Atlanta Journal ConstitutionA 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.

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12 Comments
  1. I think I know how you feel, Eden. My grandfather, Howard Paris, was the art director in the Journal newsroom in the 1960s and 70s. As a little boy I would go to work with him early in the morning and pretend to be a newspaper man. In the mid 1980s I went to work for the AJC, reuniting with people who had worked with my grandaddy years before. It was a great homecoming and my years on Marietta Street were some of the best of my career. All of us displaced newspaper people are, in some way, wondering what to do with ourselves. It got in my blood early and it will always be there. Since those pre-dawn trips downtown with my grandfather, my hero, all I ever wanted to be was a newspaper artist. And I was for 20 years. I guess that qualifies as a dream come true. Thanks for your great little story.

  2. Doug Cumming

    I’m sentimental about all that, too, being a fifth generation Atlanta boy, in a family of journalists, and an AJC exile. But this talk of moving the paper to Gwinnett (Gwinnett!?) is not only an affront and grief to the likes of us. It’s also a blow to fifth generation READERS of the Atlanta papers (as well as newcomers, from Athens to Rising Fawn). I was in Pickens County this summer, and was reading the Chattanooga Times Free Press, because, incredibly, the AJC has left a vacuum for that paper. (Not a great paper, but it too has a history, and an owner, Walter Hussman Jr., who understood better than others that giving away news for free on the Internet was not the answer.) I am watching metro papers all over the country struggle, but most are navigating these parlous times pretty well. Not the AJC. Readers need reporters, if our theory about democracy and an informed citizenry is valid. Check out a new book by Alex Jones, Losing the News: The Uncertain Future of the News that Feeds Democracy. Here’s an assignment for the reporters Atlanta doesn’t have much anymore, despite all our wonderful online and on-radio bloviating: Who should be held accountable to the public for the collapse of the AJC (which was perhaps at its very best just a few years ago, and I’m counting the McGill-Patterson years)? What forces, what ideas, what corporate calculations lay behind the current strategy, and what are the likely consequences, now and in the years to come?

  3. I believe word is out that by late next spring, perhaps by early summer, the buildings on Marietta St. will be vacated. The AJC — or whatever is left of it by then — will headquarter in Dunwoody, somewhere near Perimeter Center. I’m not 100 percent positive, but pretty sure it is a done deal.

    Apparently, only about 30 percent of the Marietta St. bldgs are now occupied by the AJC.

    BTW, spent 21 years there. Lasted until the second way, and saw no more logical move other than to take the buyout. I go back and forth between sadness and a ho-hum attitude about the paper’s decline. I will always relish the printed product, but have been wrapped by so much chaos in the business that I guess I’ve become a little like a grizzled war veteran who no longer ducks when the bullets fly and mortars land nearby.

  4. Eden, I’m a second generation AJCer myself. That newspaper has supported me since I was four years old. I can rival Furman Bisher in how long I’ve been associated with it. The whole thing, watching the paper slide into chaos and then leave its downtown roots, feels like a death in the family. I still read it every day, and will until there’s nothing left to read. And I still find good things the remaining staff is doing. I imagine them overcoming the knots in their stomachs from the stress of wondering what will happen to their careers (much as I did the last few years I was there) and going out to find the story anyway. Getting into that place of deep concentration where the story is all there is and making it happen, hoping for the best as it heads for print, since there are so few editors to help assure mistakes are caught. Then taking a deep breath and doing it all again the next day. Now they’ll be doing it fromDunwoody. Hard to imagine, but one thing I know is that they will keep doing it again until somebody turns out the lights.

  5. Nice piece. I came to the AJC in 1984 as part of the new regional reporting staff, the paper’s effort to live up to its motto of “covering Dixie like the dew.” I spent 14 years at the AJC, the last few as sidekick to my dear friend the above Susan Wells. It was a great place to work, and I will always cherish the many friendships I made there and the wonderful times we all had trying to do our best for our readers. In many ways, the AJC has been the soul and conscience of Atlanta. I hope it can continue to perform that function from the sterile confines of Dunwoody. I know my remaining friends at the ACJ will try like hell to make it happen. I wish them the best of luck.

  6. Jingle Davis

    Eden, I share your sorrow. I was on staff for 18 years and freelanced for the AJC a decade before that. My family isn’t from Atlanta but we’re native Georgians and having the AJC (in its various iterations — the Journal, the Constitution) as the state’s flagship paper made us proud, especially when Ralph McGill was proving that not all southern whites were racists. I keep hoping somebody will figure out how the paper can continue a tradition of great journalism and still make enough money to survive. As Doug Cumming says, we all need to think hard about the consequences if that doesn’t happen. (By the way, Susan Well’s dad was on the desk when I wrote my first freelance pieces for the paper. A novice reporter couldn’t have had a better editor.)

  7. Thanks for sharing your story, Eden. Newspapers are and were special places, and it was my privilege to work seven years at the AJC. It’s sad to think of it leaving downtown, sadder still to see it buffeted by the 21st century forces afflicting newspapers nationwide. My best wishes are with the paper and those still pouring themselves into making it the best it can be.

  8. Sad, yes. Sad that a piece of history in this community that has not preserved enough of what it has is going, going, … But let us not forget that this newspaper, percentage-wise, lost more readers than any other major metro in the country for a string of years. Likely it still does. Let’s not forget all the incompetent managers and leadership who are responsible. They’re still there, I think. The **star** reporters who sat in air conditioned comfort in choice seats downtown — doing little but attending meetings and kissing ass. This is the ajc who many of worked there remember, and it would be a wrong to mark its demise without recalling the facts.

  9. Tom Baxter

    Eden:
    Reading your piece and the comments that follow, it strikes me that we should begin planning now some sort of observance at Henry Grady’s statue when what’s left of the paper departs for Dunwoody.
    I was there the last two times (in 1976 and 1992) they dragged the old brass cannon out onto Marietta Street in front of the statue and fired it to celebrate a Democrat taking the White House from a Republican incumbent. The place had already become so soulless by 1992 that the celebration was unauthorized – some anonymous newsroom denizens commandered the cannon and fired it themselves. The cannon’s up at the corporate headquarters now, but we could certainly think up some proper commemoration. It’s the least we can do for old Henry.
    Sorry we didn’t get to know each other better in our years at the AJC.

  10. Eden . . .

    Thanks for this post. I can’t claim any of the AJC-related family history that you and some of the other commenters can; I grew up elsewhere in Georgia and saw the AJC only occasionally, typically when my father would buy the big, fat Sunday edition on the way home from church, most likely during football season to read about the Georgia and Tech games of the day before. But reading those big, fat Sunday editions was a special experience, and I was at the AJC from 1986 to 2007, and when I read Susan Wells say that what has happened “feels like a death in the family,” I felt a shock of recognition. How can this have happened, and so quickly? And this move to near Perimeter Mall, to offices that the AJC won’t even own but will rent? It feels like a bad dream that it’s about time we all woke up from.

    At least we have Like the Dew. And for anybody who isn’t aware of it, there’s at least one other site populated by ex-AJCers, namely Pierre Ruhe, Cathy Fox, Wendell Brock, Eleanor Ringel Cater and Steve Murray — http://www.artscriticatl.com. Check it out if you’re into the arts.

  11. I’m curious to learn more about the Atlanta Journal-Constitution’s political news staffs’ institutionalized celebration of the losses of incumbent Republican presidents. I was at Manuel’s when practically the whole management and staff along with the local, official Democrat leadership celebrated hand-in-hand at Barry’s election. Didn’t realize there were formal celebrations involved for Republican losses involving cannon and such. Interesting. A testament to objectivity.

  12. Eden – Great recollections. And now of course the move to Gwinnett is complete.

    The Marietta Street office shaped me from 1985-88, when GlennMcCutchen hired me as an intern, then reporter – alongside Betsy White, Bill Hendrick, Bob Deans, Marilyn Geewax, Peter Mantius, Robert Jones, Keith Herndon, Dan Cooreman, Tom Eblen, Brian O’Shea, Ron Taylor, Thomas Oliver, Kevin Sack, John Lancaster, Nathan McCall, Chris Burritt, Sally Salter, etc. etc. I’ve been with various wire services the past 20+ years, so one step removed from the ink and presses, but it never leaves you.

    We were a Consti, not Journal, family. In the early ’50s, Dad was a salesman traveling in south Georgia, when the hotel manager confided some racist remark to him. Dad responded, “You know, Ralph McGill had an editorial the other day…” The man never talked to him again. Mom had to get her daily dose of Celestine Sibley. Anyone remember Baldy’s cartoons? Lester Maddox backward on his bicycle?

    Anyway, keep up the faith. And I hope you keep freelancing stories for us on the Atlanta Fed!

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