A stock photo of a newspaper printing press. (Photo by Bank Phrom/Unsplash.)

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution this week fired a top investigative journalist after finding errors in a story that alleged the University of Georgia (UGA) Bulldogs football program protected players accused of sexual misconduct or assault.

The firing of Alan Judd was announced deep inside a July 19 AJC story that left some big questions unanswered, including whether his editors also will be disciplined and if the paper is reviewing Judd’s other stories for problems. The AJC did not immediately respond to those questions.

Former Atlanta Journal-Constitution investigative reporter Alan Judd, in a photo from his Twitter account.

A UGA attorney earlier this month sent the AJC a letter demanding the retraction of the June 27 story and claiming a long list of errors and possible fabrications. The AJC corrected the story, particularly finding a lack of evidence for its key claim that 11 players remained on the team after being accused of misconduct.

However, the AJC did not retract the story — which was part of ongoing coverage of various legal problems for Bulldogs players — or substantiate all of the UGA complaints, including a rejection of suggestions that Judd had fabricated facts. Claude Felton, a spokesperson for UGA’s athletic program, declined to comment on Judd’s firing and whether the AJC’s response satisfies the school’s complaints.

According to his LinkedIn page and the newspaper’s website, Judd worked for the AJC for over 24 years as a member of investigative teams on such major stories as the Atlanta Public Schools cheating scandal and last year’s award-winning series on unsafe conditions at metro apartment complexes.

However, Judd also was involved in a similar ethical scandal over student-athlete reporting about 35 years ago. As the Washington Post reported at the time, Judd resigned from the Courier-Journal in Louisville, Ky., in 1988 after people named in the stories reported that they did not say quotes attributed to them and some of Judd’s interviewing records had been taped over or contained only background noise.

The news site UGASports.com earlier this week reported on the 1988 scandal and quoted an attorney who advised the Courier-Journal at the time as expressing concern about the accuracy of Judd’s reporting. The story also quoted what it said was a response email from Judd. It quoted Judd as saying the 1988 scandal had “no bearing on anything today” and accusing UGASports.com of trying to “ingratiate yourself” with UGA by joining its effort to “use public resources to try to dig up dirt on a journalist who has published uncomfortable but true stories about that government agency.”

The story quoted Judd as adding: “Is your devotion to the ‘Dawgs’ so great that you want to try to destroy a person whose work over the past century has exposed atrocities in the state mental hospitals, saving countless lives; helped expose a cheating scandal in the Atlanta Public Schools that had life-altering detrimental effects on thousands of poor African-American children; spurred legislative changes to protect children in the state’s foster care system; and much more.”

The AJC’s own story about the UGA corrections and Judd’s firing quoted him as saying, “I am proud of the work I have done for the AJC for the last 24 years and I am grateful for the opportunity I’ve had to serve the community.”

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  1. The AJC is no longer a newspaper. It caved to pressure from perhaps the most powerful institution in the state. Who would want to be an investigative reporter at the AJC or anywhere when lawyers can get you fired?

    1. Well put, Bill. The AJC simply tossed Alan Judd overboard for relatively minor infractions, at least according to what was reported in the paper. In doing so, it cast doubt on an impressive series of articles on UGA athletics — stories undoubtedly very difficult to report — while undermining the morale of the newsroom.

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