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Here from beginning to the end

Clarke Stallworth had byline on first, last editions of Post-Herald

Commentary By CLARKE STALLWORTH
BIRMINGHAM POST-HERALD

I remember that day in 1950, when Jimmy Mills called us all into his office on Third Avenue North.

"Well, folks," he said, "tomorrow is the last edition of The Birmingham Post."

My face must have fallen because Jimmy said, "Don't worry, Clarke, you've still got a job."

Yesterday, about 3 p.m. Birmingham time, I had just finished a workshop for the South Carolina Press Association on coaching writers, and I was sitting in a car outside the press association building in Columbia, S.C.

Don Kausler, editor of the Anderson Independent-Mail, handed me his cell phone. It was Jim Willis, editor of the Birmingham Post-Herald.

"Well, Clarke," Jim said, "tomorrow is the last edition of The Birmingham Post-Herald. I wanted to be the one to tell you."

Jim thanked me for my contribution to the paper these past five years, and I thanked him for giving me one last shot at journalism.

He took me on in 2000, when I was 75 years old. Today, I'm 79 and still working, at least until I finish this piece.

I had a byline on page one of the first edition of the Post-Herald in 1950. And today, I have a byline in the last edition of my newspaper.

That has a nice ring to it, a real sense of closure, of completion, of rounding things out.

I remember coming to the old Post in 1948, a green kid just out of journalism school at the University of North Carolina. I couldn't buy a story at first, working my way up to writing obits from typing up all the sermon topics in town.

Things changed when I got a Speed Graphic camera. We were short of photographers, and I began to get some good assignments.

One of them was to investigate Ku Klux Klan violence, and this led me into an ambush in a store at Sumiton, in Walker County.

Two Klansmen attacked me, and I remember the sound of the hammer as it whistled past my head. But I boarded a handy Greyhound bus and got away.

Later, at a night Klan meeting in Warrior, I remember the bitter taste of fear as I was surrounded by hooded men with rifles and shotguns.

One of them was Robert Chambliss, who later blew up Sixteenth Street Baptist Church, killing four little girls. I got out of that one, too.

I covered the Phenix City story in 1954, when a local gangster killed the attorney-general-to-be. I watched Alabama National Guard troops take over the governments of the city and county under martial law and watched soldiers knock down doors looking for gambling equipment.

I covered state government for the Post-Herald in the Folsom, Patterson and Wallace administrations and helped to direct the coverage of the civil rights demonstrations in 1963, when I became city editor of the paper.

Later, I worked for the Columbus, (Ga.) Ledger-Enquirer and The Birmingham News, retiring from The News in 1991.

While I worked for The Birmingham News as city editor and managing editor, I was in the position of battling with my old newspaper, and sometimes it was not very pleasant, competing with old friends.

I seem to have a sort of parallel relationship with the Post-Herald. It lived for 55 years, and I worked on it for a good number of those years. I was a green kid when it was young, and grew into old age alongside it. It was almost like having a newspaper brother.

What I remember, and treasure, most about the Post-Herald, was the people, of course.

I had mentors like Duard LeGrand and Jim Willis. Duard was the best boss anybody ever had, and Jim Willis was my angel, giving me another shot when others might have looked hard at the gray hair.

I worked with Larry Fiquette, who wound up at the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, and Howell Raines, who ran The New York Times for a while. There was Bill Mobley, the ex-boxer who covered the cops like a champion. And Martin Waldron, a terrific reporter and my worthy opponent for the city editor's job, who became the Southern correspondent for The New York Times.

And there was Jane Aldridge and John Staed and Lillian Foscue and Karl Seitz and Bob Farley and Elaine Witt. The names go on and on, all the people who helped me become what I am.

I am proud to have been present at the birth and the death of a first-class newspaper, a newspaper of singular quality, a newspaper that shone like a diamond in the light. And if I contributed even a tiny bit toward that shine of excellence, I am proud of that, too.

The Post-Herald and I have had a good run. For me, our time together has been a joy and a delight.


Post-Herald helped spellers, teachers, scholars, kids

By WILLIAM C. SINGLETON III
BIRMINGHAM POST-HERALD

It was 1935 and Birmingham and the country were in the thralls of the Great Depression.

During that economically challenging time then-Birmingham Post Editor Jimmy Mills knew the newspaper had to do more than deliver printed words and bold headlines to the public. Many families, after all, couldn't afford to put food on the table, much less buy a newspaper.

So Mills started the Goodfellows program which bought candy and fruit for needy youths. It evolved into a program that delivered fruit and toys to needy Birmingham-area around Christmas each year.

It would be the Post's, later to become the Post-Herald's, first foray into community service, but not its last.

Since then, the Post-Herald has sponsored various community service projects from the State Spelling Bee to the All-State Academic Team to the Kudzu Run and Car Show to the Distinguished Teachers Awards to the Scholar-Athlete Awards.

Those programs come to an end with the Post-Herald's closing today.

But current Editor Jim Willis said he hopes the legacy of those programs and the Post-Herald's goodwill linger in the community's memory and hopes those programs experience a rebirth or resurrection with some other organization.

"We would encourage anybody that might be willing to do so to step forward and express an interest in sponsorship of those programs," he said.

Supporters and participants of the Post-Herald's community service projects say the newspaper's efforts to better its city and state will be sorely missed.

"I felt like for the Post-Herald to provide an opportunity to recognize those outstanding scholars was fantastic," said John Draper, executive director of Council for Leaders in Alabama Schools, of the newspaper's sponsorship of the All-State Academic Team.

The academic team, which the Post-Herald began sponsoring in 1989, recognized students statewide who achieved academic excellence.

"We spend so much recognition on sports, but the Post-Herald stepped up and did an admirable job of bringing attention to the academic side of our schools," Draper said.

The Post-Herald's contributions to academics didn't stop there.

It also sponsored the Scholar-Athlete Awards, which honored student-athletes who achieved success both on the field and in the classroom.

The Post-Herald also recognized the teachers who helped many of those students achieve success within the classroom.

Since 1996, the newspaper has sponsored the Distinguished Teacher Awards. The award honored teachers who distinguished themselves by continuing their education and improving the lives of their colleagues and students.

John Dedrick, director of special programs for Homewood city schools and a judge of the Distinguished Teachers Award, said the program validated the contributions of good teachers in school systems throughout the Birmingham metropolitan area.

"That has really meant a lot to the various school systems around the Birmingham-Jefferson County area," Dedrick said. "I'm sorry to hear the Post-Herald will no longer be a part of our community because it has been a good neighbor and a good friend to education for many, many years."

The Post-Herald had also been a long-time sponsor of the state spelling bee, which feeds into Scripps National Spelling Bee contest. The contest identified the best spellers around the state and sent the state winner to compete on the national level against students from other states.

"The Birmingham Post-Herald has been an outstanding steward of the national spelling bee for Alabama for decades," said Paige Kimble, director of the Scripps National Spelling Bee. "We will miss their sponsorship tremendously, and we're confident we will find another sponsor for Alabama students in the near future."

Joe Molina, coordinator of the Kudzu Car Show, which was connected to the Kudzu Run, an annual 3.1-mile run also sponsored by the paper, said the car show had just settled in Helena, and he and others were looking forward to many more years of the event there.

"It's going to be a great loss to Helena," he said. "We were finally getting the Kudzu Run and Car show into a real being thing. Folks were coming. Folks looked forward to it every year, and we had looked forward to increasing participation.

The car show featured a display of classic cars.

Proceeds from the race and car show were donated to Camp Smile-A-Mile, a summer camp for children with cancer.

While those programs await other sponsors, Goodfellows will likely linger beyond the closing of the newspaper's doors.

During the holiday season, the Post-Herald would encourage its readers to donate to the Goodfellows fund to give children a Merry Christmas. Many Post-Herald readers responded to the call.

Willis said Goodfellows is a non-profit organization with its own board. The program has collected money for scholarships and for toys for needy children. That money will go toward its intended source, he added.

"We've already bought about $75,000 worth of toys," he said. "What I am sure of is that when we collected that money from people, we told them what it was going to go for. ... We have an obligation to make sure that money goes for Christmas for needy kids."

Willis, who serves as president on the Goodfellows board of directors, said he will likely call a meeting of the board next week to discuss who will disperse the program's assets. The program had some money in reserve in case it ran into a bad year in donations, Willis said.

Bob Johnson, who as an employee coordinated Goodfellows from 1979 to 1997 except for one year, said the community will sorely miss the program.

"It kind of made Christmas mean something to me every year," he said.

It also made the difference in many children's lives.

"It showed each individual kid that there's somebody who cares and in a sense there really is a Santa Claus."

The newspaper's roots in the community go back to the vision Mills had to reach out to those suffering in the community, Willis said.

It's a mission that the Post-Herald has lived up to even to the end.

"We don't just publish a newspaper in this community," Willis said. "We are citizens of this community, and so we always felt like it was important for us to do things to make this a better place to live."


Some of nation's best got their start at newspaper

By DANIEL CONNOLLY
BIRMINGHAM POST-HERALD

Journalism can be a freakishly competitive business, and aspiring reporters often take jobs wherever they can find them.

Deborah Solomon, a native of New York, sent out dozens of job applications upon her graduation from George Washington University in 1994. It came down to a choice between a job at the Birmingham Post-Herald and a newspaper in a small town in upstate New York.

"I decided that Birmingham sounded a lot more exciting than Corning, N.Y.," she said.

Today she covers the Securities and Exchange Commission for the Wall Street Journal's Washington bureau.

Former Post-Herald reporters can be found at the nation's best media organizations. For years, the newspaper has had a reputation for hiring young reporters just out of college and serving as a launching pad for careers. And years of shrinking circulation had a benefit the paper had a small staff and its reporters could pick and choose among the most interesting stories in the region."I got to cover everything from murders to city hall to economic development," said Solomon, 33. "It was a great place to cut your teeth as a reporter."

She went on to work for newspapers in Detroit and California before landing at USA Today and finally the Wall Street Journal.

Perhaps the most famous Post-Herald alumnus is Howell Raines, former executive editor of the New York Times.

Raines worked at the Post-Herald from Sept. 1964 until June 1965. "Many young reporters came there, as I did, not even knowing how to type," he said.

He credited then-editors Duard LeGrand and Clarke Stallworth with teaching him the basics of the profession. "I often say that they put a hammer in my hand," he said.

At first he wrote headlines and handled other tasks on the copy desk. Then he got his first shot at writing.

"I was assigned to write the color story in the stands and on the sidelines in the Alabama-Auburn game at Legion Field in 1964," said Raines, 62. "My first byline was in the Post-Herald and it was about Bear Bryant. So that's about as good as gets in Alabama."

He went on to work for WBRC-TV and at a string of newspapers before coming to the New York Times as a reporter in 1978. He rose to the rank of executive editor before leaving in 2003 following a scandal involving a reporter who made up facts.

Today he writes books full-time. Next May will see the publication of his book, "The One That Got Away." It includes a chapter about the day he wrote his first article."It was the formative experience for me as a journalist," he said of his time at the Post-Herald. "And I think this is a great loss for the city of Birmingham but also for the profession of journalism."

Raines spent only a short time at the newspaper before moving on, but many stayed longer.

Thomas Hargrove worked for the newspaper for about 20 years. He's now a highly regarded investigative reporter for Scripps-Howard Corp., the parent company of the Post-Herald.

He started during a snowstorm that shut down the city in January 1978.

"The Post-Herald was my first real job and the most fun I've ever had in this business," said Hargrove, 49. "The paper always had a lot of guts and was a proving ground for young talent. It's where I learned to be a reporter and where I learned politics and human nature and disasters and a lot about what life is like in the south."

"I started out as a Yankee and I came down with all of a Yankee's predispositions about how awful the South would be," said Hargrove, who was born in New York and grew up in Chicago. "And I fell in love with the South."

He stayed until 1990, when he became the newspaper's Washington correspondent, then later moved to Scripps-Howard News Service.

"We were always the fun paper," he said. "We were never the paper of record. We were the paper that would take chances and take courageous stands."

Harold Jackson was one of the Post-Herald's first black reporters. He came to the newspaper after graduating from college in 1975 and stayed until 1980.

"I went to the Birmingham News and they told me I wasn't ready. I went to the Birmingham Post-Herald and (then-editor) Duard LeGrand said "l'll give you a chance,'" he said.

Then as now, the Post-Herald was smaller than the Birmingham News and had a staff of young reporters and photographers, said Jackson, 52.

They were aggressive. "We approached the news that way and we didn't want to get beat by the larger Birmingham News," he said. "So we hustled."

He went on to work for the UPI wire service and for several other newspapers, including the Birmingham News. Today, Jackson is deputy editorial page editor at the Philadelphia Inquirer

The newspaper was always about finding out what made the city tick, he said. "I think that Post-Herald's role has always been to bring out the real spirit of Birmingham," he said. "It was never the paper of record. It was always the paper that gave the city residents a better view of themselves, what they were like inside, what they liked to do for fun, what they liked to do for worship, what was impo
tant in the community."


Days of two-paper towns likely history

Changing times bring new competition to industry

By HOLLY LANG
BIRMINGHAM POST-HERALD

As the Birmingham Post-Herald closes its doors, and The Birmingham News now stands as the city's only daily newspaper, a simple fact is becoming more clear: A two-newspaper town is becoming a thing of the past.

"Two-newspaper towns are fast disappearing," said Scott Bosley, executive director of the American Society of Newspaper Editors.

Some towns such as Washington and New York exist with several newspapers.

But smaller cities such as Birmingham, often have had newspapers that entered into a joint operation agreement (JOA), a formal, legal agreement that spells out how the two newspapers will coexist.

For some newspapers, the agreements dissolve when a JOA expires or when the companies that own the newspapers choose not to extend it.

Other agreements, though, are fought in a courtroom, as with the Seattle Post-Intelligencer and the Seattle Times, which operate under a JOA.

The two newspapers are embroiled in a legal fight to rearrange an agreement that Seattle Times Managing Editor David Boardman said is "no longer working," and that the Times "wants to get out of it."

"In our case, certainly if going to one newspaper meant we could have one healthy robust newspaper instead of two financially struggling papers," Boardman said. "The community is served by that."

There are only a handful of these arrangements left, and the list of cities that once had two competing papers continues to grow: Anchorage, Alaska; Columbus, Ohio; Knoxville; Memphis.; Chattanooga; Miami; Shreveport, La.; St. Louis; Tulsa, Okla.; Milwaukee; Pittsburgh; El Paso, Texas; Nashville; Evansville, Ind.; San Francisco; Honolulu; and now Birmingham.

While the idea of two competing newspapers sharing production arrangements may seem counterproductive, the Post-Herald and The Birmingham News weren't the first to operate in such a fashion.

In 1937, The Tennessean then the Nashville Tennessean and the former Nashville Banner joined operating forces and printing presses, although they were printed at different times of the day.

Lawmakers passed the Newspaper Preservation Act, legalizing the JOAs formed when towns with two newspapers found it convenient to share certain aspects of operation. These arrangements operate under a set time frame.

The Post-Herald and The News were contractually bound until 2015, although the owners of the two newspapers decided to end the agreement 10 years early.

But before the agreement dissolved, things like phone systems, printing, distribution, advertising, marketing and office space were shared for more than 55 years.

The Birmingham Post-Herald was formed in 1950 with the merger of the Birmingham Post and the Birmingham Age-Herald. Before the merger, the Birmingham Post had its own building, distribution plants and printing facilities.

But in May 1950, E.W. Scripps Co., which owns the Post-Herald, and the Hanson family, which owned The News, created a JOA. The News is now owned by Newhouse, which is part of Advance Publications conglomerate. The News added onto its office building and the Post-Herald moved in, bringing its editorial department with it and closing its distribution plant and printing facilities.

The agreement was extended several times. The last extension was in August 1996, when the newspapers switched their publication cycles, with The News becoming the morning newspaper, and the Post-Herald becoming the afternoon newspaper.

"The primary reason is the (readers') preference for morning papers, something that has evolved for a number of years," Bosley said.

After the change, readership for the Post-Herald steadily declined with its final paid circulation falling to 7,500 today.

But a recent study suggests that with the newspaper's closing, The News may unexpectedly suffer as well.

In the late 1990s, four cities Chattanooga, El Paso, Evansville and Nashville saw a JOA die. In all four of those cities, readership steadily declined for the remaining paper, according to a study by the Audit Bureau of Circulations.

The public is often confused by these agreements, one editor said.

"Readers often don't understand what the situation is, or understand the challenges," Seattle Post-Intelligencer Managing Editor David McCumber said.

The situation between the Post-Herald and The News has certainly proved confusing in the past. Reporters from both newspapers often fielded questions from sources and readers who thought that because the two papers shared an address, they shared editorial staff.

But, as with most newspapers that have a potential "enemy" just across the hall, the competition for a story and readership is fierce. Editorial information is not shared, and reporters dread being "scooped" by the other guy.

For some, this competition is invigorating.

"We relish the competition, from a journalistic standpoint," McCumber said, adding that the competition also serves its readers in that reporters might more diligently pursue other stories.

But one expert said newspapers now face competition from many places: television, radio and the Internet.

"The surviving paper, even in a one-paper town, still is faced with a boatload of competition," said Bill Mitchell, director of publishing and editor of Poynter Online, a Web site dedicated to issues that affect the media industry.

"I think there needs to be many voices in any community, not just two. I think there was a time when the disappearance of one newspaper in any given town at least left the surviving paper a winner, even though the readers were losers from the loss of that voice.

"I think we're now at the stage where there are no winners left."


Post-Herald story traced city's growth

Service to community was hallmark

By JAMIE KIZZIRE
BIRMINGHAM POST-HERALD

Just as the city of Birmingham rose from the fire and smoke of the steel industry, so did the Birmingham Post-Herald.

The rapid growth of Birmingham, which led to the city being dubbed the Magic City for its stunning growth, also created a wide-open market for publishers. It also created the Post-Herald.

The newspaper, in all its incarnations, was witness to the growth of Birmingham as it became a steel industry powerhouse, the center of the civil rights movement, and later,major force in the medical industry.

John Cantley, a merchant from Elyton, in 1850 founded the Elyton Herald, a weekly newspaper for the area that would later become west Birmingham.

That paper went through a succession of owners and name changes through the decades.

The first in a series of changes occurred in 1871. That's the year Birmingham officially incorporated, and R.H. Henley, the city's first mayor, bought the Herald and renamed it the Birmingham Sun.

During the next decade, the paper's owners and names changed.

By 1881, the newspaper was called The Daily Birmingham Age. The morning newspaper rivaled The Atlanta Constitution in advertising dollars, largely due to its use of The Associated Press wire service, which was popular in the Southern states.

Meanwhile, another newspaper emerged on the streets of Birmingham on Aug. 3, 1887: The Daily Herald. The newspaper's founder, R.N. Rhodes, would go on to found The Birmingham News. The Daily Herald merged with the Daily Birmingham Age on Nov. 8, 1888, forming The Birmingham Age-Herald.

January 1921 saw the creation of the Birmingham Post by Ed Leech and Scripps-Howard, now the E.W. Scripps Co. The Post's circulation grew from 8,000 to 48,536 in only five years.

The Age-Herald was purchased by The Birmingham News in 1927.

The Age-Herald was published each morning and The Birmingham News was published each evening. The papers printed a combined edition on Sundays, the Birmingham News Age-Herald.

The Birmingham Post and The Age-Herald merged in 1950, forming the Birmingham Post-Herald. The merger included an agreement between The Birmingham News and the Post-Herald that they would be independent newspapers.

The News published exclusively evenings and Sunday and the Post-Herald published mornings Monday through Saturday. Under a joint operating agreement between the News and the Post-Herald, circulation, advertising and production services were provided for the Post-Herald by The Birmingham News Co., allowing for separate editorial voices to continue in the community.

The Post-Herald was well aware of its responsibility to the comunity, creating the Goodfellows campaign in 1935 to provide Christmas gifts to needy local children. The program continued until the newspaper's closing today.

The Post-Herald sponsored other public service projects, including the Alabama State Spelling Bee, the Kudzu 5K Run and Car Show, the Alabama All-State Academic Team, The Scholar-Athlete Awards and the Distinguished Teacher Awards.

But it was the newspaper's reporting that served the community day after day.

"I thought we had a young, bright, aggressive news staff," said Angus McEachran, who served as editor-in-chief from 1978 to 1983.

McEachran recalled the newspaper's successful effort to have Rotary International rescind its bylaws that said membership was open to any white male of 21 years of age or older.

Bob Johnson, a Post-Herald reporter and assistant metro editor from 1975 to 1998, said the newspaper provided an important "second voice" as one of the city's two major dailies.

"The Post-Herald always seemed to ask the right question and gave the public something different," he said.

Johnson recalled being witness to events such as the election of Richard Arrington Jr. as the city's first black mayor in 1979.

He also saw the newspaper pioneer a new in-depth style of sports reporting that went beyond covering a game "The Post-Herald turned that around," he said. "They started asking more than 'What was the score?' "

That in-depth style of sports reporting was soon duplicated in other newspapers, he said.

The Post-Herald and The Birmingham News swapped publishing cycles in 1996 as part of their joint operating agreement. The Post-Herald's circulation began slipping after the cycle switch to its current level of 7,500 copies.

E.W. Scripps Co., the parent company of the Post-Herald, announced Thursday that continuing publication no longer made economic sense and the newspaper would close today.

"It's never an easy decision to extinguish the light of an independent editorial voice, especially one as bright and rich with tradition as the Post-Herald," said Ken Lowe, president and chief executive officer of the E.W. Scripps Co.


Readers express sadness over closing of paper

By ROSA RAMIREZ
BIRMINGHAM POST-HERALD

For 55 years under its present name, the Birmingham Post-Herald has been a source of news and commentary for thousands of readers.

As the paper publishes its final edition today, we asked readers to share their comments and stories about the paper.

Ron Council of Birmingham said the newspaper provided readers stories about pain and triumph through the eyes of reporters who cared about the community.

"We have seen you share the ink of your souls for the love of your community and professional journalism, reporting the child who finished the most books in a summer reading program and the mayor's plight to unify disparate egos," he wrote in an e-mail. "Through your pages, we cheered for the high school player that went on to be a gridiron giant, the teacher that was tops, the successful bankers and barons of industry who shared their wealth and the needy who got their Goodfellows gifts at Christmas because you were there."

Another reader, Frank Schober, 82, of Birmingham said the Post-Herald allowed him to be part of the newspaper.

"I felt I was part of it," he said in a phone interview, adding that the newspaper published numerous letters he submitted to the editor.

"I really appreciate it allowing me to express my conservative views," Schober said in a letter sent to the Post-Herald, shortly after the announcement that the afternoon paper was closing.

Russell Cunningham, interim president and CEO of the Birmingham Regional Chamber of Commerce, said the closing of the Post-Herald will be the end of a long-standing institution.

"We are losing an ... institution that was founded on the heels of the formation of the city," he said. "The first newspaper I remember learning how to read from was the Age-Herald, and I've been a devoted reader ever since."

The newspaper traces its roots to the 1850s.

He said that the chamber "is thankful for the long-term devotion to the community for the information and the welfare of the citizens. ... We have enjoyed over the years the very valuble contribution to the Chamber of Commerce."

Joe Appleton, who has read the Post-Herald for some 50 years, said he was saddened to hear the news. He said he enjoyed reading the newspaper even when he disagreed with some of its content.

"If I agreed with everything they wrote, there wouldn't be any need to read it," he said.

Appleton said former Post-Herald sports reporter Paul Finebaum was one of the first reporters to be critical of the football games he covered.

"He was the first reporter willing to be critical," Appleton said.

Tricia Sheets of Birmingham has been reading the Post-Herald for more than 15 years. For her it was the newspaper's in-depth stories that kept her picking up the paper year after year.

"It always provided in-depth stories. The stories gave issues a broad overview and enough background ... stories with the current information," Sheets said. "It's a great loss. ... I'm sad to see it go."

A Post-Herald reader and an immigrant and justice advocate, Helen Rivas, said the closing of the paper will leave some stories untold.

"It leaves a big hole," Rivas said.

She said columns by Post-Herald writers or syndicated columnists, including Ellen Goodman, Jim Evans and Elaine Witt, showed a perspective that she will miss.

"There are a lot of views. Commercial television only gives us snapshots," Rivas said. "I know that usually when I open the editorial page, there will be a letter that will provoke me to write a letter back, either in agreement or for another reason.

"It was my little town friend on the doorstep."


Small paper provides reporter advantages

By DANIEL CONNOLLY
BIRMINGHAM POST-HERALD

When I came here for a job interview nearly three years ago, I knew the Post-Herald had a small circulation and could shut down at any moment. But I chose to work here anyway.

Why? First of all, I needed a job. And I saw that there were plenty of advantages.

The people who work here were friendly. The city was much nicer than I expected. And perhaps most important, I saw I could grow as a reporter.

Most beginning newspaper reporters work in small towns or in suburban bureaus of big city newspapers. The advantage of working in a small town is you get to cover a bit of everything, but the downside is there's not much going on. The advantage of working for a big city newspaper is that there's a lot going on, but the downside as a young reporter is that other people will cover it.

But Birmingham is full of news, and I was allowed to cover the biggest stories from the very start.

I was immediately assigned to cover the Jefferson County Commission, a huge and deeply troubled government. A few weeks later I was in Carbon Hill to cover a deadly tornado.

Last year, the newspaper sent me and photographer Jacquelyn Martin to a small town in Mexico to report on immigration to Alabama. I was 24 at the time and had been at the paper less than two years it's virtually unheard of for newspapers to send journalists that young on trips outside the country.

My editors gave me months to work on the series. I consider it the best reporting I've done in my life.

I've loved Birmingham, and I'm grateful to everyone who helped me do my job, from the government officials who helped me find facts to the ordinary people who let me into their lives.

One who comes to mind is Erasmo Lopez Robles, an immigrant who used his earnings in Alabama to build a restaurant in Acambay, Mexico, called "Sweet Home Alabama."

Earlier this month I invited him to come to the opening of an exhibit of Martin's photos from Acambay. He wasn't able to come but said he wanted to meet me and talk before he went back to Mexico, possibly for good.

Sadly, I was busy, and we weren't able to set up a meeting. He called me a few days ago to let me know he was going to set out for Mexico that evening. We wished each other all the best. I don't remember his exact words, but he said something like "Thank you for what you did for the village."

After I hung up, I pictured him driving for hundreds of miles to his home in Acambay, where his wife and daughter would meet him.

I can see the town clearly. The little building that houses the restaurant. The church. The people.

I was there. I know it.


Post-Herald witnessed, recorded history again and again

From Staff Reports

Over the years, the Birmingham Post-Herald has recorded the state and the city's high and low points.

From the civil rights movement to the trials of Sixteenth Street Baptist Church bombers, from the bombing of an abortion clinic to the uproar over segregated Shoal Creek Country Club, the newspaper reported on Alabama's lively history.

Here are some of our big stories:

When Freedom Riders were attacked at Birmingham's Trailway's bus station on May 14, 1961, Birmingham Post-Herald photographer Tommy Langston was there.

Langston's lens caught a mob of Klansmen beating activist James A. Peck with lead pipes. The mob then turned on Langston and he was badly beaten as well. Both were hospitalized from injuries they received.

Langston's camera was smashed but his picture was saved. The picture showed, among others, FBI informant Gary Thomas Rowe, who had infiltrated the Klan and who participated in several acts of violence while on the government payroll.

The photo received national attention and is now featured in the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute. Langston retired from the newspaper in 1989 and still lives in Birmingham.

In 1990, the newspaper reported on the upcoming PGA tournament at Shoal Creek by looking at area country clubs' segregation policies.

In story about the issue, a former Birmingham Stallions player recounted how a fellow player, wide receiver Jim Smith, was turned away because blacks were not allowed to play there.

In an interview, Shoal Creek founder Hall Thompson said most members of his club would not feel comfortable inviting blacks as guests.

"That's just not done in Birmingham, Ala.," he said. Hall later said he did not make the comment.

The published remarks drew widespread criticism and led to a review of policies among country clubs. Shoal Creek later admitted its first black member before the PGA Tournament started.

On the morning of Jan. 29, 1998, an off-duty Birmingham Police officer went to inspect a suspicious package at the New Woman All Women Health Care abortion clinic on 17th Street South. The package was a bomb filled with nails and, it was later learned, was detonated remotely by Eric Robert Rudolph, who pleaded guilty to the crime and received a life sentence.

Birmingham Police Officer Robert "Sande" Sanderson was killed and clinic nurse Emily Lyons was seriously wounded.

Photo staff members Bob Farley and Larry Kasperek were among the first to arrive at the scene and their compelling photographs appeared in newspapers around the world.

An F-5 tornado tore through Jefferson and St. Clair counties in April 1998, killing 43 people and leaving total destruction in whole neighborhoods of western Jefferson County.

The tragedy resulted in a visit from President Bill Clinton.

"Homes, office buildings, businesses, schools, churches all have been hit," said Barry Morrison of the Jefferson County Emergency Management Agency. "I have been with the Jefferson EMA since 1984 and this is the worst thing I've ever seen."

The Sept. 15, 1963, bombing of the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church that killed four black girls getting ready for church was relived decades later when suspects Bobby Frank Cherry and Thomas Blanton went on trial in separate cases. Blanton was found guilty in the bombing in May 2001 and Cherry was found guilty in May 2002. Cherry died in prison in 2004.

The newspaper's coverage of the Blanton trial won several journalism awards.

In the 1950s, Post-Herald reporters covered the corruption that consumed Phenix City in southeast Alabama. The town's unchecked gambling and prostitution drew soldiers from nearby Fort Benning and students from Auburn University.

In June 1954, the state Democratic party nominated Albert Patterson to run for attorney general. He vowed to clean up the city. But the local crime cartel fatally shot him. The governor declared martial law. Post-Herald reporters documented the events.

On at least one occasion, they found themselves on the wrong side of Phenix City's crooked justice system. In August 1954, reporters Clarke Stallworth and Gene Worstman were charged with trespassing by Phenix City Clerk Jimmy Putnam. They were with National Guardsmen during a raid of motel partially owned by Putnam.

In a July 2004 column, Stallworth recalled the era: " ... The homegrown mob in Phenix City, as ruthless as the Mafia, was only too glad to fleece the soldiers and send them back across the river to the base. Except for the occasional soldier face down in the Chattahoochee, after he had called some blackjack dealer for cheating."

Stallworth told the story of Joe Stone, an Internal Revenue Service agent who tried to bust the gambling ringleaders for tax evasion. Stone and other agents gathered evidence, including carving their initials and dates in the side of gambling machines. But the slaying of Patterson and the military crackdown scuttled the investigation.

"If Mr. Patterson had not been killed, and if we had gone ahead with our warrants and busted the gambling clubs, we could have broken the place wide open," Stone said.

The newspaper was known for its political coverage, too, led by Ted Bryant, known as the dean of political writing in Alabama. He started working for the Post-Herald in 1960 and covered virtually all the major political events affecting Alabama before his death at age 59 in 1999.

Bryant covered politics, but also wrote a widely read column in which he poked fun at politicians, often using his friend "Redd Kneck" to offer his take on Alabama's legislature and government.

A comment from one of his columns on May 24, 1997: "The Legislature should be more concerned about the quality of bills it enacts rather than the quantity. So long as the lawmakers do nothing, they're not fouling up our lives."

Former Post-Herald reporter and now state labor Commissioner Jim Bennett told The Associated Press the newspaper was unafraid to cover the big story.

"I was glad to have been associated with the Post-Herald during a crucial time in Alabama history, during the (Gov.) George Wallace era and during the push for civil rights. It was a great time to be a reporter," Bennett said.

In the same Associated Press story, former staffer Paul Finebaum remembered the newspaper for its sports coverage.

"I don't think there's any question that for a brief shining moment, the Post-Herald was the most important newspaper in the city and perhaps the state, because people had to pay attention to it," Finebaum said.


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