Three of Alabama’s largest newspapers, The Birmingham News, The Huntsville Times and the Press-Register in Mobile, will drop daily circulation this fall and distribute printed editions three days a week.
Meanwhile, all three will put new emphasis on their al.com website.
The three newspapers will be delivered to homes and sold in stores on Wednesdays, Fridays and Sundays.
Cindy Martin, president and CEO of al.com, said rapid advances in how readers engage news content is driving the change and should “position us to be a healthy, growing company.”
Employees of three Advance Publications newspapers were informed of the changes Thursday morning and were told there will be unspecified staff reductions. Employees said they had been hearing speculation about a big announcement for a couple of weeks, but the scope of the announcement was a surprise. All expressed concern for the future of their jobs in the restructured publications.
In an email to employees, Advance Publications said many current employees will be offered jobs with the two new companies, but the workforce will be smaller. Also, printing of The Huntsville Times will be moved to Birmingham in mid-July.
Similar changes were announced Thursday for one of their sister publications, The Times-Picayune in New Orleans. They mirror changes that Advance Publications began making at its Michigan newspapers in 2009.
The three Alabama papers announced on al.com that a new digitally focused company called the Alabama Media Group will launch this fall and will include all three papers and al.com, which carries content from thee three papers. Martin will be president. A second company, Advance Central Services Alabama, will handle production, distribution, technology, finances and human resources and will be led by current Birmingham News President and Publisher Pam Siddall.
The changes come as the circulation of the printed newspapers declines and al.com gets more users.
According to the Audit Bureau of Circulations, The Birmingham News’ circulation of 103,729 is down 29 percent from five years ago; the Press-Register’s of 82,088 is down 18 percent; The Huntsville Times’ of 44,725 is down 15 percent.
Jennifer Greer, chair of the Journalism Department at the University of Alabama, said Monday, Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday papers have been a financial drag for newspaper companies, but the Wednesday, Friday and Sunday papers have enough advertising to make money.
“If I were a publisher, I would have come to the same decision from a business standpoint,” she said. But she said it’s a big change from the days when parents cut out a newspaper article or picture of their child playing in a sports event and mailed it to the grandparents to keep for years.
Felicia Mason, executive director of the Alabama Press Association, said the three newspapers are doing what some papers in major cities have already done. She said the three newspapers will still be gathering and disseminating news that is of vital importance to their cities, but will be distributing it in a way that reflects changing times.
Advance Publications’ president of local digital strategy, Randy Siegel, didn’t say how much money the reduced print runs in Louisiana and Alabama would save, nor how many staff members would be laid off or hired in the new online units.
The online editions for the Alabama and Louisiana newspapers will remain free, he said.
Martin said the Wednesday, Friday and Sunday newspapers will be have enhanced offerings, particularly in sports and entertainment, and will contain a full week’s worth of puzzles and comics in three days of publication. She said they also will have more focus on local news.
Copyright 2012 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.