Category Archives: The Terminal

A place to go offline: about our new space

We’ve been doing this online hub thing for Birmingham for more than two years now, hoping that we’ve done right by her in our attempt to shine a light all that it has to offer. We’ve hoped that it’s been good enough and from the words of encouragement that we often here, it has been. Many of us think that the best is still yet to come.

We did realize however that we needed to do a couple of things to move to the next level. The top priority (after making it easier to actually read the site, something that we’re still working on) was the need to have a physical home.

shift101_0611Despite the fact that we currently exist solely online as a resource for people in Birmingham, AL (and its many expatriates), I was becoming increasingly aware that a publication of any type in Birmingham must have a physical space in order to ease the fears of readers, contributors and (to survive for the long term) potential advertisers. There would always be a fear of us being here today and gone tomorrow unless we showed that we were here to stay.

We cannot make the guarantee that with this announcement those threats and fears will go away, but establishing an office in the heart of The Magic City and Jones Valley can only help our case. It doesn’t hurt that we get to help make Alabama’s first coworking space a reality either.

Using this space helps get at one of the best things about social media; the idea that it brings people together. To build a real community in Birmingham online also means figuring out how to bring them together face-to-face and offline.

Whether it’s setting up a last minute question and answer session about an issue affecting the region or inviting one of Birmingham’s 400+ bands to come on in for a Sessions on West 54th-style performance, the fact that we can organize and then share these opportunities with you both in person and virtually is very important to me. This space helps us do that.

It also helps us establish ourselves as more than just a roaming nomad of an entity. We’ll still venture outside of the walls of the Shift workspace, but it will allow us to do and support things that we feel extremely important.

We hope that you take a chance to come on downtown and visit with us when the doors open later this Spring. I also hope that you’ll take the chance to help us determine some of our programming by answering yesterday’s Magic City Question.

As always, Enjoy the ride!


André Natta, CMSM, is The Terminal’s stationmaster. If you want to contact him, catch him on Twitter – @acnatta – or shoot him an email at

Photo: Bob Farley/f8Photo

Thanks for the ride, now shake the dust

This evening those that are able to attend will stand in a room on the top floor of one of the most beautiful buildings in downtown Birmingham and take in a view of The Magic City that is not enjoyed as often as it once was. We will be able to look out, intermittently through rain clouds, and see sites of current and future development, those new achievements just on the horizon for a glorious city.

Last night as I prepared to write this piece, I decided to check on John’s A Look Back post for today. It was the first time that I’d realized that the first story-related post on Birmingham’s hub was on the birthday of the city’s newspaper of record. From what little I’ve figured out about Mr. Rhodes, I can only think that he would have a slight grin on his face thinking of the irony.

As we begin our second year, continuing with our slightly different style of telling the story of Alabama’s largest city and its people, we hope that people will continue to be willing to say what is on their mind, and begin to do so if they have not started to on the virtual time capsules that are the pages and posts and images of The Terminal.

We hope that our readers take the opportunity to shape the future of Birmingham and Alabama in whatever way they think is necessary and help us in our ongoing job to figure out how to best supply the stories and the resources to help this goal be reached (as well as to remind us that it’s fun).

We believe it is time to shake the dust and show the rest of the Southeastern United States and the country as a whole just how great Birmingham is – already – as well as what is yet to come. We must continue to find new ways to trumpet the good work being done throughout our community without blindly neglecting the issues that face us as we move forward. After all, as Dr. Volker once said, “we would do Birmingham a great disservice if we dreamed too little dreams.”

So in that vein we pledge to you that we will dream big dreams and serve our readership as best we can. We need you to dream and to take up the reins of change yourselves. We are so grateful for you and what you bring to the conversation. Despite what I’ve been told by some, if I did this for myself, we wouldn’t be trying to celebrate with all of you tonight, now would we? We already have some plans in the works that we’ll talk about tonight…

So, what can you do? We’ve never quite been sure how to answer that question – until now. There’s a big one coming up on Monday that we’re interested in getting your feedback about, but until then, we’ll start with these suggestions:

… and enjoy the ride!

A taste of our plans for next year

I was sorting through my emails when I re-read the one that my former boss wrote to announce my resignation earlier this year. Here’s part of it:

I wanted to let you all know that Andre has decided to start a new entrepreneurial venture and will be leaving us. He is developing a website for Birmingham that will be designed to encourage comments and reactions to the news. It is a conversation-oriented news source.”

There’s some other stuff in there, but it was those last two sentences that began to ring in my head. Looking back, I think that he’s probably done the best job ever when explaining what this site is truly about. When I started this site in April, I assumed that with all of the conversations and all of the opinions out here in the Magic City that folks would want to share them and figure out ways to link some of them together and have some meaningful discussions about what’s been done and what needs to be done, and act on the results of those virtual talks. We’ve made some headway so far, but I’m still not sure if we’re encouraging enough of that conversation to take place. So what do you do?

In my case, I take a moment to realize that I’ve strayed from my intended mission – I deviated from the work plan (to use lingo from my old job). I’d let some folks point me in a direction that didn’t encourage dialogue. I’d hoped that I’d be able to get some of those folks considered lurkers, (folks that read the site but that don’t necessarily make a comment about what’s posted though they definitely want to say something), more involved in the conversation. That’s the main reason why when someone asks if I’m competing with folks, I normally say “not if you get it.

If I wanted to worry about being primarily a news site, we’d be optimizing headlines much in the same way that The Birmingham News has started recently. What I want is for this site to be part of an ever changing dialogue that will help move our region forward. I want it to reflect this renewed energy that seems to be bubbling up to the surface.

Now we’ll still get information up on this site to make sure that folks to know about what’s going on, but now we’re going to encourage that dialogue to take place in those coffeehouses and living rooms and on those street corners like I talked about early on.

In this week’s newsletter I hinted at what would become our signature, but unconventional, speakers’ series. Well, it’s our intention to announce our first topic and location in the near future. Many of the early topics will be based on the results of this year’s YP issues survey done with YP NOW.

There will be limits on the amount of folks that can attend in person based on where we hold them, but we’ll make sure that there are ways that we can get folks involved in the conversation. The folks subscribed to our newsletter (the express) will have first crack at attending our talks. If you need to subscribe, visit our front page and fill out the form in the middle column. The simple version is… well, we’ll wait to describe it once we’ve secured information about the first topic.

So what do we need from you? We need you to spread the word, encourage more folks to visit and comment in our various sections and encourage like-minded businesses and organizations to consider taking a look at our rate card. We need you to lend your voice to this dialogue as well, as it cannot just be my opinions filling these pages. In return, we’ll serve as a hub for conversation, that conversation-oriented news source that it looks like people really want.

If you’ve got any ideas for stuff to do next year, put it in the comments section. Happy Holidays!

… and enjoy the ride!

André Natta is the publisher and managing editor of The Terminal. To submit letters in response to this commentary or to contact for general information, use any of the methods listed on our contact page.

Thanks for caring, Birmingham

That’s one of the first things that stood out to me when I was deciding where to move to live after living life in Savannah, GA for 11 years. It was extremely important to me (despite still barely making ends meet) that I be able to find a way to give back to the community in the same way if not more than I was able to do while living in the South’s Hostess City. There are many cities that claim to be a giving community, but Birmingham is one that continues to amaze at every turn.

If a main goal of The Terminal is to serve as a hub for information in our region, a by product of that is to raise the awareness level about people and organizations that have not received the recognition that they deserve, whether passively or actively. It impressed me that we’ve received more responses from readers when asked about a cause that they feel passionate about than we have for questions to be directed at the people that we hope will help us continue to be able to serve these groups as we move our city forward at the beginning of the 21st century.

There were many groups that were nominated; we’re now ready to see which group people will choose as our poll will run through Friday afternoon. The purpose of this exercise was to get participation from those that read the posts and pages of this site and to help determine a direction for our social responsibilities.

That said, there were some organizations that are not listed in the final poll question. This is not because they are not worthy causes; I currently serve on Ruffner Mountain’s board of directors as its vice president and have had the opportunity to work with our local Community Foundation on a couple of projects since my arrival in town. Muse of Fire is an excellent program that is only beginning to determine its potential impact on our region and words cannot begin to describe the importance of Children’s Hospital. These are very important organizations in our daily lives here and some of them have not received the accolades that they so richly deserve as we tend to focus on things that are new and shiny rather than those things that lend to an area’s character (and that’s a shame). By not revealing my connection with Ruffner Mountain and other organizations before the beginning of the comment period, I felt I was violating the first of our guiding principles for the site. In running this site, I must always be able to make sure that no conflicts of interest arise that would jeopardize the integrity of any exercise undertaken by The Terminal. Those that want further explanation are asked to contact me directly.

Just because those organizations or movements are not listed in our front page poll does not mean that we do not support them. We wouldn’t have linked to their sites here if we didn’t want you to visit them virtually and physically and share whatever you can with them. The fact that people took it upon themselves to share their love and commitment to these efforts shows more about “the Birmingham that we want” than anything else. We just hope that those that wanted these to be included will still be willing to vote for the charities listed on the front page through Friday.

Thanks for caring; we’ll look forward to sharing our results with you.

André Natta is the publisher and managing editor of The Terminal. He also has returned to sporadically writing his personal blog, Dre’s Ramblings. You may contact him directly at andre[at]

Our plans for the 2007 mayor's race

NOTE: You can check out our election coverage over at Election ’07

The first “serious” poll that we ran focused on what should be one of the major issues in the city of Birmingham as it continues to move forward at the beginning of the 21st century : The 2007 mayoral election.

I wanted to see if anyone would say anything or if people even cared.

I really did not know what to expect. I did know that we were purposely going to leave out the “none of the above” option. We weren’t sure how that omission would be received (or if it would even be noticed).

A comment was posted that most likely echoed the concerns of those who’d chosen not to participate (also making us aware of the fact that people did notice the omission). The dialogue that followed confirmed that the best thing that we could do is to encourage others to not only get involved in the process, but to make sure that we do our part to help people decide who their choice for the mayor’s job is.

We are going to take a stance that may surprise some as a result: we’re not going to endorse any candidate in the upcoming mayoral elections.

What we are going to do is provide those that visit The Terminal with as much information as possible to allow those living in the city limits the opportunity to make an informed decision come October (and November if necessary). This will hopefully include interviews and/or profiles with the candidates and looking at some of the issues that you will hopefully identify as important in the coming days.

Everyone is waiting for the leader to emerge, someone that can guide Birmingham where it needs to go. If you think of it in those terms, you may never quite find the ideal person, though you may find someone that can do their part and use their ideals to make Birmingham and most of central Alabama better. This is one of those times where waiting may lead some voters to sit it out. Maybe it should not be a question of leadership but of stewardship before us in October.
I invite any candidate running for mayor to contact me at so that we can begin this process.

We also hope to include any opportunities to register to vote on the Timetable calendar in the coming months.

The history of low voter turnout locally in recent years is well documented and maybe helping to get the word out about registration opportunities and helping to encourage people to do so early will help in some way.

Birmingham has been referred to by some as “The City of Perpetual Promise”. This upcoming election in October is essentially about who takes the reins of the city’s future to guide it so that its “promise” becomes its reality.

The ironic thing is that the city and its surrounding area are enjoying a period of growth and excitement, despite some not wanting to believe it. That’s one of the reasons we try to show the promise and growth every week in our corner of the blogosphere.

I’m not quite sure what some of our decisions will get us labeled; people are constantly trying to assign labels to things in hopes that it will make things easier. I’m hoping for “interesting” myself.


André Natta is the managing editor of The Terminal. You can reach him at

So, why does The Terminal exist?

“Why did you start this thing?” “Why didn’t you stay with your old job while you got The Terminal started?” “Betsy thinks you’re crazy, doesn’t she?”

Those are just some of the questions that I’ve been asked on a daily basis since I decided to take a step back and take a leap of faith. The leap of faith is one that tells me that there are things that can be done with the Internet that were barely imaginable only a couple of years ago, including encouraging a city to dream just a little more than it does now.

BTW – the answers: because it just felt right; it would have never become what I wanted to start out to be without leaving to focus on it; and yes, but not any more than she thought before (and she is supportive).

People have been running community newspapers for years and many of them are doing quite well by focusing on what makes their communities unique. There are a lot of people that do not think of Birmingham as unique and may just want to see things stay the same.

What is new with this form of information, whether you call it a blog, a website, or a hub, is the notion of the “instant letter to the editor” – comments – that allow people to share what’s on their mind and know that it will be seen by those that may or may not agree with you. It also helps that you never have to worry about the top story; different things are important to different sets of people.

It allows people to see some of the things that currently take place in the region, making us unique.

I had a conversation with someone last night that put my whole theory in perspective. I believe that this is a City of Ideas. I believe that everybody in this city has a voice. Very few people actually choose to make their voice heard.

I’m one of those crazy New Yorkers that thinks that even if you agree completely with someone, you need to see what makes that opinion tick. It’s something that I’m sure has driven many of my former bosses crazy. But I think that if you don’t understand where someone is coming from, how can you truly say that you know or understand something. You can’t understand what their voice is trying to say.

The main reason for the creation of The Terminal was to begin to push the envelope of communication and conversation in The Magic City to a new level. I wanted to provide a place where those opinions could be questioned and conversation was encouraged. I hope that this site encourages that City of Ideas to flourish. I want to make sure that people are given a chance to be aware of everything going on before making blanket statements that are not necessarily true of their city, whether they’re from here or if they’ve adopted it as their home.

I freely admit that it’s a limited dialogue (for now) as this publication will stay relegated to the screens of laptops and PDAs. However, it would be great to see that online conversation lead to face to face conversations all over the city. I’ve heard many people say that we want to be world class. I’d love to argue that we already are pretty close to world-class, we just need to make the rest of the world aware of it. We also need to embrace those differences that seem to have divided us for some time now and use them to truly live the dream.

There are a few people I need to thank before we go much farther in this process, Charles Buchanan, Brook Hagler, Bob Farley, Curtis Palmer, John Morse, Chris “Mojo” Denbow, Wade Kwon.

Hopefully starting next week we’ll start demonstrating just how powerful this medium can be in terms of pushing the conversation forward. I hope you’re enjoying the ride so far.

André Natta is the publisher and managing editor of The Terminal. He may be reached either via e-mail at or 205.276.6585.