AJC stops endorsing candidates

12 10 2009

I can’t follow the rationale of the editorial page of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution in its announcement that it will no longer endorse political candidates.

The policy starts with the current mayor race, at a time the city is facing problems as critical as adequate drinking water and the worst traffic congestion in the nation.

It places the change in the context of the changing world of journalism, after “thinking deeply about the modern role of a newspaper in elections.”ajc logo

We have heard from readers — and we agree — that you don’t 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. …

That world has changed, steadily and more rapidly in recent years. We see our role now as providing you with information to help you make decisions — and not trying to make them for you. This is consistent with our move earlier this year to make the editorial pages more balanced — offering a wide array of opinions.

Spare me.

I wish that I could see this as a bold move, as courageous leadership by the newspaper that I grew up with. Unfortunately, I think it’s the opposite.

The AJC and its courageous editorial voice long alienated its conservative southern readers while at the same time playing a critical role in transforming the city to one of the nation’s most progressive in racial inclusion and not coincidentally, one of the most powerful economically. Readers complained about those “lying Atlanta newspapers” but didn’t stop reading them, and they followed the newspapers’ lead toward a more progressive city despite themselves.

What has changed most in the AJC’s world is the economics of newspapers, and I believe that it has caused the newspaper to lose its backbone.

Of course, there is no tension or contradiction between a newspaper fairly and thoroughly informing the electorate about all the candidates, their backgrounds and positions on important issues, and its later editorial guidance about which candidate is best for the region or the nation.

The tension is between a newspaper’s responsibilities and its economic survival. In this case, the AJC has decided to avoid alienating readers because it cannot face the possibility of losing more revenue. The irony is that it will lose readers and revenue because it has lost its voice.

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