March 31, 2023 7:00am

Power Poll to new AJC editor: More politics, business coverage, please

Leroy Chapman Jr. becomes the first black editor in the paper's 155-year history

Photo of Steve Fennessy
Atlanta, GA Correspondent

On March 23, Leroy Chapman Jr. was named the next editor-in-chief of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. The 52–year-old Chapman’s appointment to the position is historic: He’s the first editor-in-chief of color in the paper’s 155-year history. He takes the reins at a fraught time not just for the AJC, but for daily newspapers across the country, who must chase digital dimes instead of the print dollars that all but vanished with the rise of the Internet.

When I arrived in Atlanta in 2000, there was a morning daily paper and an afternoon one. A year later the Journal and the Constitution combined, and the organization that once proclaimed to “cover Dixie like the dew” began a great contraction. If the AJC’s newsroom contact page is accurate, 174 journalists (reporters, editors, visual journalists) are on staff (in addition to 14 interns). Fifteen years ago, when I was reporting a profile of Julia Wallace, a former top editor at the paper, for Atlanta magazine, there were 490 journalists at the paper.

Cutting your staff by almost two-thirds, even if it’s done over a span of years, may not mean an organization’s mission has to change, but it sure as heck will affect its ability to fulfill that mission. In an interview that ran on the paper’s website on Thursday (which, like presumably most of you, is where I read my news), Chapman said he wants to go after a younger, and more diverse, audience. “We have some audience that will nibble around for free,” he told Ernie Suggs. “Then we have a very loyal audience who take all of our products and they’re willing to pay for us. We know that we need to change a little bit because we’ve got to get more of those folks. That’s going to mean thinking about the topics we cover, how we embed in communities, being very present in the moment.”

What does that mean in reality? Chapman didn’t provide any examples in the interview, but for this month’s Power Poll, it seemed like a good time to suss out where you think the new editor’s priorities should lie, in this new normal of straitened resources. Where, for instance, should Chapman direct more coverage to? We asked you to rank a mess of topics—investigations, City Hall, business, politics, etc.—in terms of their importance to you as a reader. What’s interesting is there was no obvious topic around which most of you rallied. For instance, just over half of you listed the most important topic as one of three things: State politics, business, or investigations that expose injustice or corruption. (Just one respondent put local sports coverage as their number one priority.)

Interpreting polls – especially non-scientific ones like this one – can be a fool’s errand, but still, some of the results surprised me. Three topics in particular scored lower than I would have predicted – race and equity, crime and criminal justice, and Atlanta’s City Hall. One respondent, Susan Grant, a CNN retired executive vice president, wrote that “We need journalism to continue to focus on the economic and human impact of our neighbors' access to health care (or lack thereof)-- both in Atlanta and especially in the counties where new employers are setting up; housing; and MARTA/public transportation.” Another respondent, Scott McDaniel, seemed to echo Chapman’s own priorities: “We need beacons like the AJC to target youth engagement with captivating and interesting content so that they become consumers and supporters of these critical pillars of our society.”

This month’s poll also asked whether you agree with Gov. Brian Kemp’s signing into law SB 140, which will ban doctors from prescribing hormone therapy or performing surgery on transgender minors. Thirty-nine percent of you support the law, 47 percent oppose.

Finally, will Atlanta host the Democratic National Convention next year? Only President Biden knows (assuming he’s made up his mind) and so far, he hasn’t tipped his hand. Should we care, one way or another? Survey says…

About Power Poll: Power Poll asks questions of the most powerful, influential people in U.S. cities. It is not a scientific survey. But because the people responding to the surveys comprise the leadership structure of their cities, the results afford a fascinating glimpse into the thoughts, opinions, and beliefs of those in a position to make change. Power Poll is distinctly nonpartisan.

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