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Alabama Media Group lays off 21 journalists in shift to online video, breaking news focus

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HUNTSVILLE, Ala. – One thing any Journalist (with a capital “J”) will tell you is that the business is always changing.

It’s been that way since the inception of local news. Once, it was someone’s job to tape scripts together to be run under a camera in order to feed the scripts to news anchors via teleprompter. You can tell who worked through that era just by walking through the newsroom. You see, when a script was typed in a typewriter, you had to mash down on the keys hard enough to get letters to come through on the two sets of carbon paper beneath the original. One copy went to the anchor, one to the director, and the other went to the teleprompter.

They were practically carving it out in stone.

The people who survived carbon copies in typewriters now have a nasty habit of assaulting their computer’s keyboard with their index fingers like it just insulted their mothers.

Today, a program automatically puts the script onto the screen for an anchor to read. No fuss, no muss, no Scotch tape.

You would laugh at some of the other hoops they had to jump through and archaic machines that were used on a daily basis to bring you your daily news.

Like the printing press, radio, and television, the digital age has shoved the world of Journalism, sometimes painfully, into an information revolution. For instance, in television news, the days of holding a story to break in the 5 p.m. news are gone, shot, dead, and unceremoniously buried next to the tape decks. Instead, a digital producer now gets the information almost as soon as it happens, posts it to the website and social media, and pushes the information to an app on your device of choice.

The digital age created many jobs, including the job belonging to the author of this article. But as companies are forced to do more with less, shifting focus to deliver digital content more often than not means that something has got to give.

The parent company of AL.com and The Huntsville Times, Alabama Media Group, Tuesday announced changes in focus, along with the layoffs of 21 full-time Journalists – five from Huntsville, nine from Birmingham, and seven from Mobile.

We have been able to independently confirm that the Huntsville-area journalists who were let go include: Mark McCarter, Kay CampbellEric SchultzBrian Lawson and Paul Huggins. Between the five of them, they have nearly a century of combined experience.

In a news release, the company said, “The moves announced seek to align the journalism being produced with the demands of Alabama’s news consumers.”

Michelle Holmes, the company’s vice president of content, said, “A reduction in staff, completed today, is necessary to align our costs with the business realities we face in today’s challenging media climate.”

The company said the content team responsible for the journalism on AL.com and in the pages of The Huntsville Times will increase its focus on areas of audience demand – “significant enterprise and investigative news that informs and supports the public interest; local and state breaking and trending news, high school and college sports; and Alabama life and culture.” It will also focus on hiring staff to create original online video programming.

As a Journalist in the digital age, there’s hardly time to reflect on the news at it happens, much less turn it over, examine it, and hold it up to an audience and ask “why?” Rightly or wrongly, people expect information to be available at a touch of their fingertips. It’s our job to give it to them. But every Journalist, at their core, believes in Journalism as a public trust and that anything less than the public service is a betrayal of that trust. The founder of the world’s first journalism school said that.

The company itself claims to be doing well. Alabama Media Group said it has seen its digital audience grow 70 percent year-over-year so far in 2015 and is among America’s top 50 online news organizations.