For weeks, there have been whispers that the Atlanta Journal-Constitution wouldn't offer endorsements for the upcoming Atlanta mayoral elections. If so, the move would've been a startling about-face from an editorial board made famous by legendary editor Ralph McGill.
Late Friday evening, the paper sent word. In a note to readers, the board said it was done with endorsements.
We have heard from readers and we agree that you dont need us to tell you how to vote. What readers tell us they need is information on who the candidates are, what they have done and what they want to do in the new job.
While this sounds very forward-thinking and probably could be spun as "bold new thinking" in NewspaperLand, we think it's hogwash.
The explanation the paper gave for its decision to quit endorsing just doesn't jibe. The paper can still provide information about the candidates' stances on the issues while issuing endorsements of its own. The two aren't mutually exclusive.
Perhaps the true reason the paper is giving up on endorsements has something to do with the AJC's attempt to render the paper devoid of any opinion that could offend anyone. As CL staff writer Scott Henry wrote earlier this year:
AJC executives have quietly taken direct control of the papers editorial board, bumping [editorial page editor Cynthia] Tucker, columnist Jay Bookman and staff editorial writer Maureen Downey, whos been shifted to an education beat. The board, which is responsible for the papers institutional voice, now consists of [editor-in-chief Julia] Wallace; publisher Doug Franklin; James Mallory, a senior VP; and Andre Jackson, Tuckers replacement as editorial page editor, whose column has yet to appear.
One obvious conclusion to be drawn is that Wallace, whos publicly acknowledged reader complaints that the editorial page is too liberal, aims to swing the pendulum in the other direction.
After more than 140 years in the newspaper business, the AJC should know it can't please everyone. Even before Georgia's GOP renaissance, the daily paper was slammed with resistance from conservatives or anyone else whose viewpoints were different from those of the paper's. As far back as McGill's landmark columns about the Civil Rights movement, the paper caught heat for championing what was right. I mean, come on, newspaper editorials can and do effect important change.
An endorsement is an opinion, one crafted by discussion and insight by people with institutional knowledge who are paid to monitor and investigate the issues. It's an opinion with which readers can agree, disagree or ignore.
These days, however, the editorial board appears to be doing its damnedest to avoid the mere semblance of an opinion. "Atlanta Forward," the board's newest initiative, does a great job of telling readers that the sky is blue. "Elections: Voters must weigh facts, choose wisely." No shit. "Housing market: Home buyers will help U.S. recover." You don't say? "Atlanta's Economy: Bold thinking will mark turnaround." Ah, the vagaries of the daily editorial page. What will they deliver us next?
The AJC editorial board had a chance to play a role in Atlanta and further the discussion about this important election. In trying to avoid controversy and win friends and readers, it lost respect.
Now, for our shameless plug: CL will continue to endorse candidates. In fact, this week's issue contains our picks for who we think is most qualified to be Atlanta's next mayor, City Council president and at-large council members. We decided who to endorse by interviewing the candidates over the past two weeks and tapping the institutional knowledge of staff members. If readers disagree, we welcome their thoughts. And if our choices for candidates fail us, we'll be the first to admit it.
Does that make us old-fashioned?
Expect our first three endorsements later today. Our pick for Atlanta's next mayor will be published online tomorrow morning. The print edition hits the streets Wednesday.
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