Updated: this story now includes an email from AJC’s general manager sent to staff on Friday afternoon in response to the SaportaReport story. See below.
By Maria Saporta and John Ruch
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution will discontinue its daily print edition and switch to a weekend print edition, but it will continue its digital news operation seven days a week, according to interviews with half a dozen people familiar with the paper.
The implementation timeframe for shutting down the daily print edition has yet to be decided, but sources say it would likely happen in 2023 – likely within a year.
The editors were briefed on the decision during a zoom meeting on September 1. The meeting was led by Kevin Riley, editor of The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, and Shawn McIntosh, editor of the journal.
During the meeting, the editors were informed that there were no immediate plans to lay off newsroom employees, according to people familiar with the meeting.
All newsroom employees also received an email inviting them to an “in-person” staff meeting on September 8 at 11 a.m.
Kevin Riley’s staff meeting invitation stated:
“It’s been a while since we’ve had an in-person pressroom staff meeting, but don’t worry, I promise there won’t be any shoe drops at this meeting. Instead, I would like to come together and share some exciting information as we plan for our future. The leadership team hopes that you will leave the meeting with the same optimism as we do about our path forward – a path that we will will continue to produce our meaningful work for a long time to come.
In a brief telephone interview on September 1, Riley did not confirm the decision. When asked if the AJC had decided to discontinue the print edition six days a week and only have a print edition on Sundays over the next year, Riley replied: “No decision of this type was taken.”
On Friday morning, Riley was asked if his quote was referring to the decision to go all-digital, except for a weekend newspaper, or if it was referring to when it would be implemented. At the time of this story’s publication, Riley had not responded to the text. This story will be updated if and when he responds.
However, during the phone interview, Riley basically confirmed the likelihood of the print product being on the way out, with the possible exception of a weekend newspaper.
“I can tell you that everyone knows the future of our business is digital,” Riley said.
In a host of substantive conversations with people close to the AJC, the decision to halt daily delivery and printing of the newspaper came as no surprise.
Newsroom employees have witnessed the shift to a “digital first policy”. The AJC sold its printing press and contracted another newspaper company to print its newspaper, but this meant that daily deadlines were pushed back from 4 p.m. to 6 p.m., which meant that the morning paper no longer did not include any news from the day before, including sports scores. Readers have started relying on the digital news product to get the latest news.
Declining daily print subscriptions and sales have been in play for the past two decades.
In an AJC article in 2009, the paper announced a sharp drop in its daily and Sunday circulation due to a decision to reduce its distribution area from 74 counties to 20 counties. At the time, the Sunday draw was 405,549, according to the Audit Bureau of Circulations. And daily circulation had fallen to 214,303. These numbers mean that the AJC “has fallen out of the top 25 daily circulation newspapers”.
Circulation of the printed newspaper continued to decline. A June 2022 article in the PressGazette showed that the AJC was not among the top 25 newspapers in the country. The 25th largest newspaper was the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, with an average circulation of 47,832. This would mean that the AJC print run had fallen below that number.
Yet the AJC continued to be the largest metropolitan daily in the Southeast.
The AJC’s advertising website claims that the newspaper has 1.2 million print readers, without explaining how this number – which is several times greater than the number of newspapers in print – is calculated or audited. The same website reports that the AJC has 9.2 million digital readers. A spokesperson for the AJC did not respond to questions about current broadcast numbers.
AJC is owned by Cox Enterprises, a private company based in Sandy Springs. AJC was purchased by the Cox family over 70 years ago, originally as two separate publications before a merger in 2001. In 2010, AJC moved from downtown Atlanta to Dunwoody to reduce costs.
Cox has made major changes to its media portfolio in recent years. In 2018, he considered merging the television and radio businesses of AJC and WSB. But in 2019, he made a big change of course, selling WSB and several other national broadcasters, while retaining AJC and several Ohio newspapers.
On August 8, Cox Enterprises announced that it had reached an agreement to buy Axios, the national news site, for $525 million. According to people close to AJC, Cox’s decision to acquire Axios was unrelated to the decision to discontinue AJC’s daily print product.
Note to readers:
Several hours after this story was published, AJC Chief Executive Bala Sundaramoorthy emailed staff. In the email, he incorrectly said that our article reported that the AJC planned to halt print publications for seven days. The story actually stated that the AJC would continue to have a weekend edition.
While he claimed “no concrete decisions have been made”, Sundaramoorthy essentially confirmed AJC’s plans for a digital future.
Here is the entire email minus one sentence with an employee’s personal information.
You may have seen today’s story, which says the AJC plans to end seven-day print posts. We’ve been upfront about our plans for a digital future, and we know that day will eventually come, but so far no concrete decisions have been made to reduce our print schedule.
When we decide, our employees, subscribers, advertisers and partners will be the first informed.
As you know, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution’s digital transition has taken years to prepare. This summer, we were selected by the American Press Institute to join the first “Beyond Print” cohort. We have relentlessly focused on improving digital products and gathering information.
And, thanks to your hard work and innovative spirit, we’ve more than doubled our number of digital subscribers in the past two years and are reaching more readers than ever before. It will take even more hard work and innovation to bridge the bridge to our digital future. You can be sure that we will share news with you every step of the way.
Have a great holiday weekend.
Vice President and General Manager