Wednesday, April 22, 2009

AJC scooped by local blogger!

Posted By on Wed, Apr 22, 2009 at 9:12 PM

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If you've spent much time on the Interwebs, you've come across the never-ending debate over the virtues of old-fashioned print journalism vs. blogging. (And if you haven't, you can some catch up here, here and most especially, here.)

Yesterday, the local blog Atlanta Unfiltered scored a big coup, posting a story — including the PDF documents — about a new county report indicating that fired DeKalb Police Chief Terrell Bolton "told a subordinate to falsify records to hide two luxury cars that the chief took home for his own use."

The day before, AU had reported that Bolton "took more than $35,000 in comp days after his supervisor refused to sign off on them," also according to the investigation, which was overseen by DeKalb Sheriff Tom Brown.

My first reaction was, Damn, I'm glad my beat isn't DeKalb police or I'd be getting a tongue-lashing from my editor about now for getting the shit scooped out of me by a blogger. In a follow-up story in today's AJC, the reporter acknowledges that he gained access to the report via Atlanta Unfiltered. Ouch.

Such a major get by a local blogger — which launched one month ago tomorrow — would seem to support the argument that such "citizen journalists" will soon replace daily newspapers as the go-to sources of up-to-date community information.

But, wait. Not so fast. The man behind Atlanta Unfiltered isn't your typical blogger. It's one Jim Walls, a 36-year newspaper veteran who toiled for nearly three decades at the AJC, most recently as editor over a team of the paper's top investigative reporters. In 2007, a year before he took a buyout, Walls was editor for one of the best investigative packages the AJC has produced in recent years, about Georgia's death penalty.

As Walls explains on his blog, he's currently shelling out his own money for public documents and he could use some help:

I gotta buy gas, and I gotta drive all around metro Atlanta. Also, I gotta eat, as does my family. I hope to earn a modest income from this enterprise. But I intend to offer all the public information offered on this Web site for free.

If guys like Walls can make a living maintaining an investigative blog — and generate the resources needed to fund his investigations — then perhaps "citizen journalism" can work as a business model. I guess we'll see. In the meantime, I'm glad someone with the skills and the know-how is out there plying his trade — even if his industry no longer has a place for guys like Walls.

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