother and a third on getting a mammogram. She was up against columns by Terry Gibson from the Colorado Springs Independent and columns by Kevin Allman and Clancy Dubos of Gambit in New Orleans.
Showers in HOF
After almost a half century reporting and anchoring the news for WKRG, Mel Showers was inducted into the Alabama Broadcasters Hall of Fame this past weekend.
Showers is practically synonymous with TV news in Mobile, so it was a well-deserved award.
It was also announced earlier this year that the Alabama Media Group — made up of the Press-Register, Huntsville Times, Birmingham News and Mississippi Press, would become part of the Southeast Regional Media Group, which would put the AMG properties and Newhouse’s publications and websites under one corporate roof.
With that, former Press-Register Publisher Ricky Mathews was placed back over the Mobile publication. The move will centralize much of the design and printing work for all of the newspapers, as well as the business and accounting wings. The announcement was also accompanied by large layoffs at the Times-Picayune in New Orleans.