By Maria Saporta
What a year we have lived through.
All I can say is: We made it!
The “we” is all-encompassing. It includes the SaportaReport team and our local news website venture. It includes our preparation to launch a civic journalism nonprofit – the Atlanta Civic Circle. It includes my family and closest friends.
And it includes our metro area, our state and our nation – which we have realized now more than ever – that we cannot take our democracy for granted.
We survived through the worst pandemic in our lifetime and through one of the worst economies brought on largely by the Coronavirus.
And while I know we still have more turbulent times ahead of us, the new year gives us all an opportunity to reflect on our blessings – and appreciate how we were able to survive the past year without compromising our core beliefs.
Little did we know a year ago the disruption the Coronavirus would have on our personal and professional lives.
Coincidentally, my last day with the Atlanta Business Chronicle was Friday, March 13 – the very moment our lives changed with offices, businesses, governments and schools closing up to prevent the spread. The Chronicle had been the main source of my income – enabling me to cover my expenses so I could pay the SaportaReport out of the website’s revenues.
Other professional opportunities that had seemed so promising in February dried up as the economy went into freefall. Like so many other people and businesses, every month was touch and go. But I was determined SaportaReport would remain intact, even if that meant me having to go further in debt. Some people advised me to lay off staff members. But that was not an option. I’m dedicated to expanding our endeavors with the strong belief we need more journalists, not fewer, during this precarious time in our lives.
At a particular low point in August, I had an unusual (socially distant) meeting with Gene Kansas, a developer who specializes in restoring historic properties. I shared with him the challenges we were facing and talked about ideas we had to overcome them. One idea we discussed was launching an annual “Friends of SaportaReport” campaign to give readers an opportunity to contribute.
Immediately, Kansas took out his checkbook, wrote out a $1,000 check and said he wanted to be an inaugural “Friend.” Not only that, Kansas told me he had been on a news diet for the past three weeks tuning out all media with the exception of reading SaportaReport.
Surprised, I asked him how that had worked out.
“It’s been wonderful,” Kansas told me that day.
I reached out to him before writing this column asking him if I could share his story. He texted me back, saying:
“It has now been over 5 months since I consumed ‘the news.’ SaportaReport remains my number 1 source and resource for the type of news I want to and need to know,” Kansas wrote. “My level of stress has not been this low in many, many years, and I attribute much of that to avoiding the negative cycle of news. I’m also finding out people tell me what I need to know.”
(Readers, please know I’m not asking y’all to go on news diets. I believe we need to support as many news organizations as we can because the more journalists there are, the better our society will be).
Kansas’ confidence and appreciation for SaportaReport was a definite turning point for me. It gave me the inspiration I needed to not give up. It also showed me that we could stabilize our site by launching our 2021 “Friends of SaportaReport,” which we announced New Year’s Day. We welcome you all to become friends – a way for us to continue providing our posts free of charge and supporting local journalists.
Of course, there are so many people and entities to thank for helping SaportaReport stay afloat in 2020– all our insightful Thought Leaders, our corporate sponsors, a $5,000 Google grant for local news and a $1,000 U.S. Small Business Administration grant.
Other highlights of the past year:
I serve on two boards – the Alliance Française d’Atlanta and the Atlanta Press Club. Both organizations had to dramatically change their operations to survive the pandemic.
The Alliance went to all-virtual classes. And because we weren’t using our classrooms, the Alliance vacated Colony Square, where it had been for 11 years, on Dec. 31. We will be looking for a new space with our collaborative partner – the Goethe Zentrum Atlanta German Cultural Center.
In some ways, the Atlanta Press Club had its biggest year ever – even though it also went all virtual when the pandemic hit. APC also moved our office out of the 191 Peachtree building to save on expenses.
All APC’s programs were online, including our annual Hall of Fame, which also was broadcast on Georgia Public Broadcasting – reaching thousands of viewers, far more than the 300 or so guests we usually have. And while I missed having an in-person event, it was rewarding to celebrate great journalism in our community with so many people statewide.
I also chair the Atlanta Press Club Loudermilk Young Debate Series, and this was one of the most important election seasons in our history. All the primary and general election debates were virtual – shown on GPB – with the exception of the Cobb and Gwinnett commission chair debates, which were held in person at Public Broadcasting Atlanta.
The debate season culminated on Sunday, Dec. 6, when we held live, in-person debates for the two U.S. Senate run-off races. We were the only entity to have a run-off debate with U.S. Sen. Kelly Loeffler and Rev. Raphael Warnock. The other debate featured Democratic nominee Jon Ossoff, who stood next to an empty podium because U.S. Sen. David Perdue declined our invitation.
Still, given the importance of those two races for Georgia and the nation, the GPB debates garnered national and international attention. The Loeffler/Warnock debate was simulcast on CNN and Fox News, which had nearly 4 million viewers for just those outlets. NBC, CSPAN, WSB Radio, Fox Five, I-Heart Radio and numerous other news organizations also carried the debates. More than 80 journalists from around the world received credentials, with many coming onsite (in a socially-distanced way) to cover the debates.
I was especially pleased to host our benefactor – Charlie Loudermilk, and his close friend, Andrew Young – in a VIP room where they could view the debate and see the fruits of their generosity and friendship. We all were delighted to have contributed to the democratic process of helping voters know their options when casting their ballots.
It also dovetailed perfectly with a new nonprofit website we will soon launch – the Atlanta Civic Circle – that is focusing on critical metro issues – beginning with housing affordability and democracy. Stay tuned.
Looking ahead, 2021 is also a significant milestone for me personally.
Thirty years ago, I had two life-changing events back-to-back. On 01-08-1991, I launched my business column in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, becoming not only a reporter but someone who could share my insights with readers. The next day, on 01-09-1991 (I have a thing about numbers), my divorce became final.
A couple of dear friends sent me a bouquet of flowers with the hopeful message: “To wonderful new beginnings.
Those words ring true today as we welcome 2021. So, dear readers, that’s my message to all of us who survived 2020. To wonderful new beginnings.