Tag Archives: The Terminal

Yes, roving digital newsroom/classrooms…

Birmingham's Railroad Skyline. acnatta/FlickrI’d intended to write an editorial yesterday about the You Are Beautiful markings currently appearing around downtown. I still intend to share those thoughts tomorrow.

That post was to serve as a lead in to this one – the first of a few that will start to spell out the direction this site will be taking over the next few months.

The Terminal has just submitted its second ever Knight News Challenge grant proposal just after 12:20 p.m. this afternoon.

Here’s a link to the proposal.

It’s one that would allow us to acquire and maintain two buses that would be used for both physical crowdsourcing during major news events and as a mobile classroom from which we could help more people learn about online tools for communications and news gathering. It could also serve as a method to share news stories with the public in a new way – can we say digital display boards…

The way I see it, the only way that you can truly ask people to engage fully is to provide them the tools and information necessary to do so. This proposal is one step in doing just that as we work to raise the voices of the city that we serve digitally (and in other ways) in the coming months.

It’s one that still needs some fine tuning in the coming days and weeks ahead.  We’d invite folks to add their comments and suggestions here (or on the News Challenge site if you’re one of my fellow online publishers). I have until December 1 to make changes to it and welcome any assistance on that front.

The proposal submitted today to the Knight Foundation is the first of several approaches that we’ll be taking to attempt to launch the effort in the next six months. It also speaks to a shift towards being more deliberate about covering primarily the city of Birmingham and providing a digital voice to its citizens.

There are a couple of other initiatives that I’m hoping to be able to share with you in the coming days (including one tomorrow), especially since the holiday season provides a great chance to look back while looking forward. The best way that this site can look forward is by identifying ways that we can expand the conversations that are and should be happening in our city and move people towards action and tangible results.

Tomorrow’s announcement should coincide with several people in Birmingham receiving an email from me between now and then. I do hope you’ll consider the message it contains and what’s being asked of you tomorrow during the Thanksgiving holiday.


André Natta has served as The Terminal’s stationmaster since its launch in 2007.

The plan for The Terminal 2.0

Perhaps it’s fitting that my grandiose plan for making this announcement this morning on the site has taken this more subdued form anyway. I’d intended to roll out the redesign of The Terminal this morning while making this pitch to all of you about the direction and vision I’ve long hoped the site would take. One canceled flight and a night-long scramble to set up Plan B kind of slowed the effort down considerably. Luckily, I can still share the highlights with you this morning and flesh out the details for you some more as the weekend unfolds.

By the way, you’ll probably see that redesign reveal itself over the next few days. Anyway…

The flight in question will take me to Chicago, IL and CityCamp. The best way to describe this conference is one that may lay some groundwork for the future of collecting information and encouraging engagement. That’s why this topic has been on my mind for some time…

The Terminal at its core is still about having a conversation about Birmingham, AL and its metropolitan area with the hope that it would help change the way things are done in Alabama’s Magic City as well as the amount of people that are engaged in that conversation for change.

To stay true to my self-imposed deadline of having this up no later than 7:45 a.m. this morning, I can’t go into too many details except to say that the best way to achieve this goal of truly engaging Birmingham in a meaningful conversation is by being as transparent as possible about the process. So on Monday morning expect to have access to The Terminal’s business plan for the next 12 months. I hesitate to call it a business plan instead of a work plan – something that implies that progress must be made and tasks completed.

Here’s a simplified version of that vision:

  • One where a true staff is developed – one that has both people who have a moment or two to share how they see Birmingham as well as those who are able to dig a little deeper into the issues and the fun that we’re interested in learning more about that makes Birmingham unique. A staff of five or six would be ideal.
  • One where we can serve as a testing ground for journalism using all of these new media tools, allowing college students from area universities to have a chance to have some extended real world experience thinking of interesting ways to use whatever else comes down the pipeline.
  • One where The Terminal occupies a physical space that expands on what we’d hoped to accomplish during our stay at Shift Workspace. My hope would be to one day have a facility facing or around the corner from Railroad Park giving folks using our city’s proposed “living room” a chance to engage for fun and for serious discussion. The staff mentioned previously would be able to use a portion of the space not just to prepare stories for the website but to work on outside projects as well.
  • A website that becomes one of the first L3C corporations in the state of Alabama, enabling us to truly serve the city as our primary mission.

I’ll need the help of everyone that is able in order to move this vision for the future of The Terminal forward in the next 11 months. It may be a lot to ask, but all I’ll say is I want this to be much more than my site since that was my hope for it when it started.

A special section will appear on Monday morning that provides much more detail about how I hope this will be accomplished. I’ll hope that you stop on over when it does launch and add your thoughts.

Right now I’d ask for you to think about how you want this site to serve you as a reader. Then I’d ask for you to add your thoughts to the comments section below. I won’t be able to see them until after I figure out where I’m staying in Chicago anyway…

Thanks in advance for your comments and for the time that you take to check out this site from time to time. I sincerely appreciate it.

André Natta is the stationmaster of bhamterminal.com.

Today's goal: let more folks know we exist

I got a message via Facebook this morning (around 1:15 a.m.) I fired off a response by 1:35 a.m. because I thought it was the right thing to do. That’s the weird thing about running this blog – you want to connect with people as soon as possible because you think it’s the right thing to do. If you don’t, you find that some folks think that you’ve slighted them or don’t want to talk with them.

If you have a blog you have friends who think that everyone knows who you are because of it. I know better and am quite happy when I meet someone who has no clue that the site existed before and who are happy that we’re here. That said, I’d like to spend some time connecting with all of you this morning because it’s the right thing to do.

We need your help to get the word out and to share the voices of Birmingham.

First, an introduction to new readers (and a more succinct version for long time readers) explaining what we are. We’re a blog – hyperlocal is the term that’s thrown around a lot (or citizen journalism) – about Birmingham, AL. The goal is to be a site that can reflect some of the personality and many of the voices of this fair Magic City and its surrounding area while covering news, arts, culture, opinion, a pending comic strip and maybe even sports (read: UAB, Miles College, Birmingham Southern & Samford – NOT Alabama or Auburn) if we can find the manpower to do it. I say we because we’ve had as many as twelve and as few as two folks contributing stories to this site since March 2007.

We are one of the oldest hyperlocal blogs in the Southeastern United States, coming into existence shortly before the launch of Consuming Louisville in Kentucky in 2007 (and I’d love to meet Michelle Jones one day soon). Every once in a while we hope that Stanley Holditch may get the feeling to write a Birmingham-centric article on the Fleabomb.com website, but we don’t think that’ll be happening soon.

We’ve averaged 9,000 unique visitors to these pages a month with very little advertising save for the occasional mention in the paper, a lucky tweet or two and our initial following on MySpace. The thought was simple: there are a lot of voices in this city, whether they be about music, politics or food. The hope was (and remains) that we can occasionally remind you that they’re here and waiting for you to explore. We’ve also started a weekly conversation on Twitter on Tuesday evenings called #bhamchat and we look forward to finding ways to get more folks that don’t use Twitter involved in the near future.

So why write to you this morning? I’d like to throw down a challenge to metro Birmingham. I need you. I need you to submit story ideas by either using our story submission page (as soon as it launches this evening) or via email. I need you to lend your voices to the conversations that happen on and offline. I need the help of those that read this site to tell others that we exist and we need their voices. If you’re a fan of The Terminal on Facebook or a follower on Twitter, let your friends know about it and let’s see where this conversation can take us.

If you have a few dollars that you can spare (or a coffee habit you’d like to kick or even an urge to fight a craving for a special dog from Pete’s), we’d love if you would consider becoming a voluntary supporter of  The Terminal or consider purchasing a shirt from our store on Spreadshirt.

Most of all, if you want to lend your voices in a more recurring way, our next contributors meeting will be this Thursday, August 6, starting at 5:30 p.m. at Shift WorkSpace. It’d be nice to get folks that can tell stories in the way they feel most comfortable.

I’m not one that particularly cares about tracking numbers, though I know it would demonstrate to others just what we’ve been able to do so far and help us reach more people. I have a selfish goal of seeing if we can get more than 1,000 people to follow us on Facebook and 2,000 to be following us on Twitter before the end of the day. I don’t have any prizes to provide; just the promise that if you help us spread the word, The Terminal will be able to do more for you. Maybe this exercise will lead to a couple of prizes coming our way…

The redesign of the site (which should be complete before 5 p.m. on Friday) should also help folks find what they’re looking for, complete with a few surprises.

Thanks in advance and enjoy the ride!

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 andre@bhamterminal.com.

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!

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 andre@bhamterminal.com or 205.276.6585.