Celebrating a year of SaportaReport, worrying about the future of civic literacy; hoping for a journalistic collaborative

It’s been more than a year since I launched SaportaReport.

Now — 444 posts later — it looks as though the site might be around for awhile.

SaportaReport has been my experiment into the new world of journalism. It’s become my venue to share what’s going on in our community as well provide insights on the issues of the day.

Every week, guest columnists also have generously contributed to our community conversation — stimulating thoughts and ideas.

SaportaReport is not alone. A host of websites and blogs have sprouted as traditional news organizations have had to cut costs by shedding some of their seasoned journalists, either through buyouts, early retirements or layoffs.

In many ways, it is a fascinating time to be in the middle of this communications experiment. In other ways, it is scary to see our tried and true media organizations shrink in circulation, coverage and influence.

The fear? A decline in civic literacy.

Civic literacy is a term that I’ve been using for the past year-and-a-half. In my mind, that’s the role that mainstream daily newspapers have provided in our communities for decades.

They’ve informed our region and our state on what are the most important issues of the day, who are the people involved in making decisions and how readers can become involved and engaged in creating stronger communities.

There was a time when newspapers could set the community agenda. A major metro daily reached a majority of residents, plus the daily newspaper often provided the headlines that were read on radio and television newscasts.

More importantly, newspapers included aspirational voices, progressive voices that stood for something.

At the Atlanta Constitution, it was Henry Grady who coined the term — the New South — in the late 1800s. In the 1960s, it was editor Ralph McGill, who argued for tolerance and civility during the days of desegregation.

Today, those voices have been diluted into pros and cons, into a quota-type balance between liberals and conservatives.

At the same time, fewer and fewer people are now regular readers of our metro daily; we no longer have a broad-based common language or vocabulary that defines our community.

Instead, we have a cacophony of voices, websites, newsletters, blogs, social media with fractured and tailor-made messages. And yes, SaportaReport is one of those many voices.

What I find even more distressing is the number of people who are civically illiterate and disinterested in the future of metro Atlanta — those who are not vested in their greater community.

And yet our democracy and our society depends on having an informed and engaged public. If our daily newspaper is no longer the be all and end all for our community conversation, how can we continue to make sure that we are civically literate?

In truth, none of us really knows the answer to that question.

Communities across the country are trying to create a new journalism model — one that relies on longtime journalists to re-program their words, stories and columns into new outlets — primarily on the internet.

Atlanta is no exception.

Over the past several months, a group of us reformed, reinvented journalists have been trying to figure out how we can work together and create a synergy among our various websites.

On Sunday, these “journalists nouveau” got together at Georgia State University to see if we could come up with a cooperative model where we can continue to provide solid information and perspectives for metro Atlantans from long-standing observers of the local scene.

Our biggest challenge? How can we as journalists continue to make a living while practicing our craft for the benefit of the overall community.

We have come up with a working description of what we’re trying to do:

How can we create a sustainable, credible news structure that fills a need in Atlanta/Georgia and is valued by readers/consumers and its financial/resource supporters?

The answer to that question is still being drafted. We are still trying to figure out how to build a partnership where we’re supporting each other and providing significant voices for metro Atlanta.

In the meantime, I wanted to share with readers of SaportaReport the wonderful work of my colleagues.

Check out:

www.atlantaunfiltered.com: the investigative website that’s been put together by Jim Walls;

www.artscriticatl.com: a website that’s been created by several arts critics who used to work at the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, including Catherine Fox, Pierre Ruhe, Wendell Brock and others;

www.likethedew.com: a website for writers about the South, founded by Keith Graham, Lee Leslie and Terri Evans;

www.atlantaunsheltered.com: a website started by Ken Edelstein with Jeanne Bonner as a regular contributor;

www.mygreenatl.com: another website founded by Ken Edelstein that focuses on local environmental news.

And there are several others at different stages of development.

Still, a year after launching SaportaReport, I worry about the state of civic literacy in the Atlanta region. I am concerned about the future of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution — especially as its uproots its base from the heart of downtown to a home outside the perimeter.

But I do find it comforting to spend a day with colleagues I respect and treasure as we try to develop a model that will work for us and our region.

Wish us luck in the coming year.

Maria Saporta, Editor, is a longtime Atlanta business, civic and urban affairs journalist with a deep knowledge of our city, our region and state.  Since 2008, she has written a weekly column and news stories for the Atlanta Business Chronicle. Prior to that, she spent 27 years with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, becoming its business columnist in 1991. Maria received her Master’s degree in urban studies from Georgia State and her Bachelor’s degree in journalism from Boston University. Maria was born in Atlanta to European parents and has two young adult children.

11 replies
  1. Yr1215 says:

    I hate to quote a communist, but as Mao Zedong said: “Let a hundred flowers blossom.”

    The diversity and democratization of opinion will eventually reinvent and reorganize itself, given time and patience. Advertising revenue production will probably be the biggest challenge for most, in the short and long term. Journalism compensation will probably result to more very historic norms, circa the Gutenberg press era. That means news will be more a hobby, by and large. There will be a few that can generate some revenue. Investigative journalism will suffer in the short term. If the industry would provide some education to the masses on how investigative journalism can and should be done, perhaps it proliferates in the longer run.

    Typo: “It our daily newspaper is no longer the be all and end all for our community conversation, how can we continue to make sure that we are civically literate?” I believe the first word should be “If”.Report

    Reply
  2. Maria Saporta says:

    Yr1215: Thanks for catching the typo. One of the realities of this new world of media is that most of us are one woman (or one man) enterprises, which means we no longer have editors to catch our stupid typos and mistakes. On the flip side, all the readers become editors, and mistakes can be fixed almost instantaneously. That means websites become self-correcting modes of communication when readers care enough to let us know there’s a problem. So let a hundred, or a hundred thousand, flowers bloom. It all will sort itself out sooner or later. MariaReport

    Reply
  3. Yr1215 says:

    As they said after the winter olympics opening ceremony snafu: “that’s live TV for you”. The world will live on with typos. What the world doesn’t need is factual inaccuracy, which is a problem in some new media (and old media that includes the “wingnut” crowd).

    Thanks for your reporting.Report

    Reply
  4. Yr1215 says:

    One more thoughts.

    It also seems the reporting “specialists” seem to make a better go of it, and that is probably the future. Ie, someone (or a variety of people with different opinions) reports on the state legislature. Someone else reports on city hall and council. Someone else reports on a specific industry (real estate, technology, etc.) or a different business niche (start-ups) or a large company (Coca-cola). Specialists will provide the best, most timely, accurate, detailed, and therefore most valuable information. However, for the casual news gatherer, it sure would be nice if someone “aggregated” the news feeds from the specialists somewhere.Report

    Reply
  5. Maria Saporta says:

    Pattie, Thanks for the recommendation. Have you seen the movie: Idiocracy? My son and I watched it together, and our first instinct after watching it was to go read a book. Also, I enjoyed reading your interview with Professor Bauerlein. It’s interesting to see how many people are agonizing over the same issues. MariaReport

    Reply
  6. Frank says:

    Thanks for a year of great reporting/commentary on your blog, Maria. I have bookmarked the other blogs you recommend and read them occasionally, but it is hard to follow everything I am interested in. I read your blog at least once a week.

    I am participating in the Citizen’s Government Academy in Marietta which exposes the participants to different areas of city government. One of the main issues discussed last evening was how best for city government to communicate with the city’s citizens. The city puts out an excellent e-mail newsletter each week that lets people know what’s going on with city council meetings, commission and committee meetings, and special events sponsored by the city or by civic organizations. They have a wealth of material related to city business that is available online. However, they lamented the decline of local news coverage by the AJC and even the Marietta Daily Journal. The MDJ is relentlessly critical of nearly everything the city tries to do, but at least they used to cover the city beat more thoroughly than they do now. Even negative coverage is better than no coverage, I suppose. One of the CGA participants is the former Cobb Co. bureau chief for the AJC. I probably should be concerned about getting my news about the city largely from the city itself, but in the absence or weakness of other sources, I’m really not.Report

    Reply
  7. Anonymous says:

    Maria, congratulations on completing your first year with the SaportaReport! I share your view on civic literacy as a 20-year veteran in the trenches. It’s important for us all to take the time to participate in our city and region. I look forward to staying involved–and reading your column–during 2010. Mary NorwoodReport

    Reply
  8. Daniel W. says:

    Maria,

    congratulations and thank you for being one of the few non-partisan voices left in Atlanta and in the country for that matter. As much as I think that the new media of blogs, website, etc has great value, I believe that is truly contributes to the dumbing down of our society. It is increasingly difficult to the average citizen to discern between opinions and facts. even most of the big media outlet have, at best surrendered to drama instead of reporting and at it worst have become an outlet for partisan politics.

    Change is good when change means progress. I am not it is the case in news reporting.

    Again thank you for still following the core precepts of journalism!Report

    Reply
  9. Tom says:

    Maria, congratulations on your first year! The blog, with your posts and the guests is a great mix, and has become a don’t-miss every week. Is doing something new, and at the same time filling a vacuum created with the demise of the print outlets in Atlanta. Here’s to the future!Report

    Reply

Leave a Reply

Want to join the discussion?
Feel free to contribute!

What are your thoughts?

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.