Tone deaf

To the amazement of my friends and the annoyance of my wife, I’ve once again renewed my subscription to the Atlanta Journal Constitution.  In the last year it has re-emerged as a must-read.  Its coverage of government and politics has been vigorous and top notch.  The AJC has been enterprising and investigative.    Because of the AJC, we know about

  • the CRCT cheating scandal
  • the DeKalb schools construction scandal that eventually cost the superintendent his job
  • Governor-elect Nathan Deal’s strong-arming of the Department of Revenue to benefit his business, as well as his personal financial problems
  • John Oxendine’s illegal campaign contributions, which he subsequently returned
  • Gov. Perdue’s use of state resources and contacts to further his private business interests

… and the list goes on.

But the AJC has a curious bunker mentality that is unseemly for a re-emerging news organization.  That mentality became glaringly evident when editor Julia Wallace blew off a scheduled interview with WABE radio last week.

It appeared to start this fall, when the Georgia Voice criticized the AJC for completely ignoring Pride in its print edition.   Pride is a festival recognizing Atlanta’s gay community.  Atlanta’s Pride celebration is one of America’s largest.  (WXIA streamed the Pride parade on 11alive.com.)

Pride is a lot like the Peachtree Road Race.  They’re both predictable festivals, but both draw tens of thousands of people to the city (and a lot of money) for a cultural happening.  The AJC breathlessly covers the Peachtree Road Race (which it also sponsors) every year.

(True, the Peachtree Road Race is a competition, and the AJC covers that part of it as a sports story.  But most of the newsprint spilled is about the cultural part of the event.  Pride and the PRR are comparable in terms of size, impact and Atlanta-style flavor.)

Empty space: Former AJC offices at 72 Marietta St. Creative Loafing photo.

It’s well documented that the AJC moved its office from downtown Atlanta to Dunwoody early this year.  The AJC also announced it would stop endorsing candidates in elections.  It began showcasing conservative commentators and cartoonists, and began deliberately muting its traditionally liberal viewpoint, to the point where it now employs a “bias” editor to weed out lefty tendencies.

In her blog last week, former AJC columnist Maria Saporta suggested that the AJC’s effort to win the hearts of potential suburban subscribers is a loser business-wise and conscience-wise.

“Turning its back on its core readers has been a devastating strategy. To the best of my knowledge, Atlanta Journal-Constitution has lost more readers in the past decade than any other major newspaper in the United States… So the AJC’s attempts to appeal to conservative, Republican suburbanites by alienating its urban readers is not paying off — to the detriment of Atlanta and to the detriment of itself” Saporta writes.

Creative Loafing gave serious treatment to the evolution of the AJC in an article last week, then dressed it up with a hilarious spoof (click on it and read Thomas Wheatley’s text in a mock-up of the “Dunwoody Journal Constitution”) of the newspaper’s suburban drift.  Editor Julia Wallace answered questions for that piece.  Yet she chose to merely release a prepared statement when WABE followed up.  Next time an AJC reporter seeks an interview with a beleaguered newsmaker, that newsmaker can cite Wallace’s approach as sufficient reason to refuse to answer questions.

Thanks, Julia.

Julia Wallace, AJC

I respect the AJC’s struggle to survive, and the hard choices its management has had to make to cut costs and become more customer-friendly.

On the other hand, I can’t respect its refusal to even mention Pride in its print editions.  It seems like blatant cowardice, based on fear of alienating its all-important readership in the conservative (and in many quarters, homophobic) suburbs.

And I can’t respect Wallace’s cowardly refusal to answer WABE’s questions.  It seems that the editor of a major newspaper would understand the kind of signal that sends to those pondering interview requests from AJC reporters.

A great newspaper ought to show no fear.

Wallace missed an opportunity to tell WABE a great story about the AJC’s renewal.   Despite some unsettling tone deafness,  I continue to root for the AJC.  It’s a much better newspaper than it was two years ago, and worth the price I pay to get it from my driveway every morning.

I wish I’d have broken those stories.

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Doug Richards is a reporter at WXIA-TV. This is his personal blog. WXIA-TV has nothing whatsoever to do with this blog, under any circumstances, in any form. For anything written herein, Doug accepts sole credit and full blame. Follow him on Twitter: @richardsdoug. All rights reserved. Thanks for visiting.

9 thoughts on “Tone deaf

  1. JimmyD

    I live out here in the ‘burbs….

    Guess what? Pretty much every suburb of Atlanta has it’s own little newspaper, out here plugging away, and doing a better job of covering individual areas than the AJC ever can.

    It’s sort of fun to watch the AJC and it’s scattershot coverage of OTP politics and events. They hit a high spot here and there, but they really can’t give each area the coverage that the individual smaller papers do.

    I don’t know anyone who reads the AJC for coverage of our county. Whether it’s the Covington News, one of the North Futon Papers, the Gwinnett Daily Post, the Forsyth County News, or one of the other local papers that actually gives complete coverage, those are the places everyone I know has turned to for “local” news.

    If I wanted an in depth story on GA Politics, or on Atlanta, it’s the AJC all the way. That was always their strength.

    It’s also fun to read some of the small local papers web sites and then see what stories from those pop up a day or two later, either on Atlanta TV news, or in the AJC.

    Reply
  2. Just A Grunt

    Funny that you applaud the AJC for their political coverage and yet strangely missing from your examples are any stories about irregularities involving Democrat candidates. I seem to vaguely recall something about Barnes having some issues with a house and a daughter and questionable tax deductions.

    Reply
  3. Dickson

    good opine for discussion – as a very conservative American (who identifies closely with my life long intimacy with my town, Atlanta) I would not have been offended by any ‘Pride’ coverage on the part of the paper it’s news, happens every year, consider too that the event is now only one word, ‘Pride’ – our family continues to subscribe to this major news organ in spite of her fall from influence – though I live OTP I grew up in a NGa town within Atlanta’s sphere of influence, our family received both Atlanta papers everyday – I looked at Ralph McGill’s photo just below the mast head every day, before I could read. I blame not only the AJC for these comments and the observations of Ms. Saporta, but the lack of focused leadership from the City and the general metro growth that has diluted the muscle of the City. In our post Olympic life here, we must note that though they were the ‘Atlanta’ Olympics, the hosting was shared by the entire region, and that influence continues. I don’t have answers to offer — easy for me to be a critic — but as an example of lack of City ‘focus,’ I submit to you the recent flack over the Jr. Varsity.

    Reply
  4. gooberpeas

    maybe there is some hope for the AJC after all……when they finally get rid of Cynthia Tucker I’ll consider re-suscribing.

    Reply
  5. Ben Garrett

    I most often disagree with Cynthia Tucker, but a great newspaper presents a well-rounded concoction of ideas and opinions that reasonable, thinking people crave. If you just want one-sided points of view, you’ve always got Fox News and MSNBC to satiate your views of choice.

    Reply
  6. English Major

    I’m impressed that you are actually getting the subscription you renewed. Each time I hold my nose and renew – at exorbitant rates – it’s never seamless. They skip papers, get the bills wrong, keep dunning me, etc. It’s a nightmare and the call center is useless. One would think they could get the basics right if they are so hard up for subscribers.

    Reply

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