Former AJC Editor Launches Online News Service

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(APN) ATLANTA — Jim Walls, a former editor for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution newspaper, has launched his own online news service called Atlanta Unfiltered, in which he covers oversight and ethics issues for government and private agencies.

Walls, 55, launched Atlanta Unfiltered at www.atlantaunfiltered.com on March 29, 2009, he told Atlanta Progressive News in an interview. Since then he has published about 60 news stories, averaging about 5 or 6 during the week, Monday through Friday.

Walls was a reporter from 1980 to 1983 covering several county government beats. In 1984, he became the Gwinnett Bureau Chief. From 1984 to 1988, he ran the night City Desk. He held various editorial positions from 1988 to 1992. He was Assistant Metro Editor from 1992 to 1996. He was a special projects editor from 1996 to 2007. He was the investigations editor from 2007 to 2008.

In our continuing coverage of the changing media ecosystem in Atlanta, we will be looking at online projects fostered by former corporate journalists in town. Shortly, we will be bringing you an interview with Maria Saporta, a former AJC reporter who now writes for the Atlanta Business Chronicle and who also runs a new website, www.SaportaReport.com.

Another unique local project founded by former AJC staffers is called Like the Dew: A Journal of Southern Culture and Politics. Its goal is to cover news about the South that is not being reported elsewhere. Its name comes from a slogan of the former Atlanta Journal [pre-merger], which used to say it Covered Dixie Like the Dew.

Atlanta is following a somewhat similar pattern to Seattle, Washington, where the Seattle Post-Intelligencer went online only, while some former P-I staffers launched their own online news projects.

Atlanta Progressive News, founded in November 2005, is believed to have been Atlanta’s first free online news service. Insider Advantage, a paid online news service, was founded a few months prior.

APN sat down with Walls to discuss his goals for Atlanta Unfiltered and his views on the AJC and Atlanta’s changing media in general.

ATLANTA UNFILTERED

Walls’s main goal for Atlanta Unfiltered (AU) is to post public documents exposing public corruption, with as little analysis as possible, so as to let the reader decide what the documents mean.

“You don’t have to take my word for it. It’s just I know after 35 years how to get the stuff,” Walls said.

“I’m about transparency as much as ethics. To promote transparency in public policy… to have things out in the open,” Walls said. “Online offers [the ability] to show people the value there is in public documents and the credibility that brings to news reporting.”

Walls had already come up with the name Atlanta Unfiltered when he learned there was a controversial blog with a similar title, Georgia Politics Unfiltered. The website’s author, Andre Walker, then took down the site shortly before Walls launched his site.

Atlanta Unfiltered recently published a major story on June 03, 2009, about a Chattooga County judge who is facing a fine by the State Election Board for allegedly rigging an election in his favor.

He noted the story was not hard to get. “I just wandered into the Election Board Tuesday. I looked at the agenda and said, oh, wow. This case was up there. I walk in late and it was jammed full of people,” Walls said.

The only problem with the new online news ventures started by former AJC staffers is, “It’s a pipe dream… None of us make any money. I spent $200 on records this week. Some guy gave me $10 last night.”

As part of his buyout contract with the AJC, Walls has a paycheck through August of this year; then he will receive a pension. He also has a used book business in which he earns $500 per week. “And I have two kids in private school,” he said.

Walls noted he was approached by Rick White of Alisias PR firm and the Georgia Online News Service about writing for GONSO. As previously reported by APN: White, former AJC staffer Lyle Harris, and former Creative Loafing editor John Sugg each work for both GONSO and Alisias, raising serious questions about transparency and conflict of interest.

“I had had problems with [White] as a [PR] flack,” Walls said, referring to when he was still working for the AJC. Walls said he could not join GONSO because “I didn’t see where the firewall was gonna be. It’s preposterous. Be one or the other.”

WALLS ON THE AJC

“The newspaper [the AJC] is no longer the newspaper of record,” Walls said.

“In 1981, I started on the Journal [before the merge with the Constitution]. We were very competitive. The newspaper doesn’t make that promise anymore. We’ve pulled back. It’s the newspaper of whatever we find out about,” Walls said.

“Reporters are stretched so thin. People are covering three to four beats now. A lot of beats are just gone and [have been replaced by]… general assignment reporting.”

“I’m trying to reestablish healthy competition,” Walls said.

“There’s no continuity. There have been issues over time where reporters switch beats frequently; now it’s like 52 card pickup. People aren’t interchangable and you lose institutional knowledge, people who would recognize things and would develop relationships,” Walls said.

“99% of news decisions [regarding stories the AJC is not covering] are influenced by shrinking revenues,” Walls said, objecting to APN’s editorial theory that the AJC is a conspiracy of the bourgeoisie.

“It’s not a cabal,” Walls said.

“They’re bailing water. Even before the radical reorganization, reporters’ time was stretched too thin. There’s more time for breaking news than enterprise. The emphasis is on production and there’s very little downtime for research. What is [research] is for the Sunday paper,” Walls said.

“Bottom line, they were trying to balance the budget. Reducing the size, staff, bureaus, was all about reducing expenses [due to]… ad revenue declining,” Walls said.

“I was a meat and potatoes reporter. I was used to working with reporters. The newspaper did analyses and focus groups,” to decide how to move forward, Walls said.

ATLANTA’S CHANGING MEDIA

“Sooner or later, we’re gonna be an Internet world. Print may exist in some form. There are few and far between credible news sources on the web,” Walls said.

“Especially when you get into openly progressive or Conservative, it doesn’t register [with the corporate media] as competition,” Walls said.

“I’d get your stuff on AHA [Atlanta Housing Authority]. Sometimes I’d read it but I’d take it with a grain of salt,” Walls said. “A definite slant undermines credibility.”

“Somewhere there has to be objectivity,” Walls said.

APN noted that there is no such thing as objectivity, and that all publications have a slant, whether they admit it or not. APN is transparent that our slant is towards the interests of working families, whereas the AJC pretends to be objective but functions as the unofficial newsletter of corporations and real estate developers.

“I appreciate your point about objectivity. By using source material the way I do and saying look for yourself, I speak to skeptics. You’re speaking to the choir. Other people are like, Progressive News did it again. Progressive News, of course that’s what they’re gonna say,” Walls said.

Walls says in general his concern is about the quality of local and regional reporting. “From an investigative reporting standpoint, the national reporting sources are gonna stay in place, the New York Times, the Washington Post, the Wall Street Journal. There always will be money. On the regional and local level, there’s gonna be a problem.”

“Papers are imploding. I’m trying to fill a void. Someone’s got to do it. I was supposed to sell books. I could be spending time with my kids. Some nights I’m like, what the hell am I doing? I could either be frustrated and not do it, or be frustrated and do it,” Walls said.

About the author:

Matthew Cardinale is the News Editor for The Atlanta Progressive News and is reachable at matthew@atlantaprogressivenews.com.

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Our syndicaton policy was updated June 2007. For more information on how to syndicate Atlanta Progressive News content, please visit: http://www.atlantaprogressivenews.com/extras/syndicate.html

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