Friday, May 25, 2012

Dailies demise is discouraging

Question: When is a daily newspaper not a daily?

Answer: When it no longer publishes a newspaper daily. I mean publishes, on paper, a newspaper that is delivered to your home and to the newsstands DAILY.

I’ve been bummed and saddened since the news (published in my still-daily-for-now hometown daily newspaper) that the three largest daily newspapers in Alabama will go to a three-times-weekly publishing schedule as part of a “new digital focus.”

Focus, bocus.

I’m as digital as the next person and, as a reporter for half of my ever-lengthening working life, I knew that the things have been a-changing for print media. But it’s still sad, and it’s still a loss for those of us, and we are many, who want a paper newspaper. That’s what it’s called, a newspaper.

But, beginning in the fall, The Birmingham News, Mobile’s Press-Register and The Huntsville Times will stop printing newspapers except on Wednesdays, Fridays and Sundays. Readers will (be left to) get their daily news from a revamped, new-and-improved digital source at is great, but I still want my newspaper, the newsprint, the ink on the fingers, the turning the pages to the story’s jump, circling something I want to remember, clipping out a story to keep or share.

Digital, smigital. It’s just not the same.

In staff reports and a letter from The Birmingham News publisher, there was talk of “reshaping how Alabama’s leading media companies deliver award-winning local, sports and entertainment coverage in an increasingly digital age.” is being revamped and will be around-the-clock, seven-days-week news source. You’ll just have to go to your computer or smart phone to read about it (and bring the magnifying glass for those smart phone articles).

If I’m this upset about losing the daily in daily newspapers, I can imagine what my parents’ generation is saying – those folks who are not joined by texting thumb and finger to their digital devices and computers.

“Where’s the newspaper?” Ma asked. “ It’s in the computer,” Pa answered.

They probably feel like I do and others I know – bewildered at the idea of not having a newspaper to open and read every day. Reading a daily newspaper is something I’ve been doing my whole life, and writing for them is something I’ve done for half of it.

I remember when Birmingham had TWO dailies. I wrote for both of them – interning and working a Christmas break at The Birmingham Post-Herald (then the morning paper) the year before I graduated in journalism from Auburn and then being a stringer (another old-fashioned newspaper word, like daily) or correspondent for The Birmingham News in the 1990s.

I worked for a small daily that was then still a real daily, 7 days a week, at The Selma Times-Journal for years. (My Facebook profile picture has a younger me holding an Alabama map, at the crossroads in Selma, taken by veteran reporter Alvin Benn).

I’ve also been in the trenches at a weekly, The Auburn Plainsman, and a semi-weekly (twice a week) at The Auburn Bulletin back in the day. If a twice-weekly newspaper is called semi-weekly (which it is, not to be confused with a bi-weekly which we in the biz called a publication printed every two weeks), then what’s a three-times a week newspaper called? A tri-weekly?

I’m too depressed to look that one up.

No matter what you call it, a tri-weekly-supposed-to-be-a-daily or whatever, there will still be reporters reporting the news. I loved being a newspaper reporter, and I’d do it again in a minute. Nothing compares to it. Being a reporter, you can “ask people who don’t know things that are none of your business,” as one of my reporter heros Kathryn Tucker Windham used to say.

I loved news reporting -- gathering the information, writing for deadline, seeing your by-line and knowing you did the best you could do to get the readers (and believe it or not, we always thought about the readers) the best information, presenting in the most compelling way. But even four years ago -- when downsizing launched me from corporate communications-public affairs land and I thought I might go back to reporting -- newspaper reporting jobs were scarce. The veterans who taught us so well were retiring or being retired, trudging out the newsroom door. And, now the profession just took another hit. But, I’m pulling for you, you determined print-to-digital journalists. Hang in there. News is news; writing is writing. Communicating is communicating. I get it. I just don’t like it.

This change, this “new digital focus,” is about business, about surviving in a changing marketplace. I know that, and probably most disappointed subscribers of these never-again-to-really-be-daily newspapers understand that.

But, it doesn’t mean that we’re not disappointed at the demise of the daily. 

Goodbye old friend. My ink-stained fingers will miss you.

Song of the day:
I can’t think of a newspaper song, so in honor of the 71st birthday May 24 of writing genius Bob Dylan, I offer some of his words about change.

"Come writers and critics who prophecize with your pen
And keep your eyes wide the chance won’t come gain
And don’t speak too soon for the wheel’s still in spin
And there's no tellin' who that it's namin'
For the loser now will be later to win
For the times they are a-changin'."

-- The Times They Are A-Changin’, by Bob Dylan (1963)

Picture of the day:

This one combines the subject, newspapers, with this precious picture of my first-born William Frank Walburn, who turns 30 on Sunday, May 27. Times, they do change. Happy birthday Will. And, the newspaper he’s holding, it’s The Selma Times-Journal, a daily.

Thursday, May 3, 2012

Birmingham Arts Journal tells our storm stories

Poems, photos, paintings and prose about the fear and hope, color and light and losses and lessons of the devastating storms of April 27, 2011 swirl together in the latest edition of the Birmingham Arts Journal.

I’m honored to have one of my blog posts included in the five-by-seven-inch, 50-page booklet that is the all-volunteer, nonprofit arts journal.  The one-year anniversary-storms issue of the arts journal – now in its 10th year of publication -- is online at

My own family’s storm story -- a posting called “Images of tornado devastation include horror, hope” --  appears on pages 12, 13, and 14. The original post on this site was May 16, 2011.

I attended a reading of this publication the day before the tornado’s one-year anniversary and met wonderful people who belong to the Birmingham Arts Journal, writers and artists all.

They include new members like me, and young artists like Nick Petelos, a recent fine arts graduate who created the painting that is the cover art for the issue. Nephew of the Hoover mayor, current Jefferson County manager (bless his heart) and apparent namesake, Petelos said he painted the picture as representing chaos months before the storms hit.

Others reading their words or there to hear them include Carolynne Scott, fiction writing coach whose classes in Homewood I hope to join this month, and Stephen Edmondson, whose business card identifies him as “Raconteur, Bon Vivant and Palmist” and purveyor of “Cherokee Rain Dances for all problems.” And, he writes well, too.

The Birmingham Arts Journal is a volunteer effort for its editor Jim Reed, who is master of ceremony at these readings and who curates the Museum of Fond Memories at Reed Books in downtown Birmingham; his wife, art editor Liz Reed, and production editor Kathy Jolley. Novelist Irene Latham is poetry editor, but she was not at this meeting.  I’d hoped to meet Ms. Latham. She wrote a book called Leaving Gee’s Bend, set in the same L.A. (lower Alabama) region as my novel. 

There were other novelists and writers and painters there, and just folks who love words and love to create. I felt at home with them, and that was great.

I liked all the pieces – Carolynne’s lament on trees lost in storms called “A few questions for the tornado adjuster” to Birmingham artist Nancy Lloyd’s “Tornado Over Tuscaloosa” oil painting. Check it out online or find a copy at Reed Books. A $5 (or more) donation to The Birmingham Arts Journal gets you a copy of the publication; $25 membership donation gets you a year’s worth and supports this labor of love for words, art and expression.

Song of the day
I’ll replace the song of the day with this poem about the day after the storms by Jessica Temple, a University of Alabama graduate in English who is now in graduate school at Mississippi State.

Jessica Temple
                        the day after
Plastic cups
still in their dispenser,
rest in the rubble where a restaurant was.

The hospital saw 600 patients in the first 5 hours.
40 children arrived alone.
Don't come if you only have broken bones.

Red X's on cars,
just additional scars
added to those already torn through the skin of the city.

A mailbox,
the day's delivery still in place,
displays the address of the house that should be behind it.

A dog still chained to a tree uprooted
from another plot of land,
must have surfed through the wind.

One man swears he was 30 feet above the ground,
riding in his iron bathtub,
Wizard of Oz style.

A cat found in a neighbor's apartment
hid under the wrong bed
since no walls are left between the two.

A student saw arms waving,
pulled a pregnant woman from her house
Then her child.
Then her mother.

My father saw a picture of a front door
with no house behind it.
Good thing you weren’t home, he says.
The girl nods, says, 
I was. 

A young man threw his nearly-naked body 
over his neighbor. Not to be a hero,
but because he thought the world was ending
and he didn’t want to be alone.

Picture of the day
Birmingham Arts Journal cover art by Nick Petelos, “Refractory”