Media: Making the grade with Atlanta's other news breakers

The Atlanta Constitution and its sister publication the Atlanta Journal have, for the past 133 years, been the chief chroniclers in the American South, writes Kimberly Krautter

The Atlanta Constitution and its sister publication the Atlanta Journal have, for the past 133 years, been the chief chroniclers in the American South, writes Kimberly Krautter

The Atlanta Constitution and its sister publication the Atlanta Journal have, for the past 133 years, been the chief chroniclers in the American South, writes Kimberly Krautter

Originally cross-town rivals, the Atlanta Constitution and the Atlanta Journal were literally born out of the ashes of the Civil War and began when the city was a major railroad terminus. Like newspapers of other crossroads of commerce and transportation, (Kansas City, Chicago, and Boston), they became the voice of the region.

From its inception, the Atlanta Constitution cultivated and propagated the idea of the 'New South' far beyond its circulation borders. As early as the 1880s, editor and oratory genius Henry W. Grady articulated the region's self-determination out of the ruins of war and acted as an ambassador for economic opportunity to the industrial barons of New England.

The two papers acted as a unifying force in the south through Reconstruction into the modern age. The Journal's motto, 'Covers Dixie like the dew,' still resonates today.

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution's (AJC) PR department reports that daily paid circulation (Monday-Friday) is 421,639 with the Sunday edition reaching 654,600 throughout the Southeast. The majority of the readership is in the Metropolitan Atlanta area and the state of Georgia.



Merging worlds

In 1950, the two newspapers were purchased by Ohio-based Cox Newspapers, part of Cox Enterprises which has since become one of the largest privately-held media organizations in the nation. Now they share a newsroom and are known collectively as the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. But the editorial boards maintain separate voices and identities.

Richard Matthews, editorial writer for the Atlanta Journal describes the Constitution as 'Ted Kennedy liberal' while the Journal is more moderate.

'We tend to be fiscally conservative though not particularly conservative on social issues,' says Matthews.

Competition for op-ed space in the Atlanta papers is fierce. The morning edition, The Constitution, is deluged with pitches on a daily basis and David Beasley is its arbiter of content.

Both editions publish op-ed guidelines on the Web at www.ajc.com, but finding it is not very easy. Interested contributors can find the material by clicking on '@issue' on the blue navigation bar at the top of the AJC home page. Then scroll down to 'contacts' and click on 'editorial board.'

This takes you to the bio pages on the respective editorial board staff members. Scroll down to 'contributors' to find a guideline to writing for the op-ed pages.

Chief among all opinion leaders on the newspaper is Cynthia Tucker, editorial page editor of the Atlanta Constitution. Tucker is rapidly becoming one of the most respected journalists in the nation. A frequent analyst and guest commentator on CNN, Tucker can also be seen on PBS's indomitable NewsHour With Jim Lehrer.

Her colleague, Jim Wooten, is editorial page editor of the Atlanta Journal.

Before joining the newspaper in 1977, Wooten was a reporter for U.S. News & World Report. His sober writings and viewpoints are especially respected among the city's leading business execs.

In the business sector, Maria Saporta is the ultimate insider. Her column appears each week on Tuesdays and Thursdays and on alternating Mondays in the 'Horizons' front piece to the business section. Saporta reports on and analyses the inter-relationships between Atlanta's top executives and the government as they coalesce on major economic development and public policy issues.

The city's enormous economic growth over the past decade has included staggering gains in the technology sector. Consequently, the technology writers of the newspaper routinely wade through a tsunami of pitches and press kits. Technology editor Susan Wells, who frequently talks to PR groups, has tried to make it clear that she prefers brief email pitches and releases to press kits. In fact, Wells is often critical of what she considers the exorbitant expense of press kits.

Another annoyance that all of the writers and editors protest against is the follow-up phone call.

The AJC is a traditional newsroom with daily deadlines for multiple issues.

All the writers interviewed sympathized, to varying degrees, with the publicists' need to report to their clients, but most find the phone calls an interruption and a waste of time.



Speaking community language

Business desk editor James Mallory also complained that publicists need to get to know the writers' bylines. 'Read the paper, learn what they write about,' said Mallory. His complaint was echoed by technology columnist Caroline Hubbard who gets frustrated by convoluted writing in the press releases. 'They need to cut down on all the jargon,' says Hubbard. 'Write the way we write not, 'end-to-end solution that's driving a scalable platform ...' that doesn't say anything about the business or why our readers should care.' Hubbard said such writing causes her to make three extra phone calls to write a simple story. She admits that sometimes she ignores a poorly written release altogether.

True to the paper's legacy, public policy issues are widely covered.

The newsroom has won several Pulitzer prizes for its work in this area.

There are whispers in the corridors and on the street that writer Carrie Teegardin may be its next honoree for her investigative series on a scandal involving Catholic charities.

More than 50 non-profit organizations are headquartered in Atlanta.

Big guns such as CARE, American Cancer Society and the Boys & Girls Club routinely compete for ink with the Atlanta Chamber of Commerce and, a host of legislative lobbying interests. Communications officers for such organizations should understand that they are pitching to a newspaper not a magazine and the issues they present to the editors should be relevant and timely.

Although the newspaper is frequently criticized for being the one daily serving a large metropolitan city, it has been the voice for social progress in the south. And despite a population explosion that has tilted the political vane toward the right, it is still invaluable as a news source in sectors important to PR professionals.



CONTACT LIST

Atlanta Journal-Constitution (AJC)

Cox Newspapers

72 Marietta Street, NW Atlanta, GA 30303

Tel: (404) 526 5151

Fax: (404) 526 5746

Web: www.ajc.com

Op-ed: David Beasley dbeasley@ajc.com

Constitution editorial page editor: Cynthia Tucker, cynthia@ajc.com

Journal editorial page editor: Jim Wooten, jwooten@ajc.com

Technology editor: Susan Wells, swells@ajc.com

Technology columnist on VC: Caroline Hubbard, chubbard@ajc.com

Computers and gadgets writer: Bill Husted, bhusted@ajc.com

Telecom industry writer: Bill Husted, bhusted@ajc.com

Health & medicine columnist: Amanda Miller, ajmiller@ajc.com

Business editor: James Mallory, jmallory@ajc.com

Business columnist: Maria Saporta, msaporta@ajc.com.



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