By Reginald Stuart
A decision this month by the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, one of the major daily papers in the South, to end its daily distribution of the award-winning print newspaper, struck a stunning blow to the ability of the region’s voiceless to make themselves heard, say news media and communications people on the front lines of spreading the word.
“It’s a terrible decision,” said Paul Delaney, a veteran reporter who got his start at the Atlanta Daily World then moved up in the ranks of Cox Newspapers and on to being a top editor in New York for The New York Times. “The paper set the standard in the region for newspapers across the South for covering the Civil Rights Movement,” said Delaney, noting most of the region, with some major exceptions, rejected racial desegregation and integration.
The Atlanta Journal and the Atlanta Constitution, historically separate papers, both turned the political and social corner and supported political and economic leaders who supported an end to government-endorsed racial segregation in the mid-1900’s and promoted integration as a civil process for society at large.
Even today, with a daily circulation of more than half a million copies a day, the paper is cited as a source thinking, of good, reliable news and a great training ground for aspiring reporters. The circulation of the award winning newspaper has declined a bit in recent years and competing venues of information cause it to drain revenue and followers. Still, the newspaper remains highly profitable and financially strong.
“The Journal and Constitution were key in helping society change for the better,” Delaney said, noting the papers fairly covered civil rights leaders and their activities through much of the last century. “They set the standard for covering the movement.”
The shut-down of the daily papers will end the century old practice of widespread distribution of diverse political, social, economic and commercial news to thousands of people daily, the end of young people’s first jobs delivering newspapers and connecting neighborhoods by print.
Giving the voiceless a voice at the public discussion table may be dramatically muted, say observers, citing the shutdown of the Nashville Banner in the 1980’s, followed by the quick downsizing of The Tennessean and other papers in Knoxville and Memphis.
“The shame is for that consumer who is not connected or does not have access to computer technology and will soon be unable to access the AJC’s news product,” said Memphis-born veteran reporter Walter Middlebrook, a former newspaper editor in Detroit and New York, now journalism professor at Penn State University.
“I can’t believe that the residents of Atlanta and all of Georgia, for that matter, are fully connected and will have access to the internet.
“Until that time when the internet is recognized as a utility — available to all — a major media outlet like the AJC should be striving to make its products available to all in as many formats and forms possible,” said Midddlebrook..
Until that time when the internet is recognized as a utility — available to all — a major media outlet like the AJC should be striving to make its products available to all in as many formats and forms as possible. said Middlebrook.
Gerald Jordan, a journalism professor at the University of Arkansas and former reporter for the Kansas City Star and the Philadelphia Inquirer, says many people are condemning the daily paper shutdown as they reflect upon the “heydays” of newspaper journalism, the days that prompted the general public to condemn and the government to disown legalized racial segregation in employment, housing, education and health.
“A societal cost for sure,” said Jordan, of reports of the Journal-Constitution cutback. “However, you’re living in the heyday of great newspapers” he said. “My profound regret is that the crazies – the yahoos whose single-spaced letters to the newsroom – now hold sway in the wretched internet disinformation and misinformation that has buried truth and given rise to a sneering audience so easily led by the former president,” said Jordan, echoing colleagues.