The Birmingham News is Alabama‘s largest newspaper. The paper has won two Pulitzer Prizes, one for investigative reporting and one for editorials advocating tax reform. From the beginning, the News has been dedicated to serving the people of the state and the Birmingham area with emphasis on local news and issues.
Old Birmingham News Building The Birmingham News was founded in 1888 by Rufus Rhodes, a native Mississippian and former Tennessee legislator. Rhodes launched the paper, which he named the Evening News, with the slogan “Great is Birmingham and the News is its Prophet.” He began operating with an $800 investment, two reporters, three printers, and a steam-driven flatbed press. The paper grew quickly in popularity, and was renamed the Daily News in 1889 and the Birmingham News in 1894. In 1902, the News guaranteed its advertisers a larger circulation than any other state daily and pledged to fill the paper with more advertising and spend more money on gathering and printing the news than any other newspaper in the state.
Rufus N. Rhodes In 1909, Victor Hanson, a veteran newspaperman who first published at the age of 11, joined the News as vice president, general manager, and part-owner. After Rhodes died in 1910, Hanson and Frank P. Glass, Hanson’s colleague from the Montgomery Advertiser, purchased his interest in the paper from Rhodes’ widow. Hanson set goals for the paper to report on the news; interpret the news and discuss current issues; offer useful information and practical advice; supply entertaining reading matter; serve as an advertising medium; and foster and encourage public service. Early in his tenure, Hanson established theNews‘s reputation for integrity by insisting on reporting the double suicide of two prominent social figures, despite pressure from his bank to kill the story or be forced to immediately repay a loan. Faced with the choice of withholding the story and having a newspaper that was beholden to special interests or printing the story and facing bankruptcy, Hanson chose to print the story. He assumed that his newspaper career had ended when the bank made good on its threat and recalled the loan. But, an official from another bank was so impressed with Hanson’s actions that he guaranteed his bank would cover the loan.
Under Hanson, the News attracted advertising dollars and prospered even as other area papers floundered. Hanson purchased and continued publishing several of these failed papers, including the Birmingham Chronicle; the Birmingham Ledger; the Birmingham Age-Herald (which merged with the Birmingham Post to become the Birmingham Post-Herald); and the Huntsville Times.
Victor Hanson In 1950 when the Birmingham Post-Herald was struggling, News publisher Clarence Hanson, nephew of Victor Hanson, signed an agreement with that paper that provided for joint advertising, circulation, and printing, but separate editorial and news departments so the community would not be without competing editorial views. That agreement continued until 2005 when the Post-Herald folded.
The Hanson family decided to sell the News to raise capital and to modernize and expand the paper’s facilities. In 1955, they sold the paper for $18.7 million to Samuel I. Newhouse, publisher and founder of Advance Publications. They chose Newhouse for his policy of “local autonomy,” which allowed publishers and editors to make their news coverage and editorial decisions locally. Thus, editorial decisions that shape the Birmingham News have always been made in Birmingham.
The Birmingham News Building, ca. 1920 The paper’s physical plant, located at 2101 4th Avenue North in Birmingham, evolved from a one-story building in 1888 to a $32 million press and production building constructed under the leadership of Victor Hanson II in 1980. In 2006, publisher Victor Hanson III oversaw the construction of a $15 million, four-story office headquarters.
In the early twentieth century, the News became more active in reporting international news and editorialized in support of free trade, isolationism, and neutrality. It has since campaigned for fair child labor laws, civil service reform, prohibition, higher education standards, open meetings, fair tax laws, and accountability in public officials. The paper later directed public attention to prevalent social problems, including unsafe mining camp conditions, Ku Klux Klan violence, racial discord, and unfair state tax laws.
In 1954, the News responded to the Supreme Court decision ending segregation in public schools by calling for gradual desegregation supervised by the state instead of requirements imposed by the federal government. However, from the mid-1960s on, editorials in the News moved from advocating gradual changes in race relations to acceptance that the quick accomplishment of racial integration was to the benefit of the city and the state.
Harold Jackson, Ron Casey, and Joey Kennedy In 1989, the News began a series of editorials calling for reform of the state’s income tax code and won a Pulitzer Prize for its editorials on the subject in 1991. The Alabama legislature did raise the state income tax threshold in 2006, enacting a reform that the News had advocated for 17 years. The News‘s editorial staff were finalists for the Pulitzer Prize in 1994 for editorials calling for school reform and again in 2006 for the paper’s series opposing the death penalty. In 2007, Birmingham News reporter Brett J. Blackledge won a second Pulitzer for the News for his investigative reports exposing corruption and cronyism in the state’s community college system.
In May 2012, Newhouse announced the formation of a new digitally focused media company, the Alabama Media Group, which subsumed The Birmingham News, the Mobile Press-Register, and The Huntsville Times under the banner of the online site Al.com. The new company reshaped the delivery of local news, sports, and entertainment coverage to align with the demands of the digital age. The Alabama Media Group expanded online news-gathering efforts to 24 hours a day and seven days a week and reduced print newspaper publication to a three-day-a-week schedule. The newspapers were home-delivered and sold in stores on Wednesdays, Fridays, and Sundays only until February 26, 2023, when the last print editions were published. Thereafter, all news was published digitally at Al.com.
- Birmingham News Centennial. The Birmingham News, March 13, 1988, metro edition.
- Bishop, Clarence Etheridge, Jr. “A Study of the First Fifty Years of the Birmingham News. “M.A. thesis. University of Alabama, 1950.
- Fullman, Lynn Grisard. “History of The Birmingham News.” Old Birmingham Magazine (May 1992).