Meet the people behind BirminghamWatch

The journey to creating Alabama Initiative for Independent Journalism and BirminghamWatch is a story about many things. It’s about Birmingham’s need for news that asks important questions and searches for trustworthy answers. It’s about pushing against a tide, and putting more reporters to work covering school boards, digging through data, and informing voters. It’s about working with other Birmingham news organizations that share this mission.

Today, I want to tell our story in a personal way, by introducing people behind it. AIIJ’s directors share a common passion for good journalism. They stepped up to do hard work in founding a nonprofit news organization.

Brett Blackledge is a reporters’ reporter now working in Naples, Florida. In 2007, he won a Pulitzer Prize for his work at The Birmingham News. He still cares about Birmingham and Alabama. Brant Houston, whose home base is a Knight Foundation chair at the University of Illinois, literally wrote the books on investigative reporting and leads the nation’s nonprofit news organization. As a child, he visited his grandparents in Birmingham. He says AIIJ/BW has the potential to work.

Mark Kelly is publisher of Weld for Birmingham, and has bravely gone down the road of creating a new weekly newspaper and online news site. He’s agreed to be a partner with us, through his organization and as a journalist. Jerome Lanning is an attorney (of counsel with Butler Snow LLP) and a leader of the Freshwater Land Trust. He is AIIJ/BW’s one-person brain trust. Apart from any national nonprofit news movement, he thought: People who care about journalism might contribute to it, as they do to meet other community needs.

Emily Jones Rushing knows Birmingham’s journalism world and civic fabric from most, if not all, sides now. She helped develop neighborhood coverage at The Birmingham News. She worked at the heart of non-profit initiatives at the Community Foundation of Greater Birmingham. She’s a long-time Birmingham resident and enthusiastic participant in city life.

Odessa Woolfolk and change seem nearly synonymous in Birmingham. As an educator, public administrator and civic activist, she often was personally the one who crossed racial, geographic, and socio-economic boundaries. She was the driving force behind establishment of the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute. She’s asked hard questions, and answered them. She’s especially interested in news coverage that sees Birmingham as a region.

I’m president of the AIIJ board of directors and a longtime reporter and editor in Birmingham. From 2001-2006, I worked for a national journalism group that sponsored across the country almost 200 community conversations between local journalists and people in their towns. We’re a fractious family, citizens and journalists, but we depend on each other to build better communities.

Check out our full bios at And I ask for your good wishes for this undertaking.