According to Oliver, forty-four people applied for the four narrative/profile writing positions under Jan Winburn, a writer-friendly editor with a reputation for producing award-winning work. Moni Basu, who has made six trips to Iraq for the paper, was pleased to nab one of those plum jobs. But, she says, “the biggest challenge is to come up with stories. When you’re not covering something on a daily basis, it becomes very difficult.”
Perhaps fearing that Enterprise reporters would malinger, editors have imposed story quotas: sixty a year for explanatory and narrative/profile writers, and twelve for the investigative reporters. It’s unclear how two of the paper’s most significant, and time-consuming, projects this year—one on problems in state mental-health institutions and the other on the inequitable application of the death penalty in Georgia—would have fared under the quota system. But Oliver says that the reorganization did free the death-penalty series, which ran in late September, from the perennial plague of “serial editing.”
Ariel Hart, an N&I transportation reporter, says that one “huge fear,” that N&I reporters would be unable to do enterprise stories, has “been allayed somewhat.” Hart, who added public transit to her former roads/commuting beat, says that “the first and primary fear was that enterprise reporting would not be allowed for non-Enterprise folk, that the policy was: ‘We don’t do enterprise, Enterprise does enterprise.’” Now, she says, “I feel encouraged to the nth degree to do enterprise—if I can find time.”
The overall workload at the AJC has increased, says Roughton. “If you were to break this down into a factory, I think we’re being called upon to produce more product, and we do have fewer people,” he says. As a result, there are “some reporters who feel that they’re running as hard as they can and it’s not quite hard enough.”
It’s also true that some N&I reporters—including Eileen M. Drennen, a “mojo” reporter in Gwinnett County, who proudly shows off her digital pictures; Mary Lou Pickel, who writes “newsy enterprise” off her immigration beat; and Jennifer Brett, who blogs as The Social Butterfly—seem invigorated by the challenges of the New World. “We have a plan to march us into the future,” says Brett. “A lot of newspapers are writing the Book of Revelation. You know, ‘These are the end times.’ It’s almost like we’re writing the Book of Genesis.”
The streamlining of the newsroom may, in fact, give reporters more voice in shaping the newspaper. Take the page-one meeting, which Nancy Albritton, senior editor of page one in Print, presides over with sardonic grace. In the New World, this 1:30 p.m. meeting was supposed to be a stand-up huddle in the newsroom—a step toward inclusiveness—but that quickly proved unworkable. “It was chaos,” Albritton says. So instead, editors from N&I, Enterprise, and Print all gather in the conference room.
Today, Bill Sanders, an Enterprise reporter, is there, too, pitching a feature on a school for troubled kids that rewards good behavior with dirt-bike-riding privileges. He speaks with a trace of nervousness, while his editor stands supportively beside him. “It’s a purely motivational way to try to keep kids who are on their last chance in school, and the early anecdotal evidence is that it’s a huge success,” he says.
“And it doesn’t hurt at all that your editor is also a biker, right?” Albritton says, smiling.
In the end, Albritton, who has been taking assiduous notes, issues a decision: “So with very, very tight space, we’re going to take a bat [“big ass tease”] on the Fed. I would like to have something on Blackwater, something on the [DeKalb County] home invasion—I think it’s stunning that someone can go in and shoot and kill kids and get out—and then I think the cycles story [Sanders’s feature] is probably good for us. Is that suitable for all involved?”
Albritton seems like a natural at the job, bantering later with Roughton in a way reminiscent of newsrooms of old. “It isn’t my fault,” she says of the day’s slim news pickings. “I’m merely the catcher. I have to cook whatever groceries are brought.”
That wasn’t always the case. “In the Old World, I had the best job ever, ever, ever,” she says, when she was editor of the mesh desk—medicine, environment, science, and health. She likes her new work: “This is no small job at all. It is as fun as anything I’ve ever done. I love it.” But she loved the old one more. “That doesn’t mean that this will not eventually mesmerize me as much.”