By Bill Britt
Alabama Political Reporter
BIRMINGHAM—September 24, 2012, may well have been the last day that the “Birmingham News,” “The Huntsville Times” and “The Press-Register” of Mobile published their Monday newspaper.
Love or hate what was written or the editorial bias, real or perceived, the slow decline of those publication is bad news.
It is bad news, for freedom or the press, freedom of speech and society at large.
This is not to argue if the papers themselves were good or interesting but that there are least days that news is reported and fewer ways of receiving news.
The generalized reason given for the slow death of newspapers is the rise of the Internet. That in itself is not wholly true, many forces have gone into the decline of newsprint, not the least of which have been the self-inflicted wounds.
The Newspaper Association of America has reported that newspaper advertising has fallen by two-thirds from $60 billion in the late-1990s to $20 billion in 2011.
The soaring newsprint prices, slumping ad sales, the loss of much classified advertising and precipitous drops in circulation have all taken there toll but other industries have seen such cuts and continue to survive without the drastic downsizing seen in the newspaper industry.
A 2011, “Editor & Publisher” report stated, “”The great majority of America’s 1200 daily newspapers are doing pretty well,” said editor Mark Fitzgerald. “Even some of the big papers in the most troubled chains are still churning out profit margins in the high teens. That’s three or four times the margins of Exxon Mobil.”
Yet, those profit margins were not enough, because it is the stock price that matters for most of these publicly held companies. Newspapers traditionally are used to huge profits and not just 10 or 11 percent.
In a recent article by Alan D. Mutter, he points out that, “Of the 11 publicly held newspaper companies, the stock of only one – the broadly diversified News Corp. – gained ground in the last 12 months. [Take News Corps.] stock price out of the mix, the average plunge in newspaper share value last year was 30.1 percent. This compares with a 5.5 percent increase in the Dow Jones average of 30 industrial stocks and the flat performance of the Standard & Poor’s 500-stock index, which gained a meager 0.04 percent after a year of dramatic market swings.”
When a stock looses 30 percent of its value stockholders demand changes.
Even though Billionaire Warren Buffett has gotten a lot of attention for buying Media General and its 63 publications in a $143-million deal, stockholders don’t share his vision of a bright future for the print news media. Of course, Buffett didn’t say he loved print but, he was committed to community journalism.
Advance Publications, owned by the Newhouse family, is not a public company so their concerns for profit would seem to have more flexibility. As of 2009, it was ranked as the 46th largest private company in the United States according to “Forbes.” Yet management decided to scale back the printed editions of Alabama’s three top newspapers to three days a week and impose staff cuts as a way to reduce costs. Under the banner of Al.com the three news organization will shift emphasis to what it says will be expanded online coverage.
So far, the jury seems to have come in with mixed reviews on the new product.
While there is little doubt that the rise of the Internet has accompanied the decline of newsprint it is not the whole story.
Data accumulated by the Audit Bureau of Circulations has shown that papers with a circulation of 25,000 or more had a 21 percent drop in circulation between 2007 and 2012.
This is in part due to the way people are receiving information through computers, iPads, Kindles, and mobile phones.
However, there is a trust factor that has led to discarded print newspapers.
According to a study by the Pew Research Center for the People & the Press, many major news organizations have suffered declines in believability since 2002. Pew found that after local TV news, the next five most trusted outlets were “60 Minutes,” “ABC News,” “The Wall Street Journal,” “CNN” and “CBS News,” the study says. “The New York Times,” “Fox News” and “USA Today” were the least trusted, however “Fox News” was most trusted by Republicans.
While 54 precent said they trust the “daily newspaper they knew best,” 43 percent did not. If almost half the people in a given market do not trust a products offering it is not surprising that the products sales would falter.
In what is a sad turn of irony, local TV—which according to the study is most trusted—gets the majority of their story ideas from newspapers.
In a Red State like Alabama the “Birmingham News” has been seen by many as a left-leaning news outlet. Right or wrong perception does become a force in itself, from their stand against the popular immigration bill to the seemingly liberal bias in editorial and reporting, there has arisen a credibility gap.
Couple that with the diversity of news platforms and a downward trend is inevitable.
The likeability factor can also be followed into the media echo chamber, a place where people go to have their preconceived notions confirmed by news facts. Or put another way, media outlets with a point of view. Right or wrong, “Fox News” is seen as conservative, “MSNBC” is seen as liberal and to varying degrees, “CNN,” all playing to what is a predetermined demographic. This point of view is also seen on the web with sites like the Dailybeast.com being left of center and the Dailycaller.com being right.
Because of the low barrier of entry the Internet as spawned many news sites, some good, some awful, most with a point of view.
The web also offers lots of sports, lifestyle, entertainment and other soft news that was once upon a time the domain of newspapers then magazines.
In the new media world like the world in general news specific has overtaken general. Newspapers, still try to be all things to all people in an age when people want only what they want and want it right now.
The origins of the newspapers are to be found most notably in point of view pamphlets or tracts paid for by political organizations or wealthy individuals.
The “New York Post” was started by Alexander Hamilton to publish his version of the news at the founding of our nation. Many such papers were circulated in those days. Benjamin Franklin became wealthy and famous with “Poor Richard Almanac.”
Publishers hit on the idea of selling advertising as a profit center aligned with single sales and subscriptions. This flawed business model has continued to this day.
Because newspapers like he “Birmingham News,” “The Huntsville Times” and “The Press-Register” of Mobile were publications based on a business model of advertising, single sales and subscription their prospects were doomed even though they have lasted hundreds of years.
The reason being that war news, government activities and other things were the gateways before the advertisements.
In essence, advertising for a big box store like Target would be paying for coverage of the war in Afghanistan. In general, the advertising had nothing to do with the content of the newspaper, so the reader may or may not have interest in the product being sold.
This has also been true of the Internet but that is changing.
Time and the readers attention span does not allow for me to go into greater detail, but suffice to say if you have read this far you know the end of the newspaper is near, because you are not reading one right now.
So, a number of causes have led to the shuttering of newspapers and limited print days, not just the internet.
No one is exactly sure when the last newspaper will roll off a big press, but the day is coming. Ink on paper has had an almost six hundred year run that’s pretty good, let it bleed ink but not the blood of good journalism.
Faith in Action Alabama calls on law enforcement to protect voters from harassment
“In these harrowing days it is incumbent upon all of us as citizens and you and your colleagues as law enforcement professionals to do all we can to maintain this right secured by so much courage and sacrifice.”
Nine clergy members from across the state have signed an open letter calling on local and state law enforcement to protect voters against intimidation and harassment at the polls.
The clergy are leaders in Faith in Action Alabama, a regional association of Christian congregations affiliated with the national group Faith in Action, the largest grassroots, faith-based organizing network in the country. It seeks to address a range of issues like gun violence, health care, immigration and voting rights.
This is their letter:
Across our country and here in Alabama, it is being seen that citizens are turning out in record numbers to vote early and by absentee ballots. It is very heartening to see so many of our fellow citizens energized and committed to exercising that most fundamental and critical duty of citizenship, the use of their franchise. As servant leaders of an ecumenical association of nearly 2,000 faith communities across our state we are certainly encouraging our congregants to fulfill this duty either through early, absentee or day of election voting. For us this is not only part of our civic duty, but as people of faith obligation as well.
Unfortunately, it it also largely known that there are forces in our country that are actively, publicly and fervently at work to suppress the votes of some of our fellow citizens. We write to implore you to use the full authority of your office and department to ensure that those who seek to vote, especially on November 3, 2020 are not assailed or intimidated by illegal harassment in their polling places. We believe these threats are pervasive enough and real enough that proactive measures should be in place as citizens come to vote throughout that day. The strong, visible presence of uniformed legitimate law officers will hopefully prevent any attempts at confrontation or intimidation and violence.
The history of our state is marked by the efforts of tens of thousands of Alabamians who marched, protested, brought legal actions, shed their blood and some even gave their lives that every citizen of this state might have full and free access to the ballot box. In these harrowing days it is incumbent upon all of us as citizens and you and your colleagues as law enforcement professionals to do all we can to maintain this right secured by so much courage and sacrifice.
Please be assured of our prayers for you and the men and women of your department who have the awesome responsibility of providing public safety and equal protection under the law for every Alabamian. If we, the members of Faith in Action Alabama’s Clergy Leadership Team, can be of assistance please do not hesitate to call upon us.
Rev. Jeremiah Chester, St. Mark Baptist Church, Huntsville
Rev. David Frazier, Sr., Revelation Missionary Baptist Church, Mobile, and Moderator, Mobile Baptist Sunlight Association
Bishop Teresa Jefferson-Snorton, Fifth Episcopal District of the Christian Methodist Episcopal Church
Bishop Russell Kendrick, Episcopal Diocese of the Central Gulf Coast
Bishop Seth O. Lartey, Alabama-Florida Episcopal District of the African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church
President Melvin Owens, Alabama State Missionary Baptist Convention
Bishop Harry L. Seawright, Ninth Episcopal District of the African Methodist Episcopal Church
Dr. A.B. Sutton, Jr., Living Stones Temple, Fultondale
Father Manuel Williams, C.R., Resurrection Catholic Missions of the South, Montgomery
Report: Alabama’s Black Belt lags behind state in economic prospects
Black Belt counties lag behind others in economic prospects and investments in businesses.
It took Marquis Forge five years and 18 banks before he and his partner were able to open their company, Eleven86 Water, in Autauga County, just north of the Black Belt, and a report released Tuesday shows how Black Belt counties lag behind others in economic prospects and investments in businesses.
Forge, a former University of Alabama football player, told reporters during a briefing Monday that he considers Autauga County, which borders the Black Belt’s Lowndes County, part of the Black Belt, and said it shouldn’t have been so difficult to access the capital needed to start a business.
The report released Tuesday by the University of Alabama’s Education Policy Center titled “Black Belt manufacturing and Economic Prospects” is the last in the center’s Black Belt 2020 series, and found that only four of the state’s 24 Black Belt counties, as defined by the center, are above the statewide average of 22.4 businesses per 1,000 residents, and just one, Montgomery County, was above the 2018 statewide average of personal income of $43,229.
Researchers also found that just three Black Belt counties are above the state’s average in gross domestic product being produced by counties of $45,348.
“To achieve Governor Ivey’s ambitious goal of 500,000 a million more Alabama workers with skills by 2025, all hands have to be ‘on deck.’ It will require higher labor force participation rates, particularly in the Black Belt, where the average is 20 points below the statewide average,” said Stephen Katsinas, director of the university’s Education Policy Center and one of the authors of the report.
“Due to smaller economies of scale, our approaches to education, workforce development, and community building will have to be different to reach Alabama’s Black Belt,” Katsinas continued. “In the longer term, we first must define the Black Belt, because you can’t measure what you can’t define. Then we must do what West Alabama Works is doing–go where the people are to bring hope by connecting them to a well-aligned lifelong learning system that makes work pay.”
Donny Jones, COO of Chamber of Commerce West Alabama and Executive Director of West AlabamaWorks, told reporters Monday that one of the keys to helping the Black Belt will be helping state and Congressional legislators understand the nuances of rural Alabama.
Jones said the state should look at how colleges are graded, and that many smaller colleges don’t get credit for putting students through programs that get them short-term certificates that lead to jobs.
“Those are some of the things on the statewide level that we can really start to work on,” Jones said, adding that they’ve already begun teaching modern manufacturing in Black Belt high schools that gives students college credits toward an associates degree while still in high school.
“I think that’s very important for individuals to understand the impact that we can have in our higher ed and our K-12 system, really works hand in glove to move the needle for workforce development,” Jones said.
Jim Purcell, State Higher Education executive officer of the Alabama Commission on Higher Education, told reporters that it’s also important to look at one’s own community and identifying what is “unique and special,” and said he was recently in Autauga County, where he is from, and bought two cases of Eleven86 Water because he remembered how good the water there was.
“I think that’s what you’ve done, is you’ve taken the gift that Autauga’s environment has and enhanced it, so that the people can benefit from it,” Purcell said to Forge. “I think that’s the key.”
Asked what he’d tell state legislators to spur them to make changes so that other entrepreneurs wouldn’t have to struggle as hard as he did to open a business, Forge said he would ask for a clearer path for assistance.
“Instead of digging down through a tunnel with a spoon I would have someone outline the tracks on getting funds and assistance from local, state and the national level, because there are funds out there,” Forge said.
After going to 18 banks to get the financing he needed, he still had to liquify all his assets to make it happen, Forge said.
“How many people are going to do that?” he asked. “We shouldn’t have to do that.”
To read all of the Education Policy Center’s reports on Alabama’s Black Belt, visit here.
Zeta is a hurricane again
Zeta currently has sustained winds of 85 mph. On its current course it will make landfall at Southeast Louisiana or the Mississippi Coast late this afternoon and move through Alabama tonight.
Zeta is continuing its path toward the Gulf Coast, and it is strengthening. Zeta is now a hurricane again and is forecast to be a category two hurricane when it comes ashore this evening.
“As expected, #Zeta is strengthening as it moves across the Gulf of Mexico,” the Baldwin County Emergency Management Agency warned. “The windfield extends nearly 150 miles and we will begin to see impacts such as tropical winds, rain, rip currents and dangerous surf, as well as storm surge in Baldwin County.”
Zeta currently has sustained winds of 85 mph. On its current course, it will make landfall along southeastern Louisiana or the Mississippi coast late this afternoon. It should move through Alabama tonight.
A Hurricane Warning is in effect for Morgan City, Louisiana, to the Mississippi-Alabama state line including Lake Pontchartrain, Lake Maurepas and metropolitan New Orleans.
According to the NOAA, hurricane conditions are expected there this afternoon, with tropical storm conditions beginning later this morning.
Preparations to protect life and property should be rushed to completion. Damaging winds, especially in gusts, will spread well inland across portions of southeastern Mississippi and southern Alabama this evening and tonight.
A Storm Surge Warning is in effect from the mouth of the Atchafalaya River to Navarre Florida including Lake Borgne, Lake Pontchartrain, Pensacola Bay and Mobile Bay.
“If you live in a low-lying area you should evacuate before dark on Wednesday evening to a safer place,” warned Congressman Bradley Byrne, addressing Mobile and Baldwin County residents. “If you live on higher ground in southwest Alabama please make your plans Wednesday to be wherever you plan to spend the night by dark Wednesday evening and do not leave until daylight Thursday as we will experience tropical storm force winds and 2-4 inches of rain which could cause flash flooding, downed trees or downed live power lines. This storm should pass through our area rapidly and be gone early Thursday. Let’s all pray that this is the last storm of this hurricane season.”
ABC 33/40 television meteorologist James Spann said on social media, “We will deal with periods of rain today with temperatures in the 70s; the main wind and rain associated directly with Zeta will come tonight, and there is potential for a high impact wind event for much of the state.”
Storm surge predictions have risen since yesterday. Under current forecasts, Zeta is expected to bring a storm surge of six to nine feet for Dauphin Island. The storm surge will be four to six feet in Mobile Bay, and three to five feet for the Baldwin County shore towns of Fort Morgan, Gulf Shores and Orange Beach to the Florida line.
Wind gusts in Mobile and Baldwin counties could be as much as 70 miles per hour. Isolated tornadoes are a possibility as this powerful storm system moves through the state of Alabama.
Because the storm is moving so fast, it should not produce as much torrential rain as a slower moving storm, reducing the flooding risk; however, that fast speed means that it won’t lose a lot of strength as it moves through the state, thus tropical storm winds could be experienced well inland.
Most of Alabama should get 1 to 3 inches of rain. The combination of heavy winds and heavy rains could weaken the root systems of trees meaning there is a possibility of losing power tonight. Citizens should check their emergency kits and make sure that they have flashlights, batteries, radios and fully charged phones in case they are needed tonight.
The Mobile County Emergency Management Agency is asking that people who live on the coast or in flood-prone areas to evacuate before tonight. Shelters have been set up in Mobile County including a medical needs shelter.
The Alabama Department of Agriculture and Industries has set up a shelter for livestock evacuating the area at the Alabama A&M Agribition Center in Huntsville.
Sandbags are available at the Baldwin County Commission office in Robertsdale. There is a limit of 25 bags per person while supplies last.
Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey has declared a state of emergency.
Baldwin, Mobile and Escambia Counties were declared a natural disaster area after Hurricane Sally slammed into the state last month. Many areas are still in the process of cleaning up from that storm.
Byrne introduces bill to protect underwater forest
This is the only known site where a coastal ice age forest this old has been preserved in place, with thousands of trees still rooted in the dirt they were growing millennia ago before being reclaimed by the Gulf of Mexico.
Congressman Bradley Byrne, R-Alabama, has introduced the Alabama Underwater Forest National Marine Sanctuary and Protection Act, a bill that would designate the site of an ancient cypress forest found 60 feet underwater south of Gulf Shores as a National Marine Sanctuary.
“The underwater forest is another unique Alabama gem with global importance. As the only known site where a coastal ice age forest this old has been preserved in place, we must take action now to protect it,” Byrne said. “The Alabama Underwater Forest National Marine Sanctuary and Protection Act protects Alabamians ability to fish, dive, and recreate at the site while ensuring none of its invaluable artifacts can be removed or damaged. This designation will also open up further tourism opportunities along our Gulf Coast.”
“I would like to thank Ben Raines, whose work with me after his discovery of the site has been instrumental in crafting this bill,” Byrne said.
Some 60,000 years ago, the planet was cooler than it is now. This forest is a relic from an ice age before the last ice age 16,000 to 10,000 years ago. Tons of water were locked up vast glaciers that covered the globe from not just the Arctic but as far south as St. Louis.
Herds of wooly mammoths, giant bison, mastodons, wooly rhinos, horses and American camels were pursued by saber toothed cats, dire wolves, and the massive cave bear.
With so much water locked up in snow and ice, ocean levels were significantly lower than they are now. Gulf Shores, which is a barrier island town today, was not the Alabama coast then. The coast was much further south. The underwater forest is a remnant from that bygone age and appears to be a wholly unique relic of our planet’s past.
This is the only known site where a coastal ice age forest this old has been preserved in place, with thousands of trees still rooted in the dirt they were growing in millennia ago before being reclaimed by the Gulf of Mexico.
For scientists, this a treasure trove of information about the types of plants that inhabited the Gulf Coast during the ice age and before humans. That world was impacted by a sudden sea rise.
The work of the team investigating the site is detailed in Ben Raines’s documentary, The Underwater Forest, co-produced by This is Alabama and the Alabama Coastal Foundation.
Byrne represents Alabama’s 1st Congressional District. He is not running for re-election.