This is a Call

I’m calling on my Alma mater to flex a little muscle.

I’m talking about The University of Alabama, and specifically the College of Communication and Information Sciences. I’m a three-time graduate of its journalism and mass communication programs. The college is part of my professional DNA. It’s home.

As one of its sons, I feel as though I can speak up when I think the college needs to step up its game. This is one of those times. Print journalism in my home state is going through a horrific period. Advance Publications, which owns The Huntsville Times, The Birmingham News and Mobile’s Press-Register, recently announced layoffs to the tune of 400 or so employees across all three newspapers.

A new digital media organization — Alabama Media Group — that is supposed to rise from these ashes made the following statement about a month ago:

“The Alabama Media Group will dramatically expand its news-gathering efforts around the clock, seven days a week, while offering enhanced printed newspapers on a schedule of three days a week.”

In the words of Col. Sherman Potter from the M*A*S*H 4077th, “bull cookies.” How is an organization going to “dramatically expand its news-gathering efforts” while simultaneously cutting 400 jobs, most of them being journalism positions? It isn’t.

I was initially attracted to journalism because it’s exciting and it afforded me an opportunity to “be where the action is.” And those qualities are still attractive. As I matured, though, I also came to realize the greater role journalism and journalists play in keeping society informed. Why do you think drug cartels in Mexico kill, threaten and intimidate journalists who turn their attention to the drug trade? Why do you think African dictators imprison journalists? Why do you think the murderers of Russian investigative journalists have gone unprosecuted?

Now journalists are being silenced in Alabama, though it’s happening under the guise of “cost cutting,” “reorganization” or, according to the new president of Alabama Media Group, “rapid advances in how readers engage with news content.” It isn’t drug lords or dictators doing the silencing here. It’s corporate interests.

The University of Alabama’s College of Communication and Information Sciences has been educating and training journalists for decades. Many have gone on to have solid careers in many locations, but there are likely hundreds of graduates who stayed in Alabama and have worked to keep its citizens informed, enlightened and entertained through the practice of journalism.

My Alma mater needs to protect its graduates. It needs to protect journalism. And quite frankly, it needs to protect itself. Where are its journalism graduates going to work? In Alabama? That likelihood just shrank to the tune of 400 jobs. How many journalism graduation ceremonies would it take to equal that number? Ten? Twenty? More?

I would like to see my college publicly express displeasure with the loss of journalism jobs in the state. I would like to see my college speak about the unacceptable nature of such cuts, how they will hurt their communities and how service to the public should be responsibly balanced against toeing a corporation’s profit margins. I would like to see my college openly challenge Advance Publications to explain their decisions before the public.

And I would love to see my Alma mater host a public forum to give those journalists who have been fired a platform to talk about what’s happening to our profession.

Now is a critically important time for journalism in my home state. Alabama’s College of Communication needs to speak with a clear, strong voice.

One Response to “This is a Call”
  1. I agree. As a graduate of that same college (although I took the Library and Information Science route), I too was waiting for a response that didn't come or perhaps I was too late to see? Unfortunately it's spreading across the state… I have a staff position open in my library and currently three applicants were, up until a week or two ago, working for local newspapers.

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