Filling the News Void

Where do you turn if you live in Birmingham and can’t stand the loss of your daily print newspaper? Maybe turn west toward Tuscaloosa.

The Tuscaloosa News, just about 60 miles away, is determined to continue a seven-day-a-week print schedule, said Publisher Jim Rainey. And it has responded to requests from Birmingham residents by adding two home delivery routes on the south side of its bigger neighbor.

“This is not a full-court press, ” said Rainey. “That would require a lot of infrastructure and investment.” But his paper is looking at Birmingham, evaluating the opportunity.

“If we do it, we want to do it well, ” said Rainey, who has been back in Alabama less than two months after a stint in Texas. Earlier in his career he worked for the Opelika/Auburn News.

Although papers in Birmingham, Mobile and Huntsville changed this fall to a three-day-a-week print schedule, news is still available from the cities without dailies, Rainey said. Writers are covering the news daily for digital versions of the papers and sharing it with the Associated Press, as before.

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Meanwhile, Montgomery Advertiser Publisher Sam Martin wrote in an editorial Nov. 5 that his paper is committed to a daily print schedule, but also expanding options to offer more digital content to subscribers. “It’s our content itself that’s most valuable to our customers, ” wrote Martin, whether they choose a digital or print version.

Alternative papers also enter the mix. The weekly publication Lagniappe in Mobile has received many requests from readers to increase its frequency, said Publisher Rob Holbert. “We’ve very openly discussed it, ” he said. “We’re not coy about it. We think it would be a good thing for the community.” But he faces that same dilemma that faced his daily rival — is the money there to support it?  “The readers want it, but can we get the advertising to do it?” Holbert asks.

“We are trying to fill the news gap better, ” Holbert said, but noted that the whole discussion is in the midst of “a collective breath holding” to see just what’s happened and where it will go.

And, said Holbert, he is frustrated that Advance Media Group let so many staffers go and is now trying to lure his freelancers onto their staff to replace their dismissed workers.

Mark Kelly, publisher of the weekly Weld for Birmingham, said he’s been approached about a more frequent publication, too, but it’s just not in his company’s business model.

“It doesn’t make sense for us to think about being a daily, ” said Kelly. “It’s not just a resource issue, but it’s not the smartest business plan in this market. The main thing is to get the content daily, and that’s what we’re trying to build in.”

Weld is partnering with CBS 42, sharing content and reporting resources, partnering with a local radio station and encouraging local bloggers to share their insights via Weld — all to augment the proprietary content being prepared by Weld’s seven employees.

“The average person has six to eight websites they check each day, and we’d like to be one of those — to be able to compete with anyone on that basis, ” said Kelly.

Nedra Bloom

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