About News

I’m Failing to Get Outraged About the Death of The Birmingham News

The Birmingham News printed its last paper edition Sunday.

Gonna make this short because, as grateful as I am for every wonderful person who has ever read an Arenblog post, I write primarily for my students, and I can assure you they don’t give a sheet* about the end of newspapers in three of Alabama’s largest cities.

Today marked the end of The Huntsville Times, The Mobile Press-Register and The Birmingham News, for which I busted my tail for 30 years and in which I took enormous pride (on its good days, anyway).

Certainly, I am saddened. It’s not merely the end of a print version of The Birmingham News. It’s the end of The Birmingham News. There isn’t a Birmingham News website. It’s al.com with the option of a Birmingham-focused homepage. The Alabama Media Group’s daily paid digital product is called The Lede. It still says it’s “From The Birmingham News” but that’s not really so anymore. The bylines don’t say “Birmingham News.”

It’s possible to be sad and accepting at the same time, of course. Eventual death, I think, is the fate that awaits all daily newspapers, though no one can predict when. Certainly, many other newspaper companies continue to make money (albeit less and less) from their print editions. AMG’s parent Advance Local still has newspapers in other states. But AMG had an uncommon situation because its state and local print stories in Birmingham, Huntsville and Mobile had already appeared on its free and heavily trafficked website.

Throughout journalism history, methods of delivering news have come and gone. For instance: flyers, Pony Express and telegraph. Digital platforms ripped apart the traditional business model of print (though print readership began to decline before the internet became widespread). Print was nice because it delivered a common set of facts as the starting point for community debate and action. But digital platforms, for all their bazillion faults, are so much better: More immediacy, more options, more effective ways to present journalism.

Tom Arenberg is an instructor of news media at the University of Alabama.

What matters for news in Alabama going forward is its quality, and that has little to do with how it’s delivered.

* “Sheet” is a printing press term.

Tom Arenberg is an instructor of news media at the University of Alabama. He worked for The Birmingham News and the Alabama Media Group for 30 years. He published this commentary originally as a post on his blog, The Arenblog.

About News is a BirminghamWatch feature that publishes commentary by those who teach the craft and think about the values and performance of today’s journalism, a civic flashpoint. BirminghamWatch is a member of the Institute for Nonprofit News whose members generally rely on individual gifts, foundation grants and sponsorships to support their work. It also publishes About News articles on Facebook and Twitter and invites readers to join the conversation about their news in those forums.