Corporations are not people, my friends.
With apologies to Mitt Romney, that declaration is not intended to resurrect the long and bitter political season just ended. Indeed, this particular column is not political at all, but deeply personal. As such, my converse appropriation of the erstwhile Republican standard bearer’s assertion that corporate entities are, in fact, corporeal is a convenient means of getting at some feelings I am led to express — feelings about a particular corporation and about a few people.
The corporation is Advance Publications. Advance owns the Condé Nast family of magazines–The New Yorker, Architectural Digest, Golf Digest, House & Garden, Glamour, GQ, Vanity Fair, and the eponymous Traveler are a few of its more prominent titles. It owns the cable television giant Bright House Networks. It owns American City Business Journals, the parent company of the Birmingham Business Journal and 39 other metropolitan weekly business newspapers around the country. Among other newspaper and internet concerns, it owns the Alabama Media Group, which operates AL.com and The Birmingham News.
According to Forbes magazine—which it does not own—Advance is the 49th-largest privately-held company in the United States, with annual revenues estimated at $6.55 billion. It is the nation’s second-largest media company.
And it is scared to death of Weld.
That is what I surmise, at least, from the fact that they keep hiring people away from us, having apparently figured out that you can do things like that when you take in a cool six-and-a-half bil per annum and have proved—about 400 times over with the folks you’ve fired in Alabama alone—that you don’t really give a damn about people’s livelihoods, or have any desire to compete on a level playing field. I know it’s a shocker for all you aspiring journalists out there, but yes, Alabama Media Group can pay you more than Weld can—and, at the same time, considerably less than the seasoned journalist whose job, or at least parking space, you probably took.
It’s not just Weld, of course. Advance has done or is doing the same kind of thing in other markets, most notably New Orleans and Mobile, where it has done away with daily newspapers of long standing and is spending most of every day trying vainly to apply lipstick to its pig of a website. The M.O. is the same in each locale: make draconian cuts to the workforce, refill roughly 60 percent of the positions cut with mostly younger, lower-salaried people, and do things like rebrand a Pulitzer Prize-winning editorialist with the vaguely Orwellian title of “community engagement specialist” and expect people to accept your assurance that all is hunky-dory.
And yet, Weld has lost three good people to this monstrosity. Kyle Whitmire, Madison Underwoood and Jesse Chambers are talented men. (I could also include a woman, Glenny Brock, in this musing about onetime Welders, but I’ll have to shoehorn her in, as she has not turned up at AMG, at least not yet; she’s teaching and, God bless her, saving the historic Lyric Theater). Individually and collectively, these folks made journalistic contributions to our company for which I will be appreciative in perpetuity.
I should be clear here that I expect these men to continue to do good work. I should be even more clear that I wish them the very best professionally and personally, and that I hold no grudge against any one of them for taking what each judged to be a better opportunity at the present time. I do respectfully disagree with the judgment they seem to have made about the relative long-term prospects of that enterprise versus ours.
I’ve been thinking about this since a couple of Monday nights ago, when I strolled into the watering hole we both favor and found Kyle seated at the bar. Somehow, it was the first time we’d run into each other since his departure from Weld back in July. At that time, I made some very blunt statements about him as a business partner. I have stood by those statements, but I also recognize that sometimes people who go into business together part ways on less than gracious terms, each in the right in his or her own view. It doesn’t—shouldn’t—mean that feelings can’t be tempered by time.
Anyhow, running into Kyle reminded me of some of the reasons he and I became friends in the first place. We didn’t have any heart-to-heart, or anything much else beyond political gab and a few good laughs—the latter especially after Madison came in later—but I don’t mind saying that I left with a certain lightness in my heart.
I feel no such lightness, however, toward the corporation that employs Kyle, Madison, Jesse and a number of other fine journalists of my acquaintance. To a person, I respect their work, but I do not respect the entity for which they work. I know them to be people who care deeply about their community, but anyone can see that their employer does not.
It’s a quandary, the quandary of working in a changing landscape for local journalism—a landscape in which our nimble little media company is obliged to compete with a lumbering giant that is wounded, bewildered and after our lunch money. I’m not going to solve that quandary in the space remaining, so I’m just going to go now and make sure everyone who was at Weld this morning is still here this afternoon. Then I’m going to get my usual good night’s sleep and go at it again tomorrow.