Is 3800 Howard Ave. headed way of HQs at Advance’s Alabama newspapers?

Birmingham News‘ and Mobile Press-Register‘s offices for sale after Alabama Media Group opens “modern, high-tech space easy for the public to access” in Huntsville and Montgomery, and moves much of NOLA Media Group and Syracuse Media Group to new digs

FOR SALE: Downtown newspaper headquarters in two of the Heart of Dixie’s largest cities. One built in 2002, the other in 2006. Instant income at Mobile facility through lease-back agreement of production plant with existing owner.

BhamNewsHQ

Birmingham News’ downtown headquarters is on the market.

Alabama Media Group earlier today announced its next steps in embracing Advance Publications’ new “digital first” playbook. It will move its remaining employees from relatively new downtown offices in the state’s largest and third-largest cities “to space … more suitable for the companies’ digitally-focused operations.”

In a tweet earlier today, Scott Walker, an anchor at New Orleans’ WDSU-TV, asked if The Times-Picayune‘s longtime headquarters at 3800 Howard Ave. will be next up on the auction block. Most NOLA Media Group employees moved to new penthouse offices in Canal Place last week, although some production and editing function remain at the old facility, along with the printing presses and circulation/delivery functions and their employees. No announcements have been made about the large portions of the building that are now empty.ScottWalkerTweet2013Jan22

NOLA Media Group’s new space also belies the “easy for the public to access” mantra adopted by other Advance locations. The offices are on the 31st and 32nd floors of the highrise at the foot of Canal Street at the Mississippi River and adjacent to the French Quarter – which is often one of the most congested and difficult-to-navigate areas in the city. Some employees already have raised concerns about their ability to quickly get to breaking news from the location, especially during high-traffic events such as Carnival and Feb. 3′s Super Bowl, which is being played at the city’s Superdome.

The report on AL.com followed by two days a similar story on Advance’s Syracuse.com offering details of the new space it will occupy along with the city’s newspaper. “Unlike The Post-Standard newsroom, where desk phones ring at cubicles and papers overflow from filing cabinets, the new location is mostly open space with a variety of work stations, but no assigned seats and no place to store documents or display personal effects,” according to a story by reporter Tim Knauss.

Beginning Feb. 3, The Post-Standard and sister paper the Harrisburg, Pa. Patriot News, will follow the lead of The Times-Picayune and Advance’s Alabama and Michigan papers, and reduce home delivery to three days a week. However, diehard print Post-Standard readers are getting a concession not being offered in other markets: it also will be printed the remaining four days a week and be available at newsstands in Syracuse’s Onondaga County.

In December, the company announced that it would move the Huntsville Times – “the birth city of AL.com 15 years ago,” Alabama Media Group President Cindy Martin told WHNT-TV - downtown from its longtime home on the city’s Memorial Parkway main drag. The company also has opened new, modern offices in Montgomery, the state’s capital.

The 110,000-square-foot home of the Birmingham News and its parking lot across the street, will be sold, AL.com reported, while the company will keep the adjacent production facility. In Mobile, the company intends to sell both the office and production plant, but wants to lease back the plant from the new owner.

The story also included another, albeit unrelated, tidbit: circulation of Advance’s Alabama  newspapers has decreased since the Oct.1 advent of thrice-weekly publication, Pam Siddall, president of Advance Central Services Alabama, told AL.com’s statewide industry reporter Dawn Kent. Sidall did not quantify the drop, but said circulation “remains above expectations.” Her statement is in contrast to those made by NOLA Media Group representatives, who have said The Times-Picayune‘s circulation has increased since its switch to three-day-a-week circulation.

Advance may have difficulty finding buyers for such large spaces, according to Kent’s report. Several large buildings are already available in Birmingham, and “we just don’t get the influx of companies that size that are looking in Birmingham,” local real estate agent Dan Lovell commented.

Real-life Trolley Problem, Advance Publications-style: Sacrificing some to save others

Note: This post has been corrected, as indicated by underline and strike-through below.

The guild representing newsroom employees of Times-Picayune sister paper, pd_thumbThe Plain Dealer of Cleveland, is living a real-life Trolley Problem, Advance Publications-style.

In a meeting in a cafeteria dining room at the newspaper this afternoon, the bargaining unit of Local 1 of the Newspaper Guild apparently laid out a tough proposal to their members: accept 60 layoffs in exchange for a guarantee of no more large-scale cuts through 2019. Or, fight on, and 80 or more newsroom employees will lose their jobs when the current contract expires Jan. 31, 2013.

With a total of 168 newsroom jobs, the guild must either accept a reduction in newsroom ranks by nearly 36%, or endure a 48% or greater reduction if it fights on past the Jan. 31, 2013 expiration of its current contract, which prohibits layoffs.

“The loss of any of The Plain Dealer‘s journalists – whether it’s one-third or one-half the staff – will be a severe blow to the community,” read a post added late Thursday afternoon to the “Save The Plain Dealer” Facebook page.

Backed organizationally and financially by its local and a grant from the Communications Workers of America, Plain Dealer employees several weeks ago unleashed an advertising and PR campaign aimed at dissuading newspaper owner Advance Publications from making the same draconian changes there that it has at 13 of its 34 newspapers across the country.

“Launche03dealer-blog480d with a full-page ad in the Sunday, Nov. 12 paper and media stories on NPR, WKYC, and other outlets, the committee’s Don Quixote effort has also plastered the city with ads and produced a television commercial,” alternative weekly Cleveland Scene‘s Vince Grzegorek reported in a Dec. 5 cover story  titled “Can The Plain Dealer Be Saved?” “Its Facebook page has over 3,900 likes; the petition at Change.org has over 5,900 signatures. ‘Hot in Cleveland’ star Valerie Bertinelli lent her star power to the cause, and local leaders like Councilman Joe Cimperman have taken up the flag as well. Events have sprung up, like a “Save the Plain Dealer” party at Market Garden Brewery and Distillery this week, all aimed at getting Advance to respond to public pressure.” (Any of this sound familiar?)

But as dashTHIRTYdash founder Rebecca Theim expressed to Grzegorek, “You hope and wish that it’s different in Cleveland, but history has shown that if the Newhouses have made up their mind, that’s what’s going to happen.”

The post on the Save The Plain Dealer Facebook page Thursday asserted that the campaign has minimized the severity of the cuts. “While the forced departure of one-third of our journalists will cause deep, lasting harm to the work of news-gathering, we believe your outpouring of support for the Save The Plain Dealer campaign has helped dissuade the company from making even deeper cuts, and causing even greater community harm, as has happened at the other Advance newspapers,” the post read.

Cuts at Advance Publications Papers = At Least 1,336 Jobs

The Times-Picayune‘s newsroom was cut by 49% effective Oct. 1, although some new employees have been hired since then. (At least 14 employees originally asked to stay when the newspaper announced details about the layoffs in mid-June chose instead to leave, prompting the newspaper to “unfire” about 10 employees it originally had laid off.) About 30% of the newspaper’s total workforce was eliminated, including all of the Marketing Department except for one person, all Special Sections employees, all of the Library staff except for one employee, and the entire Human Resources staff, New Orleans’ alternative weekly Gambit reported.

Advance eliminated the jobs of 550 of its 1,100 employees in Michigan, but has said that more than half of those jobs have been offset by new hires, The Wall Street Journal reported in August.

Another 600 jobs were eliminated Sept. 30 at three Alabama newspapers Advance owns: The Huntsville Times, the Birmingham News and the Press-Register of Mobile, including 55% of the newsroom at the Birmingham paper, Alabama’s largest news organization.

The Post-Standard of Syracuse, N.Y. will shed 115 jobs Jan. 31, out of a total of 386 full-time and 26 part-time employees. The newsroom there will shrink from about 115 to 75, a 40% reduction. At the Patriot News in Harrisburg Pa., 70 of about 285 full-time employees also will be axed Jan. 31, or about 25% of the staff.

Both of those papers will move to a three-day-a-week publishing schedule, like The Times-Picayune and the Alabama papers, Feb. 1.

All told, at least 1,336 jobs have been eliminated at Advance Publication newspapers since this “digital-first” strategy began in 2009 in Michigan Feb. 2 (not including expected Plain Dealer layoffs), according to a compilation of the figures published in news reports about the layoffs. Several of the newspapers, including The Times-Picayune, have hired an undisclosed number of generally younger, less experienced and presumably less expensive employees since then. A June analysis by Poynter news analyst Rick Edmonds showed that the only way The Times-Picayune changes made financial sense was through the purging of experienced, higher-paid employees and replacing them with “young people, more tech-dextrous and a lot cheaper.”