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.
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.