With this being Mobile’s first full year in more than 150 years without a daily newspaper, there’s little doubt what the biggest media story for 2013 was. The continued changes at the Press-Register/a.com definitely took up a lot of space in this column over this year.
But there were plenty of other big media stories over the year, so let’s take a look back at some of the biggest.
• The tragic death of MDi Media President James Ellis on Dec. 27 last year after being struck by a car while crossing Government Street ultimately led to big changes at one of the city’s best-known advertising agencies and the emergence of a new firm. As Ellis’ widow Bridgett Murray-Ellis became involved in the company, four of MDi’s longtime leaders bailed out and started their own firm. This included Ellis’ partner of 15 years Don Davis, as well as Meridith South, David Barnette and Ira Patrick.
Their new firm is called Davis, South, Barnette & Patrick and it has already made a name for itself.
• After nine years running the show at WALA-TV, new director Bob Cashen took off for a position with WSET-TV in Lynchburg, Va. in October. Cashen had been one of the longest-serving NDs in town and his move seemed to come unexpectedly.
• More than 11 years after starting Lagniappe, we announced in October it was time for us to increase our publishing output to once a week. The decision came as a result of our belief the city needs and can support more news. So beginning in April 2014, you’ll be getting twice as much Lagniappe. Won’t that be nice.
• Definitely one of the stranger media stories of the year involved a blogger named Roger Shuler who has gained either statewide fame or infamy depending upon your point of view writing under the name “The Legal Schnauzer.”
Shuler has used his blog to nip at the heels of primarily the state’s Republican leadership, and some of what he’s blogged about has been pretty out there. Shuler has written about sordid affairs he claims are being had by Attorney General Luther Strange as well as former Gov. Bob Riley’s son Rob. He’s named names and made some very salacious claims. As a result, Riley and others have sued him for libel.
But the strange part is that Shuler has now been sitting in jail without bond for nearly two months after refusing to respond properly to Riley’s suit. Circuit Court Judge Claud Neilson has granted Riley an injunction that essentially has the state committing what’s called “prior restraint” by barring Shuler from writing any more about Riley.
• In 2013, some local newspapers were looking to lighten their loads from a real estate perspective. Both the Press-Register and Gulf Coast Newspapers put their offices on the blocks. In the case of the Press-Register, it’s relatively new complex on Water Street seems to have found a buyer in Bishop State Community College.
Bishop appears to be willing to take over the large building and even its huge German-made printing press. The press would be leased back to the P-R for use in its printing operations.
As for Gulf Coast Newspapers, no word yet as to whether there are interested parties who would like to pick up its warehouse and offices in Robertsdale. Like the P-R, GCN is also looking for a buyer for it’s 12,000-square-foot facility who would be willing to lease back parts of the operation.
• Internet radio took some strides in Mobile in 2013. The University of South Alabama’s station,º The Prowl, is up and running, offering a classic college radio experience. And on the cyber airwaves, ModMobillian Radio started up this year. We’ll have to listen up to see how these grow over time.
• The changes since the Press-Register has gone to thrice-a-week publishing and the fallout that has accompanied it has certainly been the biggest media story in this area over the past two years. As the reduced schedule has been going for more than a year now, some effects are beginning to show. One of those has been in dramatically reduced circulation.
An Alliance for Audited Media snapshot from September showed the paper having dropped roughly 13 percent of its circulation when non-branded publications were taken out of the mix. Those are primarily the advertising pieces being delivered under the name Yes. Those kinds of declines over a six-month period were mirrored in Birmingham and Huntsville as well.
• Without doubt the single biggest media event of the year in our area was spawned by the disabled Carnival ship Triumph being brought into port after days adrift with no power and less-than-hygienic conditions.
We were descended upon by legions of national media types, some of whom took time while reporting on the disgusting situation aboard the Triumph to also tell their viewers some nice things about Mobile. All in all, Mobile probably came out ahead from a PR standpoint. Carnival Cruises? Not so much.
When I was a kid playing baseball I always tried to get the number 13. Maybe it’s a contrarian streak, maybe I thought I’d be bad luck for the other team or maybe I like the idea of a “baker’s dozen” when I’m buying doughnuts. Whatever the reason, I’ve always liked the number 13.
So I’m kind of sad to see it go as we close down what was by far the best year ever for this publication. Now half way through our 11th year publishing in the Azalea City, we have enough history to tell when we’ve had a major change, and this year has been one.
We’ve had lots of great stories to cover, especially with seemingly dozens of elections. But beyond the editorial side of things, 2013 has seen a great improvement from a business standpoint — one that has given us the confidence to take the publication weekly in April.
Of course we’re still a small newspaper and have lots left to do, but we feel like the support and need are out there for a weekly newspaper that will try to fill some of the news gaps that exist in our community.
Thank you to all the readers and advertisers who have supported us. We hope we’ll continue to earn your support in 2014.