The Struggle of ‘Digital First’

Al

Earlier this week, roughly 400 employees at The Huntsville Times, The Birmingham News, Mobile’s Press-Register and their umbrella website, al.com, were told they no longer had their current job after Sept. 30. Also included in this round of layoffs was The Mississippi Press and its website, gulflive.com. Another 200 or so were laid off at the New Orleans Times-Picayune and its website, nola.com. [Disclosure: I was an employee of al.com during two stints in 2006-2008 and 2010-2011].

Here’s a look from Poynter on what lies ahead for al.com.

I saw this coming, but not with the degree of carnage involved. What I predicted was the more common consolidation of copy editing, page design and printing. This has been done already at several news operations throughout the country.

I also understand al.com’s vision of a truly statewide website — one that covers the entire state, and not just the three major cities of its partner newspapers. I was also highly involved in the first wave of community engagement at al.com — truly engaging with users, cleaning up the muck of comments, and connecting journalists with the public. This I still believe in wholeheartedly.

I didn’t predict that Birmingham Magazine, acquired by The Birmingham News last year, would get caught up in this, or that former coworkers of mine with superb digital skills at al.com would be affected. I didn’t predict 400 gone. I didn’t predict that employees would be put into 1 of 3 categories. And I didn’t predict that it would hurt so much.

I miss everyone in Alabama dearly, and I’m thinking of you.

But, this struggle of “Digital First” is not a new one, or unique to my old comrades. It’s something that I’ve worked on and struggled with for the past 6 years of my career. For this amount of time, I have been working with broadcast and print journalists, showing them the light and the way of “Digital First.”

There has been a lot of kicking and screaming; a lot of bruised egos; a lot of realignment of duties; and of course, a lot of layoffs. But there’s also been innovation and success; “lightbulbs” brightening in journalists’ minds; and a lot of lessons learned.

The struggle for traditional print media will continue in the coming months and years. This is the wake-up call that a lot of journalists will have to face, or already have faced — that the print medium will eventually cease to exist, and going forward, digital and multimedia are the future.

-K