A sudden round of unannounced layoffs hit the Press-Register Tuesday morning, with at least eight members of the editorial staff getting the axe. Several were longtime staffers and names that should be familiar to readers.

The layoff meetings were apparently ongoing as Lagniappe prepared to go to press, but as of noon Tuesday we were told the list of those laid off 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. There reportedly were similar cuts Tuesday at The Huntsville Times, the Birmingham News and Alabama Media Group’s Tuscaloosa office, according to insiders.

P-R staffers told Lagniappe David Magee, AMG’s senior director of content, was in town Tuesday and meeting with staffers as they were being laid off. Attempts to get any comment from AMG leadership, as usual, went unanswered. Lagniappe has been told severance packages were offered to those who lost their jobs, although terms were not clear.

In the past, P-R severance packages offered a week’s pay for every year of service. They have also included clauses preventing former employees from discussing terms and other details about the newspaper.

Some who work for the P-R/al.com in Mobile had feared a new round of layoffs was imminent when it was announced in June the Newhouse-owned properties in Alabama, Mississippi and Louisiana were going to be put together as one company called the Southeast Regional Media Group, and it would be overseen by former P-R publisher Ricky Mathews.

Mathews oversaw the most dramatic cuts at the P-R during his tenure and then handled the layoffs and reduction in print days at the Times-Picayune in New Orleans as publisher there. Many former and current employees consider him a company “axe man” who is used primarily to reduce employee costs as opposed to actually running the newspaper.

In January six editorial staffers were laid off at the P-R and over the past few months five more reporters and a content manager (aka editor) have also left. Baldwin County reporter Marc Anderson left the paper just last week to take a position with Brett/Robinson Realty as content manager of its marketing department. Police reporter Theresa Seiger is also reportedly leaving to take another job.

The latest layoffs mean at least 20 members of the editorial staff have either quit or been fired since January.

“It’s so devastating to see my former colleagues treated this way,” one former staffer said. “I’ve given up trying to understand the rationale behind these decisions.”

Showers inducted into 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.

I think it would be safe to call Showers a Mobile television institution. It’s doubtful many can remember watching television news locally without him being on the air.  

Showers is a Mobile native, who started work with WKRG in the late ‘60s after joining the Air Force upon graduation from high school. He worked as a military intelligence analyst in the Far East, Middle East and other parts of the world before returning to Mobile, attending Bishop State College before landing a job at WKRG.

As a reporter Mel handled courts, police, the Alabama Legislature and both Mobile city and county governments. In 1980 he made the move to the anchor desk, where he’s spent the past 35 years.

“Mel has been an exemplary ambassador for the broadcasting profession and even more so for WKRG,” WKRG General Manager Mark Bunting said in an online story. “Mel Showers is a broadcasting icon in this community and in this state.”

Showers’ induction ceremony took place in Birmingham.

GCM launching Baldwin Times
Readers of the Gulf Coast Media newspapers will soon be getting a new countywide newspaper called The Baldwin Times.

GCM announced the move in print late last week. According to the announcement, readers of The Times-Independent, The Courier, The Foley Onlooker and The Islander all will begin receiving the countywide Times on Fridays starting Sept. 4. The new newspaper will replace their regular papers on Fridays.

“Each Wednesday, readers will still receive their local newspaper, but now on Friday, The Baldwin Times will replace the Friday version of the local newspaper at no additional cost,” the announcement read.

Publisher Parks Rogers didn’t offer many details about the new publication when contacted.

“Yes, we are preparing to launch a countywide newspaper. There will be a letter to our readers in an upcoming issue of our newspapers explaining the new publication and the many benefits readers will find,” Rogers wrote in response to an email inquiry.

The full-page announcement that ran last week offered a little more indication of what GCM intends to do with the Times. Rogers replaced Sudie Gambrell as publisher earlier this year.

“The new Baldwin Times will cover news and issues important to the whole of Baldwin County and include a comprehensive calendar of events and activities for the entire week,” it read.

Whether this will ultimately mean all of GCM’s papers will be absorbed by The Baldwin Times is not clear. Most of those newspapers have a long history in Baldwin County. The Times-Independent started in 1890, The Courier in 1894 and the Onlooker in 1907. The Islander is the youngster of the group, having been established in 1977.