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?
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.
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.