A few months ago, my teenage children and I watched the DVD of the wildly popular teen vampire book “Twilight.” The cute boy vampire asks the infatuated mortal girl, “Do you want to be a vampire?” I answered for her: “NO! I want to be a newspaper editor!”
Not long before that screen encounter, I joined the ranks of writers, editors, photographers and artists – and that’s just in my department – to leave The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. I made it till Round 3. Every day, when I see a paper or box or truck, I think, “I used to do that … and I want to do that again!” When I am on Marietta Street, I think, “I wonder how they’re holding up in there tonight.” And I want back in, reluctantly contemplating what to do instead.
I am a lifelong, fifth-generation native Atlantan, a great-great granddaughter of the first city editor at The Atlanta Journal, Elam Christian. He was an early Methodist minister who a few years earlier had started the first evening paper in Georgia after the Union army closed the paper in Macon and he published one anyway, trading by hand circulation, for 5 cents U.S. or $2 Confederate money or in specio (like food or firewood). Then, during Reconstruction, he helped launch papers all over the state, so the legal notices could be published, and helped start the Georgia Press Association. His son was a linotype operator at the Journal for more than 50 years and put off retirement to stay on through World War II.
And that’s just on my mother’s side of the family.
On my dad’s side, my Uncle Charles Jackson was a copy boy while he was a journalism student at Emory University. To earn money to finish his degree, he left Emory, joined the Air Force, shipped out to Korea and got killed. His only child, who was born 10 days before his death, had her photo on the front page of the Constitution one Memorial Day. Uncle Charles was among the photographers on the scene at the Winecoff fire, though the Pulitzer Prize winning photo taken that tragic night in the end was not even shot by a professional journalist.
My dad had a paper route in Decatur’s Oakhurst neighborhood in the late 1940s when he was a kid, and one of my earliest childhood memories is of sleeping in the back seat of the car atop a pile of newspapers when I was 2 years old. He and my mom had taken a route to pay for a big vacation out west in the summer of 1966. I remember it because he made a fast stop, and I rolled down off the papers, giving all in the car a memorable scare. As a schoolgirl, I helped my class win the paper drives. I loved reading the funny papers, and my grandmother, a yellow dog Democrat, loved reading Lewis Grizzard aloud to me in the mornings. I remember the “I Beat Bisher!” stickers on seemingly every car bumper, and I remember when Constitution editor Reg Murphy was kidnapped, not so much because it was big news but because his daughter went to my elementary school. I remember that the paper had a close relationship to the deaf community because my sister is deaf, and as a girl she aspired to work in the presses, which are very loud, and attended Cruselle-Freeman Church of the Deaf, which was endowed by a former Constitution executive around the turn of the 20th century.
For 14 years of my adult life, almost to the day, I had my turn in the sunshine of the AJC newsroom. I got my bachelor’s degree from The Henry W. Grady College of Journalism and Mass Communication at The University of Georgia, worked around town for magazines and community newspapers, became a wife – with a big write-up in one of the local papers — then a mother of twins and took a night job three nights a week on the AJC copy desk doing a whole bunch of different jobs, even making the call to “stop the presses!” on a couple of occasions, picking out the wire service stories to run and writing the pithy, occasionally profane, A1 zingers. I even had friends trying to get to the Vent Guy through me. Heady stuff.
So I, the fourth generation in my family to have entered the building, left with a heavy heart full of love and respect – and memories – of my former company and coworkers. It will be sad if the paper leaves Marietta Street, but I hope the move will be short – like to Peachtree Street, smack dab in the middle of Five Points, the historic heart of Atlanta and in eyeshot of Mr. Grady’s granite gaze.