By Maria Saporta
Friday, August 14, 2009
The possible move of Atlanta’s largest daily newspaper out of downtown concerns civic leaders and one of the city’s most accomplished journalists.
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution has been laying the groundwork to move from its current downtown home to a location that likely will be outside the city limits. The Atlanta Business Chronicle first reported the possible move Aug. 12.
“It would be a very sad day for the community, after so many generations, to physically lose such an important part of the fabric of Atlanta,” said A.J. Robinson, president of Central Atlanta Progress, a downtown business group.
Sam Williams, president of the Metro Atlanta Chamber, said major daily newspapers have played a vital role in helping create the civic, business and cultural life of cities.
“We have seen other major metro newspapers suffer so this is nothing new,” Williams said. “But it strikes to the heart of Atlanta because reporting on the public sector on a daily basis, especially investigative reporting, is crucial to good government.”
The AJC’s roots downtown date back more than a century. Throughout its history, the Atlanta Journal and the Atlanta Constitution have produced some of the city’s leading citizens, beginning with editor Henry Grady’s vision for the New South in the late 1880s to “Gone With The Wind” author Margaret Mitchell to editor Ralph McGill and columnists Celestine Sibley and Lewis Grizzard.
As a testament to his role in the city, Grady’s statue stands proudly in the middle of Marietta Street just a block away from the newspaper’s building.
If the AJC does move out of the city, “I can see Henry Grady holding a handkerchief to his eyes,” said George Goodwin, 92, who won the Atlanta Journal’s first Pulitzer Prize in 1948 for exposing voter fraud in Telfair County.
AJC executives have been letting community leaders and employees know about the possible move, telling them that decision should be announced later this month. The AJC’s new publisher, Michael Joseph, informed employees in an Aug. 3 e-mail about a possible relocation.
“We have been exploring all the options to lower our cost structure, including real estate,” said Jennifer Morrow, the AJC’s external communications manager. “We are looking at a lot of options related to real estate opportunities.”
She added that a decision likely will be announced within a couple of weeks.
The AJC’s parent, Cox Enterprises Inc., made a similar move in Dayton, Ohio, in 2007, when it moved the headquarters of the Dayton Daily News out of downtown Dayton.
That decision was met with disappointment from Dayton economic development groups, including the Downtown Dayton Partnership.
Cox’s Doug Franklin, who until recently was publisher of the AJC, was formerly publisher of Cox Ohio Publishing, where he was involved in the 2006 decision to move the Dayton Daily News outside of downtown Dayton.
Even though the problems of the newspaper industry are well-known, CAP’s Robinson wondered how moving the AJC from the city would put it in a better position to cover Atlanta, especially “when the major institutions and the leaders who create or shape the news are in the central city.”
But Robinson said that although it would be a great disappointment, the AJC moving would “not be a death knell” for downtown. “It’s not the end of the world for us,” Robinson said. “We will go on about our business of building a great downtown.”
Actually, Robinson said the AJC’s current home at 72 Marietta St. is “a critical piece of real estate.” It is a strategic site for the redevelopment of Marietta Street and the railroad gulch that is part of the proposed “green line” project and a new multimodal train station.
Retired journalist Goodwin remembered the 20 years that he worked for the Atlanta Journal right after World War II.
“I have difficulty imagining our major newspaper being anywhere else but the heart of Atlanta,” said Goodwin, who after leaving the Atlanta Journal became the dean of the city’s public relations professionals. “Atlanta is a particularly large circle. And if you are a circular city, you’ve got to be located in the middle.”
CAP’s Robinson said he knows newspapers are in transition and that the industry is struggling. “When faced with questions of survival, institutions make radical decisions,” said Robinson, who hopes the Atlanta community will try to get the AJC to reconsider its plans before a final decision is announced.
Goodwin still has a hard time believing the AJC could leave the central city. “It’s a very negative thing. Somebody in civic Atlanta needs to say … ‘You can’t do this.’ ”