Kudos to local Atlanta press for fighting judge’s gag order

The judge in the trial of the Atlanta Public School cheating scandal case just lifted the gag order that had prohibited defendants from talking to the press. The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported:

(Superior Court Judge Jerry) Baxter granted a motion jointly filed by The Atlanta Journal-Constitution and Channel 2 Action News seeking to remove gag orders on the APS defendants that were made a part of their bonds. The orders restricted the administrators and educators from talking to the media and public about the case.

Tom Clyde, a lawyer for the AJC and WSB-TV, said “a core part of being an American citizen” is a defendant’s right to profess his or her innocence.

Quinn countered that the defendants agreed to the condition in exchange for getting their bonds reduced. “This was something they did knowingly and voluntarily,” he said.

Baxter disagreed.

So, the judge asked, they could either post bonds of several million dollars or agree not to talk about the case?

“I’m striking that,” he said.

The gag order limited the press from covering the story fairly by giving prosecutors a monopoly on access to reporters.

Gag orders are considered a form of “prior restraint” — a serious abridgment of freedom of the press. However, they aren’t necessarily viewed as unconstitutional since the U.S. Constitution guarantees both a right to a free press as well as a right to a fair trial.

The Supreme Court generally holds that gag orders must directly lead to a more fair trial for defendants in order to uphold any restrictions on press coverage.

Given that standard, it’s hard to see how the gag order in the Atlanta Public Schools cheating case would lead to a more fair trial for the defendants.

The AJC and WSB deserve praise for paying their lawyers to fight the gag order. They are owned by the same company, Cox Communications — a reminder that bigger isn’t always badder when it comes to media outlets.

By | May 4th, 2013|AJC|0 Comments

Atlanta Journal-Constitution is turning a profit

According to the paper’s public editor:

A year ago, the newspaper was losing money. Business leaders moved quickly to turn that around, making a series of painful expense cuts that included trimming home delivery to outlying regions and reducing staff. Printing was consolidated at the company’s Gwinnett County plant, meaning the downtown presses were no longer used. And so the downtown office, which was expensive to maintain and no longer fully utilized, became an obvious choice for savings.

As difficult as those cuts were, the work paid off. The AJC has been profitable for the past several months. And in the face of necessary changes, the newspaper maintained its focus on what is essential to readers: a comprehensive report with deep local news, business, sports and entertainment coverage; a diverse mix of opinion and expertise; and in-depth watchdog reporting on topics that matter to all of metro Atlanta.

The AJC has indeed been doing a good job covering the area despite its reduced staff. They also put an impressive amount of resources into investigative journalism — producing about 10 enterprise pieces a week.

I would also add that the paper has worked on listening to complaints about its liberal bias — both in the news section and on the editorial pages. The paper shifted its editorial board to the center a year ago.

The AJC should also be lauded for its embrace of networked journalism. They often use shout-outs to their Twitter followers to get information on developing stories. And anecdotal evidence shows they’re quite receptive to fixing the mistakes pointed out by their networked community. Earlier this year, I criticized a lede for unfairly portraying a suspect in a crime as guilty. They fixed it within 2 hours and alerted me via Twitter.

It appears that all these elements make for profitable journalism. Other news outlets should take note of the AJC’s approach to the news business.

By | April 19th, 2010|AJC, networked journalism, new media|0 Comments

AJC moves editorial board toward the center

Atlanta Unsheltered is reporting that the Atlanta Journal-Constitution’s editorial board no longer features Jay Bookman or Cynthia Tucker. That’s a pretty huge move — removing, as Ken Edelstein puts it, the “two most important liberal voices in the state for the last two decades.”

This move represents AJC Publisher Julia Wallace’s stated intention to create more balance in the paper. She noted earlier this year that reader’s had complained “that our editorial pages are too liberal,” and removing Tucker and Bookman answers those complaints pretty effectively.

I think this is a good move. Where is it written that a newspaper’s editorial board must sit on the far left end of the political spectrum? We can assume that the new board will be closer to the middle and won’t automatically alienate a large number of its readers. Thoughtful editorial writing, not beholden to one political ideology, will better serve the city of Atlanta.

As newspapers seek to hold on to their readership in this new media environment, perhaps more will purge their editorial boards in an attempt to make a product more palatable to both sides of the political spectrum.

By | April 18th, 2009|AJC|0 Comments

Store customer beats robber with step ladder

Congratulations, Ben Smith, staff writer for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution:

Note to robbers: don’t take a knife to a step ladder fight. That’s what one thief discovered when a customer at an Acworth convenience store on North Main Street bonked him with a ladder used for reaching items on the top shelf.

The robber had just threatened to cut the Quik Thrift store clerk’s neck if he didn’t give him cash, authorities said. The clerk complied.

Then the customer — a regular who is known to store workers as “Caveman” — grabbed the step ladder and smacked the suspect at least once. The robber dropped some of the money and fled.

The customer with the step ladder chased him out of the store.

You win the Matt Duffy Great Lede contest.

By | April 15th, 2009|AJC|0 Comments