I’m not surprised that the Atlanta Journal-Constitution keeps losing people out of the newsroom. But I am taken aback by the level of talent that finds it best to depart.
The latest wave out includes longtime columnists Maria Saporta (business), Tony Barnhart (college football) and institution Furman Bisher (general sports). They were among more than 70 staffers offered voluntary buyouts in August.
Bisher joined the paper in 1950 and recently celebrated his 90th birthday. Barnhart has authored several books on college football. His blog was the most popular at the entire AJC in May, when college football was not in season and the Braves, Falcons and Hawks all were involved in some sort of competition. Saporta has been at the paper since 1981 and is well known in the Atlanta business community. (Disclosure: Barnhart and I are former UGA classmates, and Saporta and I once worked at the same newspaper.)
Not only do these people have strong institutional knowledge about their beats and the newspaper/Web site, but columnists were among the last reasons to subscribe to the print product.
Breaking news is easily available online, either at ajc.com or another site. Newspapers long ago quit making this a priority. But columnists are personalities, much like anchor people on TV newscasts. They give their take on events, with a perspective that only they can apply.
Barnhart’s departure will hurt the AJC the most. As I mentioned, his blog, “Mr. College Football,” proves that in the South, college football is a year-round sport. Also, his contacts are unparalleled, owing to his fact-based reporting and his longtime presence in Atlanta, where the SEC and ACC both do business.
(Updated 8/19/08: Barnhart’s last day will be Sept. 28, though he will continue his blog on a contract basis through the 2008 season. Here’s his blog excerpt: A final personal note: Some good news this morning. A number of you have written very kind notes about the upcoming change in my working relationship with the AJC. That change will still take place in late September. But I want you to know that we’ve come to an agreement to continue the Mr. College Football blog through the 2008 season. That’s a tribute to you. Together we have built this blog into something that is really fun and (hopefully) very readable. I’m excited about this new development and appreciative for the opportunity to continue Mr. CFB for one more season. Thanks again for all your support.)
Bisher also will be missed. He hasn’t been a key figure in AJC sports for awhile, but he still has a strong following. And someone who has been involved with the paper that long always is an asset.
But everyone knows newspapers’ financial plight. More and more readers and advertisers are going online, or to specialty publications. And staffers know that the older they get, the bigger targets they are when company bean counters get nervous. Such is life.
But now I’m wondering why anyone would subscribe to the AJC’s print edition without such columnists. And remember that the print edition still brings in more money than the Web site. Wow!