Mark Davis, a veteran news reporter who had been covering the Atlanta zoo and the new Georgia Aquarium, saw that his name was not “in a box” on the charts, meaning his Old World job no longer existed. “Like everybody else, I was kind of steamed about that,” he says. “I thought, ‘Wasn’t I doing a good enough job?’” He went home, he says, and “yelled at the cats,” but cooled down when he realized how many others were affected.
In features, several critics discovered that their old jobs had vanished, including Pierre Ruhe, classical music; Catherine Fox, visual arts; Jill Vejnoska, television; Nick Marino, pop music. Teresa Weaver, the books editor, was also placed in limbo. “I will go to my grave believing it should not have been handled in the way it was handled,” says Weaver, forty-seven, who had held her job for eight years and was passionate about it. “It was demeaning and insulting.”
Weaver’s situation inspired the National Book Critics Circle, already concerned about shrinking books coverage, to launch a Campaign to Save Book Reviews and led to a local read-in protest. Robert Spano, the music director of the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra, and various music blogs bemoaned the possible death of music (and other) criticism at the paper. Klibanoff fired back, saying that such a death was greatly exaggerated. Indeed, Fox and Ruhe’s jobs had been replaced by “arts enterprise reporter” positions that were to include criticism—though the specialties involved were left unspecified. Overall, the paper did seem to be deemphasizing criticism in favor of reporting. It eliminated its television and movie critic positions, substituting wire reviews. Staffers would instead devote more attention to the local arts scene, in line with the new imperative: distinctive local coverage. “That wasn’t an arts decision,” Wallace points out. “That was an across-the-board decision,” affecting even Sports.
Still, says Ruhe, the paper was “blindsided” by the arts community’s reaction, and “did what needed to be done.” He ended up as the classical music critic/reporter; Fox became the visual arts critic/reporter. I asked Ruhe how much his job had, in fact, changed. “Not at all,” he said. Vejnoska became a features reporter in Enterprise. Marino left the paper to becoming managing editor of Paste, a music and culture magazine. Weaver resigned, too, and works as a writer and editor for Habitat for Humanity and a part-time books editor for Atlanta Magazine. Klibanoff says he was “stunned” that she never applied for the new Print department job that included authority over the books section. She says she had no interest in becoming “a glorified wire editor.”
The paper’s book reviews are now assigned by Tom Sabulis, who is also responsible for overseeing Sunday’s Arts & Books section and Friday’s Movies & More. “We’ve developed a mission to try to focus more on southern topics, southern authors, even southern book reviewers who might have a better feel for what’s coming out of the university presses,” says Sabulis, who says the actual space devoted to books coverage has increased (from roughly a page and a half to two pages). The paper regularly picks up wire service reviews, however, something it rarely did in the past.
While the prospective arts reshuffling caused ripples outside the paper, the perceived status distinctions between the two content departments—News & Information and Enterprise—were probably more divisive internally.
A typical N&I reporter’s day begins at 9 a.m., and by mid-morning many are already filing quick “bursts” for Digital, before reworking their stories with “day and a half leads” for Print. The pace can be ferocious. Davis, who ended up with a revamped cultural-institutions beat that widened his responsibilities, says he had twenty-one bylines in August (up from about twelve a month in the Old World), but enjoys more freedom to choose his stories. “If you stay busy working your beat, you don’t have time to complain so much,” he says. “It works for me.”
By contrast, Enterprise’s task is to develop watchdog, explanatory, narrative, profile, and investigative stories destined mainly for the newspaper—with the help of sources and story tips from N&I. Naturally, “almost everyone who is a reporter applied for Enterprise,” which had just forty-five reporting positions, says Thomas Oliver, the department’s senior editor for specialists. “When you hear News & Information and you hear Enterprise,” says Sabulis, “as a reporter, which would you naturally gravitate to? ‘Oh, Enterprise, that’s me. I need a week to do my stories and polish them and put them on the front page.’”