Two weeks ago, Birmingham News publisher Pam Siddall told newsroom employees that rumors of cuts as deep as 50 percent of staff were ridiculous, but when the ax fell Tuesday morning, the cuts were even deeper, with 60 percent of newsroom staff potentially losing their jobs and many more being let go in other departments throughout the company.
On Tuesday morning, staff at all three of Advance Publication’s Alabama newspapers — the Birmingham News, the Mobile Press-Register and the Huntsville Times — as well as employees at the New Orleans Times-Picayune, began having one-on-one meetings with managers. Birmingham staff who spoke to Weld said that the number of employees keeping their jobs was well within the minority. Of the 102 positions in the Birmingham newsroom, 62 were slated for layoffs, according to a document circulating in the newsroom. Another 41 positions would be cut from other departments, about 20 percent of non-newsroom employees.
The employees being cut will be offered severance packages, but those employees will be asked to work through the end of September to be eligible for severance benefits.
Layout and design at the three Alabama newspapers will be consolidated in Birmingham, but it is unclear whether that means Birmingham employees will get priority for the remaining jobs or if they will be competing for those jobs with other Advance employees at the other two newspapers.
Throughout the newsroom, it appears that many of the reporters who have held key beats with high byline counts have been offered jobs at the new company, although the jobs come with obscure titles, such as “buzz reporter” and are all but void of job descriptions.
Reporters from the News’ zoned editions and outlying community reporters have been heaviest hit, along with desk editors and copy editors, sources said.
In an official statement Tuesday, the company reported that statewide 400 employees will lose their jobs as Advance Publications shifts its assets in Alabama to two new companies, the Alabama Media Group and Advance Central Services Alabama.
“The new companies plan to post more than 100 vacant positions for which all current employees are eligible to apply,” the company said in a statement. “Many of these vacant positions, some of which will be posted at al.com later this week, are specifically created to address the needs of the new companies’ digital focus.”
The cuts Tuesday follow weeks of speculation since the New York Times first reported that Advance Publications would make drastic changes at the four newspapers. Those changes will include cutting printing to three days per week, and shifting editorial and advertising resources to a digital-first focus.
What the new company will look like is still a mystery to many of its employees. Desks will be consolidated among the three Alabama newspapers, and each city will have a “digital hub.” When several employees asked what their new job titles meant, the editors meeting with them told them that they didn’t know.