Monday, April 20, 2009

Changes in Atlanta Journal-Constitution's editorial board reflect industry recognition that its values should reflect public's, even in the South

The massive change in the composition and direction of the editorial board for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution reflects recognition by the newspaper that it is indeed located in the South.

And the values in its positions on issues should at least try more often to reflect that of the region -- not a sense of Beltway elitism and entitlement.

Gone to Washington, D.C., where she fits in much more, is editorial page editor Cynthia Tucker. She was as much a celebrity as an opinion writer, albeit a very good one. Washington will suit her well to make the rounds of all the Sunday morning TV talk shows as an AJC columnist, not an opinion setter.

A couple of other editorial board members were jettisoned. And the newspaper's editor has said that the newspaper will focus on local issues more, not the hot button ones of abortion, the Supreme Court, etc.

Local is why people buy newspapers in the first place. The AJC was never a paper of record as The New York Times. But more, editorial boards such as that of the AJC and The Tennessean have defied area values on so many issues that did not even pretend to seek some common ground.

And matters of faith and devotion to the military and its service were infrequently addressed, let alone championed. While extolling First Amendment rights of free speech, the boards looked down their noses at just as precious Second Amendment rights and the right to bear arms.

But the marketplace changed, and readers found their values reflected more on the Internet, where issues were discussed and vetted.

Yes, there are times that an editorial board must defy local values, or perhaps the perception that the loudest are speaking for the majority. Boards must provide community leadership. The Civil Rights' history of AJC publisher Ralph McGill is a proud legacy for American journalism.

But too often, editorial boards come off as simply sticking their thumbs in the eyes of readers just because they can and their words are printed on paper and distributed to hundreds of thousands of households.

Yet its members are not seen in the community, nor is their availability advertised. Their work is not signed. The precept of holding them above the fray no longer is credible. The real world demands experience, knowing what people are feeling and living on the issues of the day and issues the board does not even know about.

Picking up the morning newspaper while members sit around a large table to discuss what's inside is NO way for an editorial board to operate anymore.

I've seen it firsthand. I've been on two editorial boards in my career.

The AJC's change simply reflects a business decision to try and keep the readers it still has, who happen to live in the South. The newspaper has realized or surrendered to the idea that Southern values are not bad values.

But better, its decision orders its editorial board members to finally come down from their Ivory Tower and engage the populace below -- instead of taking satisfaction in looking down on them.

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