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Wednesday, April 15, 2009

A remarkably stupid decision?

A tsunami of outrage and confusion is traveling through the foodie community. Its cause is the announcement that the AJC's management has taken John Kessler off the food beat and assigned him the gig of writing personality profiles for Sunday editions.

Our former dining editor Bill Addison has a post about the news on his Atlanta Magazine blog. He pays tribute to John for his influence on his own career. You can read the reactions of foodies on John's Facebook page.

What is not clear is whether John had any role in the decision. I wonder about this because it seems remarkably stupid to kick arguably your most popular writer off his beat.  John was first hired at the AJC as dining critic and then, after about eight years, moved to the broader role of food writer.  Perhaps moving to an even broader role appeals to him.

Still, he likely had no choice if he wants to stay at the AJC. The change, along with other surviving employees' reassignments, was announced the day after the paper  rid itself of 70-plus editorial staff members through "buy-outs," including some major names. This follows several earlier rounds of layoffs, buyouts and early retirements. As far as I can tell, the paper's arts coverage has been completely eviscerated.

The paper is also closing several suburban bureaus and shipping Cynthia Tucker off to DC to ruminate strictly about national-level politics. There's been no word whether Cynthia, a Pulitzer winner, had a role in her new assignment, either.

I have to confess that when I was reading one of John's recent pieces a few days ago, I wondered, "Why the hell is this man writing about donuts?"  He is a gifted writer and maybe he can take inspiration from Frank Rich who ended his stint as theater critic at the New York Times by becoming its most controversial and engaging Sunday columnist.

Of course, the depth of John's work will depend in great part on the license he is granted. Whatever happens, the culinary scene is worse for the change.

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