Friday, April 13, 2007

Fear and loathing at the AJC

Posted By on Fri, Apr 13, 2007 at 9:07 PM

The now-infamous "Names in boxes" memo at the AJC came out Thursday and, in the words of one staffer, it so emotionally devastated the newsroom that it's a miracle an edition of the paper was printed that evening.

Essentially, the memo lays out which jobs are going to be kept under the paper's re-structuring. More importantly, it also conveys which jobs aren't going to be kept. About half the staff had their names "in the box." The rest are going to have to apply for new jobs within the newsroom and the fear is, of course, that if you don't receive a job, you'll be fired.

Staffers and former staffers say it was like being hit by a "shock and awe" mission. One person e-mailed: "I had a friend that gathered a bunch of ppl and they all drank in her apartment, versus going to [a] 6pm meeting to "explain" the changes. No one that I know felt like feeling the sting further - they wanted to drink it off. "

Another e-mailed: "Got lots of depressed drunken txts from colleagues last night. It's really awful in the newsroom this week."

The word is the AJC will now depend on wire services for the bulk of its movie reviews (you prefer Curt Holman and Felicia Feaster anyway, right?) and will retain the services of just one music writer. The health/science coverage will be cut back to one reporter.

Here's what we're hearing in terms of the breakdown on some of the jobs that will be kept and those that won't:

The metro and sports departments are largely intact. So is design and photo. However, the paper will no longer have a NASCAR reporter or a golf writer. The theory is that despite the Masters and the PGA's THE TOUR Championship at East Lake, plus the two NASCAR races here, there isn't enough news on those beats to justify having reporters assigned to them.

The science/medicine team will be disbanded and one reporting position will now cover that beat. From that team, Mike Toner, the only AJC reporter with a Pulitzer on his mantle, took the buyout. Gayle White, Alison Young, Bill Hendrick and Andy Miller could all compete for that beat.

Ironically, Young's last story on the CDC, published last week, was about how the agency hired ombudsmen "to address poor employee morale, complaints about a massive reorganization and an exodus of key staff that sparked concern among members of Congress and five former CDC directors."

The paper's features and business departments will be most affected by the re-organization and, in the words of one staffer, will be playing 52-card pick-up for jobs. For example, there will be only one music writer when the dust settles. The two writers currently on the music beat, Sonia Murray and Nick Marino, will apparently compete for that one job.

The movie section comes out even worse. The paper's highly respected lead critic, Eleanor Ringel Gillespie, took the buyout. The plan now is to rely primarily on wire services for movie reviews with remaining critic Bob Longino filling in the gaps. Steve Murray must apply for another position.

The Peach Buzz's Rich Eldridge is safe. However, his cohorts Rodney Ho (who covers radio) and Jill Vejnoska (who covers television) must compete for a single job. Two reporters with very specialized beats are also without set jobs: Cathy Fox, who covers visual arts, and Pierre Ruhe, who covers classical music.

Others now without a set job include business writers Tammy Joyner, Mike Kanell and Carrie Teegardin.

Word is there was much angst in the newsroom when the list was handed out: reporters hunting down senior editors to yell at them, others finding a corner in which to go and cry.

The turmoil will continue for at least six more weeks. The job re-application process isn't over until June 1.

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