Independent journalism can help make Atlanta a better city

By Maria Saporta

In journalism school, we were taught that every story must answer the questions: Who? What? When? Where? Why? And how?

Often, the hardest of those questions to answer are the why and the how. So as a journalist, I have always tried to find out the story behind the story.

That was what I was trying to do on the night of Jan. 6. Why did Invest Atlanta CEO Craig Richard resign from his position after a little more than a year with the city?

Kaiser announcement

Kaiser Permanente press conference: Left to right: Craig Richard, president and CEO of Invest Atlanta; Chris Carr, commissioner of the Georgia Department of Economic Development; Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed; Hala Moddelmog, president of the Metro Atlanta Chamber; Julie Miller-Phipps, president of Kaiser Permanente Georgia; and Dick Daniels, chief information officer for Kaiser Permanente (Photo by Maria Saporta)

It was 11:30 p.m. when I finally posted my story after talking to several people who were directly involved or familiar with the events that transpired. Because of the late hour, I did not reach out to Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed or his spokespeople as I should have.

That said, I stand behind the facts included in my story. Plus I believe my story provided readers insights into what really happened among the players involved.

As much as I admire Katie Leslie, a journalist at the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, her story on Richard’s forced resignation never explained the why.

The next morning, the story was included in the Atlanta Business Chronicle’s morning email. By that afternoon, the mayor had reached out to the relatively new publisher – David Rubinger – to complain about my story and the fact that I had not sought a comment from him.

Rubinger, in an act of good faith with the mayor, agreed on Friday to take down the story from the Chronicle website. I was informed of that decision after the fact, and I told my ABC editors that I had disagreed with their decision.

At 7 p.m. on Friday, the Mayor’s office issued a scathing press release accusing me of not following journalistic standards, using as evidence the Chronicle’s removal of my story.

Over the weekend, I had numerous conversations with my editors and colleagues at the Chronicle, with other top journalists in Atlanta as well as key business and civic leaders who were all concerned by what had happened.

Here is a joint statement from Rubinger and David Allison, the editor of the Chronicle:

Maria Saporta has been a valued contributor to the Atlanta Business Chronicle since 2008. We stand by her reporting, and we look forward to her work in the Chronicle for years to come.

Regarding her reporting about the dismissal of Craig Richard on SaportaReport, the story was posted on the Chronicle website as though it had been written for the Chronicle even though it had not been read by any of the editors.

We are not questioning the accuracy of Maria’s reporting. We made the decision to remove the story from the Chronicle website because she had not reached out to the Mayor’s office for comment.

We also knew interested readers would be able to access full text of the story by going to SaportaReport.com.

Now let me address a couple of issues that are key. The Mayor questioned why I did not quote my sources on the record. The truth is that many people in town are intimidated by the Mayor, and they are scared of a backlash or retribution. All too often, they believe they will be taking a business or personal risk if they say something the Mayor might not like.

Let me assure you, I am not intimidated by the Mayor or anyone else in power.

NCR ground-breaking

At NCR ribbon cutting with Craig Richard, Kwanza Hall, Larry Gellerstedt, NCR’s Bill Nuti and Mayor Kasim Reed. (Photo by Maria Saporta)

Second, as much as we would like to include everybody’s views in our stories, it’s not always possible. That’s one reason why SaportaReport encourages people to comment on stories. We also are open to updating stories, writing a new story or asking people to write a guest column to get their points of view.

Another issue also needs to be clarified. My stories and columns on SaportaReport are distinct from my stories and columns in the Atlanta Business Chronicle. I tend to offer more analysis and my point of view on my website than I do in the Chronicle.

This experience likely will lead to us doing a better job clarifying which stories were written for SaportaReport and which were written for the Chronicle.

But I will always try to live up to high journalistic standards. So it should come as no surprise that I would take offense of the Mayor describing my website as being biased against him.

Ironically, the last column I had written about Mayor Reed was quite favorable, commending him on several recent hires as well as his policies towards preservation and the environment.

The bias I do have is for a vibrant Atlanta with a decent quality of life. And my greatest contribution to a vibrant Atlanta is to keep asking how and why.

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.

31 replies
  1. Roland Brian says:

    Maria, I moved to Atlanta two years ago. In those two years, I have come to know you as a consummate professional with a record that, in my opinion, is beyond reproach. Conversely, in my two years as a midtown Atlanta resident, I have found Mayor Kassim Reed to be a bully who acts like an arrogant little infant when he doesn’t get his way. It’s your job to peel back the onion when something doesn’t smell right, and it is a job that you do very, very well. Keep up the good work and don’t let Mayor Reed or his lackeys push you around.Report

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  2. DonnaEnglanderFleishman says:

    I stand by you and with you, Maria.  Your journalistic principles have not wavered in all your years of reporting.  Donna E. FleishmanReport

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  3. chrisschroder says:

    Maria, we all know your journalistic standards and reputation are among the best in town. We all also know you are not the only journalist in town to recently receive an over-the-top scathing press release from the mayor’s office – the very ferocity of which comprises the credibility of their press releases. Most of us in the city think the mayor is doing a very good job, but that he is too thin-skinned and quick to bring out the sledgehammer when a clever or humorous retort would have been more effective and graceful. Having you explain how this happened is very helpful to your readers. I don’t envy David Rubinger’s position on Friday, but it seems the ABC and Saportareport would have done its readers – and you – a better service had they explained this situation and how the story got posted and removed – before now. The negative online chatter in the interim will hopefully be cleared up by this explanation – and a civil response from the mayor’s office. Keep up the good work.Report

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  4. jamstan says:

    So, all agree that the Mayor should have been contacted for his input. The story could have waited until the next day. Mayor Reed gets to be upset. Ok. Meanwhile, Maria Saporta told the truth and the facts of her story will stand which is exactly why I am among many who will keep reading her column and urge others to do the same. Thanks Maria.Report

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  5. JWK says:

    Keep up the good work Maria. By the Way, I don’t remember reading any detail on the Mayor’s “side” of the story…or did I just miss it? I would think that the abrupt resignation of the CEO of Invest Atlanta would warrant an explanation.Report

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  6. bothered says:

    I have found you to always be honest and thoughtful in your reporting.  It’s the reason why you have such a faithful following – we count on you to provide the whole story in more depth.  Every now and then those who stand up – gets slapped down.  But they always stand up again.  Keep up the good work!!!!Report

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  7. chrisschroder says:

    jamstan Agree with your comments, Jim. The mayor’s office smartly took advantage of Maria’s professional courtesy infraction to be upset, but they over-reached. Kind of reminds me in All the President’s Men when Woodward and Bernstein fumbled only one story in their entire stream of Watergate reporting – so Nixon and John Mitchell went ballistic over the minor error, trying to discredit the Post to other nervous media. That was Nixon and Mitchell’s only journalistic victory in the entire book … And yet we remain intrigued as to why the mayor cleaned out Invest Atlanta. Perhaps the Atlanta Business Chronicle can pick up the story from here.Report

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  8. junehodges says:

    A.B.C. : “We are not questioning the accuracy of Maria’s reporting.”

    Uh-Huh…….and if anyone believes that malarkey, I have a bridge in Brooklyn I’ll make ’em a great deal on.Report

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  9. Mike Elting says:

    Maria, I have not always agreed with your positions on community matters, but I have ALWAYS respected your integrity and willingness to take on the difficult topics. Yours is an important voice to be heard. Some level of disagreement and even attack comes with the turf.Report

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  10. andymcburney says:

    Wait, so what I want to know, Maria:
    Was it with your prior consent that the Mayor’s office published your (seeming) personal communication to the mayor?Report

    Reply

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