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The AJC's Mini-Me 

The daily imitates CL -- but not too well

Page 2 of 3

We discovered the knife in our back April 19 via the weekly column of AJC public relations editor Mike King. Now, keep in mind, Mikey is a real hoot. "Atlanta Mike" is to fearless "media reporting" what Mohammed Saeed al-Sahhaf -- you remember him, "Baghdad Bob," the Iraqi minister of information -- is to war reporting.

The AJC minister of information effused: "The creation of a Thursday special section devoted to entertainment and leisure activities is yet another evolution point for newspapers trying to keep pace with the lifestyle of readers." Interpreted: We're thrashing about and hoping our desperate attempts will stem a hemorrhaging readership.

I have to read the AJC. It goes with the turf. Many people don't have to suffer what I must go through on a daily basis -- and they don't. The numbers tell the story.

In 1990, the then Atlanta Constitution and Atlanta Journal had combined daily circulations of about 512,000. Today, the castrated combination called the AJC can scratch up a circulation of only 382,000, a decline in 13 years of 25 percent.

More devastating is comparing those figures to Atlanta's growth. In 1990, with a metro population of 2.5 million, one out of every five Atlantans ponied up the cash for the daily newspaper. Today, barely one in 10 of Atlanta's 3.7 million residents bother with the AJC. Not exactly a corporate success story.

Why the exodus of readers from the AJC? It might, just might, have something to do with the fact that the paper has jettisoned most of the red meat of journalism -- skeptical and investigative reporting -- and replaced it with fluff. What can you say about a newspaper that, as the AJC did, gives much more enthusiastic coverage to two shopping center openings than it did to the last Atlanta's mayor's race?

When it comes to arts and entertainment, the AJC's strategy has been to focus in a hopelessly fatuous way on A) the lowest common denominator, and B) some aging nerd's idea of what "the young people want." Mini-Me is a testament to that.

Mini-Me alternates between rip-offs of CL (its "Ask Godiva" column aspires to imitate our "Karma Cleanser") and anemic versions of what alternative papers have been providing for decades. Mini-Me lacks, of course, any of the news and commentary -- with their non-mainstream attitude -- that give CL and our brethren their souls.

A good question is why the AJC bothers. Answer: It's called monopoly.

The first time I reported on Cox stemmed from digging through old Federal Communications Commission documents. There is a tawdry incident from the 1960s that keeps popping up. Cox and Knight Newspapers (now Knight-Ridder) held the license for one of the large Miami TV stations. Both companies then owned newspapers in the city, and they wanted to protect their symbiotic hegemony over Miami media. As two-time Pulitzer winning Miami Herald reporter Gene Miller recounted last September, "illegal ex parte conversations between the Cox-Knight-owned TV station WCKT and the Federal Communications Commission ... raised havoc. Eventually the government pulled the license." Don't look for that history in the AJC.

In the early 1970s, Cox was one of several newspaper chains that, as I've previously reported in this column, bribed Richard Nixon with 1972 campaign endorsements in order to get anti-trust exemptions from the government.

Today, Cox and the other newspaper owners are fielding squadrons of big-money lobbyists (bad when they work for someone else, good but never-reported-on when they work for the publishers) to try and scuttle the final restraints on media consolidation. As an honest journalist, famed conservative columnist William Safire, wrote in January: You won't "find many newspaper chains assigning reporters to reveal the effect of media giantism on local coverage or cover the way publishers induce coverage-hungry politicians to loosen anti-trust restraints."

And, if you noticed that the AJC's coverage of the Iraq war is so sanitized that you might conclude the paper was reporting on a Boy Scout jamboree -- well, giving cover to George Bush's drive to empire is a transparent quid pro quo as the next round in media deregulation approaches.

Locally, having lost its market, a paper such as AJC might well fail -- if it had competition. In a way, it does. Bright, savvy people are now using the Internet to access the news they can't get from the mainstream American media. If you want to know what's really happening in Iraq or in Washington, you won't find it on Faux News or in the AJC.

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