FROM THE EDITOR: We are ready for what’s next

In this 2019 photo, members of the AJC newsroom staff meet to discuss plans for the "Unprotected" series, a year-long investigative look into Georgia's senior care home system.
In this 2019 photo, members of the AJC newsroom staff meet to discuss plans for the "Unprotected" series, a year-long investigative look into Georgia's senior care home system.

Credit: Tyson Horne / AJC

Credit: Tyson Horne / AJC

The first half of 2020 saw people across metro Atlanta face big challenges and do extraordinary things. Parents figured out how to do their jobs from home and guide their children’s education at the same time. Families worried about the health of their loved ones. Everyone made sacrifices, with some being hit harder than others. Through all of this, many did their very best work, every day.

These examples hit especially close to home for me. They are what our own journalists have been through. Atlanta Journal-Constitution journalists are your neighbors, with children in your schools and homes in your neighborhood. As they report stories, they live them along with you.

AJC Editor Kevin Riley (L) and Bill Nigut, host and executive producer of “Political Rewind” for Georgia Public Broadcasting, moderate a meeting of readers and community leaders to discuss the AJC’s investigation “Unprotected.” TYSON HORNE / TYSON.HORNE@AJC.COM
AJC Editor Kevin Riley (L) and Bill Nigut, host and executive producer of “Political Rewind” for Georgia Public Broadcasting, moderate a meeting of readers and community leaders to discuss the AJC’s investigation “Unprotected.” TYSON HORNE / TYSON.HORNE@AJC.COM

For our journalists, bringing you the truth is not simply a job. It is a calling, a persistent passion to get the facts, test them rigorously, and report them as soon as possible. You deserve the truth, and our calling is to serve you and the community we love.

I have always considered it a duty to my community that we redouble our commitment to our mission of journalism as a public service.

We do what we do every day, without pause, because you deserve it. The pace of news has only increased, and we had to dig deep to persist through it all. The truth is, in the past few months, our newsroom hasn’t been much of a room at all. We have adapted, just like you, to work in new ways.

AJC investigative reporters Carrie Teegardin (left), Brad Schrade and data specialist Nick Thieme discuss the "Unprotected" project in this 2019 photo.
AJC investigative reporters Carrie Teegardin (left), Brad Schrade and data specialist Nick Thieme discuss the "Unprotected" project in this 2019 photo.

Credit: Drue Miller / AJC

Credit: Drue Miller / AJC

Our newsroom is the heartbeat of The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. Our journalists, like the news, never took a break, and getting Atlanta news that really matters has been their calling. I am proud of them, and I hope you might be as well. In the end, they represent your interests; it has been our honor to do our best for you.

During this incredible time, our journalists have witnessed your challenges and your determination, and we’ve worked on your behalf. As we lived these days alongside you, we followed stories without fear to wherever they led us. We’ve asked your elected officials to account for their decisions. We’ve introduced you to people who’ve made us proud of metro Atlanta’s resilience, and who inspired us. As we’ve shared in your struggles, we also pressed on to bring you these stories, and worked to share the various sides of complex events.

Facing the pandemic with you

The coronavirus remains a dangerous threat, and none of us have been unaffected by it. Like you, I worry about family and friends, and I worry about our journalists. I still wonder when I will get to see them again.

The realities of the pandemic hit our newsroom when photojournalist Hyosub Shin's 16-year-old son got a fever. After a couple of visits to the doctor, and with tests mostly unavailable, Shin's family didn't know if he had the coronavirus. They had to persevere. Shin's son lost 10 pounds before recovering. And one of our hardest-working journalists was himself forced to self-quarantine.

Hyosub Shin had to self-quarantine earlier this spring after his son, Jay, was diagnosed with coronavirus.
Hyosub Shin had to self-quarantine earlier this spring after his son, Jay, was diagnosed with coronavirus.

Credit: Hyosub Shin / AJC

Credit: Hyosub Shin / AJC

“I feel bad,” Shin said during that time. “I miss visually documenting this important and historic time, but I know our photographers and reporters are doing an amazing job every day to inform our readers.”

Shin is back on the job. You can see his amazing photographs each day in print in The Atlanta Journal-Constitution and online at AJC.com.

So many of the stories about this virus brought sadness, but reporter Alexis Stevens demonstrated that within the pandemic sprouted stories of optimism and hope. Under the headline "They survived," she recounted how some in our community beat the disease.

“I was very grateful for a chance to tell a different side of this story, beyond the numbers of people dying and being diagnosed,” Stevens said. “Many of the people I interviewed weren't fully recovered, and I'm thankful they were willing to share their stories. Some were weak and still coughing. But they all wanted to talk, to share their stories with others to reinforce the seriousness of this virus.

“One big question many of us have is: If I get this virus, will I live through it? And this story proves that you can fight it.”

Making life safer for seniors

The pandemic reminded us of the vulnerability of our seniors in Georgia. We persisted, with your encouragement, in highlighting the shortcomings in the senior care home industry; many of these facilities became tragic hotbeds of infection, and our journalists made sure public officials heard the voices of the elderly and their families.

The AJC's Carrie Teegardin (center) has been reporting on shortcomings in Georgia's senior care homes for more than a year. Now major reforms have been signed into law by Gov. Kemp. AJC FILE
The AJC's Carrie Teegardin (center) has been reporting on shortcomings in Georgia's senior care homes for more than a year. Now major reforms have been signed into law by Gov. Kemp. AJC FILE

Reporter Carrie Teegardin has dedicated herself to this story on senior care for more than a year. And she stuck with it.

"On the front lines of the news, the hours have been long and exhausting, but I feel like everyone on our team was as ready for this day," she said. "And every time I get really tired and fearful about what's to come, I'm thankful my long days are playing out at the kitchen table instead of inside of an emergency room."

Now, our team’s work has benefited families and seniors across Georgia, with Gov. Kemp recently signing a new bill bringing sweeping reforms to the industry. This simply would not have happened without our journalists bringing the issue to light.

Lifting your voices 

This year has provided the opportunity to hear many voices from all corners of metro Atlanta on our pages. They challenged, touched, moved and inspired us.

Reporter Helena Oliviero searched for the right story to show the pandemic had separated sick people from their loved ones.

“We wanted the story to touch on universal themes and make the point visitor restrictions were not only impacting COVID-19 patients – but all patients,” she said. “I tried to connect with other families in this situation and struggled to get other people willing to talk and share their story. And I tried hard – well over a dozen phone calls, emails, Facebook messages.”

AnnaLisa Silliman-Patterson and Matt Lindsey with their children Josh (back between them) and then left to right Alex, SarahBeth and Thomas.CONTRIBUTED
AnnaLisa Silliman-Patterson and Matt Lindsey with their children Josh (back between them) and then left to right Alex, SarahBeth and Thomas.CONTRIBUTED

Finally, she met AnnaLisa Silliman-Patterson. Her ex-husband, Matt, was hospitalized with COVID-19.

“Within a day, we talked by phone for well over an hour – and I learned about how she and Matt met, fell in love, divorced, stayed close, and learned about Matt’s seven days in the hospital,” said Oliviero.

Silliman-Patterson recounted her family’s efforts to care for Matt. He eventually died.

“My heart just ached. I didn’t want him to be scared. I did not want him to be alone,” Silliman-Patterson said.

April 14 diary entry from Alaya Horne.
April 14 diary entry from Alaya Horne.

Among these many voices of the pandemic, one has emerged as a favorite of yours. It belongs to an 8-year-old named Alaya Horne.

She’s been keeping a diary, and The Atlanta Journal-Constitution has shared her thoughts, hopes and fears. In one remarkable passage, she writes: “I have a lot of hope that everyone is going to be OK.”

Later, she wrote: “Bye Diary. Don’t worry.” We are all doing our best to follow Alaya’s advice.

Documenting days of reckoning

Against the backdrop of the pandemic, national protests broke out as many expressed their outrage over racial inequities. Atlanta, with its rich history of support for civil and human rights, provided a place for these voices to be heard and for the debate to ensue.

Our journalists pursued this many-sided story, heading to the street to document the moments, the emotions and the violence. And to offer firsthand accounts.

AJC reporter Ernie Suggs June 2, 2017 (KENT D. JOHNSON/kdjohnson@ajc.com)
AJC reporter Ernie Suggs June 2, 2017 (KENT D. JOHNSON/kdjohnson@ajc.com)

Reporter Ernie Suggs has been at The Atlanta Journal-Constitution for decades. He covered protests in Ferguson, Missouri, as well.

“When I covered Ferguson in 2014, I thought I had seen it all in terms of chaos,” he said. “Running from tanks and tear gas and having a kid point a gun at me, echoed similar scenes that I covered in subsequent places like Baltimore, Charlotte and Charleston, when unarmed black men were killed by police officers.”

“I just never thought I would witness this chaos in Atlanta.”

Our journalists persisted in covering this difficult story, pressing on in their First Amendment role to represent the public’s interest in having access to accurate information about the events. That crucial American ideal was put to the test.

Atlanta Journal-Constitution staff photojournalist Alyssa Pointer, left, works during a news conference, Tuesday, June 2, 2020, in Atlanta. Pointer was detained by officers of the Georgia Department of Natural Resources during a protest in downtown. Pointer said her press badge was clearly displayed, and she identified herself to law enforcement. (AP Photo/Kate Brumback)
Atlanta Journal-Constitution staff photojournalist Alyssa Pointer, left, works during a news conference, Tuesday, June 2, 2020, in Atlanta. Pointer was detained by officers of the Georgia Department of Natural Resources during a protest in downtown. Pointer said her press badge was clearly displayed, and she identified herself to law enforcement. (AP Photo/Kate Brumback)

Photojournalist Alyssa Pointer was detained by police while covering a protest.

“My badge was hanging on my neck, clearly displayed to all that approached me,” she said. “The officer that initially detained me ignored it.

“The job of newspaper visual journalists has always been to document history,” she said. “We get into the middle of things so that our audience feels as though they are present with us. We risk our lives with hopes that our audience may try and understand.”

When officers released Pointer, she went right back to work.

Helping you be ready

Much is ahead of us this year, and there will be serious decisions required of us all along the way. We will navigate these questions and issues along with you, digging deep to keep you informed.

And, of course, we will each get to express our own views in response to these days as voters in November. The Atlanta Journal-Constitution has always followed politics and elections closely, and we’ll continue to do so on your behalf.

In the recent primary, our journalists were ready to cover a high-interest election that was certain to be difficult for many voters, with new voting machines, slow-moving lines and social distancing precautions. They rose to the challenge.

Mark Niesse covers voting issues for us, and he was in the middle of the story.

“The secretary of state’s office invited me into their war room,” he said. “We knew voters would likely face long lines because of precinct closures, poll worker shortages and social distancing requirements, but election day turned out much worse than imagined for voters who had to wait hours. Elections officials are still assessing what exactly went wrong. If they don’t make changes, voters could again face obstacles in the high-turnout presidential election in November, when a record 5 million Georgians are expected to participate.”

The AJC’s Mark Niesse (left) gets an inside look as the state's new voting machines are being tested and packed in an area warehouse on Tuesday, January 20, 2020, in Atlanta. CURTIS COMPTON / AJC
The AJC’s Mark Niesse (left) gets an inside look as the state's new voting machines are being tested and packed in an area warehouse on Tuesday, January 20, 2020, in Atlanta. CURTIS COMPTON / AJC

Credit: Curtis Compton

Credit: Curtis Compton

We’ll be following this issue and all of the year’s crucial campaigns, so you can be prepared when Nov. 3 arrives. After all, a healthy and functioning democracy depends on an active press that keeps citizens informed. It is why our industry is the only one mentioned in our country’s Constitution.

As much as 2020 has demanded from us so far, I believe we’ll remember it as an especially meaningful year in our lives and shared community. I think it will be seen as a time of remarkable resilience. Think about it. When someone asks about your most important moments or accomplishments, I bet you recount a story of overcoming adversity, of achieving something against the odds, or of a powerful insight you’ve gained under trying circumstances. In other words, during tough times you lean on your resolve.

A large crowd gathers at the Centennial Olympic Park stage for an OneRace prayer and worship before marching to the State capital Friday, June 19, 2020.  STEVE SCHAEFER FOR THE ATLANTA JOURNAL-CONSTITUTION
A large crowd gathers at the Centennial Olympic Park stage for an OneRace prayer and worship before marching to the State capital Friday, June 19, 2020. STEVE SCHAEFER FOR THE ATLANTA JOURNAL-CONSTITUTION

Credit: Steve Schaefer

Credit: Steve Schaefer

I expect that our community will rally in the second half of this year, and that 2020’s story is far from over. People in metro Atlanta always seem to do big things and solve big problems, and tough times bring that out. We are ready to cover those stories as they unfold.

As you continue your journey through 2020, we’ll be coming along with you, and you can count on the resolve of Atlanta Journal-Constitution journalists to bring you the stories that show how we can build Atlanta’s new future together. Their work reflects an abiding passion for and commitment to our community.

March 26, 2020 Dunwoody: Left to right - Matt Blackburn, Shannon Blackburn, Jackson-4 and Henley-7 walked past one of several "Everything will be OK" yard signs along Trailridge Lane in Dunwoody where a group called CREATE Dunwoody a non profit raising money from the sales of the yard signs that will help raise much needed funds for artists and art teachers that are impacted financially during the crisis. The profits will go to local artists and art teachers ìwho have been financially impacted from gallery, studio and school closings due to coronavirus,î according to Create Dunwoody, an organization that promotes the arts in Dunwoody. The impact of the coronavirus in Georgia was evident everywhere on Thursday, March 26, 2020 - from less traveled streets, public service billboards and people staying home. Dr. Kathleen Toomey, the state public health commissioner, says the State of Georgia has several ‚Äúhotspots‚Äù of outbreaks, including in Albany, Bartow County, Dublin and Rome. In ‚Äúvirtually all these cases,‚Äù at least some of the spread was linked to ‚Äúlarge church services,‚Äù she said. In Dougherty County, for instance, the coronavirus outbreak has been traced to two funeral services in late February and early March. Toomey told clergy that churches, synagogues and mosques that have the technical capacity to offer online services should do so. ‚ÄúThis is a short period of inconvenience and worry, but if we invest in this collectively as a community we can help stop this virus,‚Äù she said. JOHN SPINK/JSPINK@AJC.COM
March 26, 2020 Dunwoody: Left to right - Matt Blackburn, Shannon Blackburn, Jackson-4 and Henley-7 walked past one of several "Everything will be OK" yard signs along Trailridge Lane in Dunwoody where a group called CREATE Dunwoody a non profit raising money from the sales of the yard signs that will help raise much needed funds for artists and art teachers that are impacted financially during the crisis. The profits will go to local artists and art teachers ìwho have been financially impacted from gallery, studio and school closings due to coronavirus,î according to Create Dunwoody, an organization that promotes the arts in Dunwoody. The impact of the coronavirus in Georgia was evident everywhere on Thursday, March 26, 2020 - from less traveled streets, public service billboards and people staying home. Dr. Kathleen Toomey, the state public health commissioner, says the State of Georgia has several ‚Äúhotspots‚Äù of outbreaks, including in Albany, Bartow County, Dublin and Rome. In ‚Äúvirtually all these cases,‚Äù at least some of the spread was linked to ‚Äúlarge church services,‚Äù she said. In Dougherty County, for instance, the coronavirus outbreak has been traced to two funeral services in late February and early March. Toomey told clergy that churches, synagogues and mosques that have the technical capacity to offer online services should do so. ‚ÄúThis is a short period of inconvenience and worry, but if we invest in this collectively as a community we can help stop this virus,‚Äù she said. JOHN SPINK/JSPINK@AJC.COM

Credit: JOHN SPINK / AJC

Credit: JOHN SPINK / AJC

Our journalists work for you; I just have the honor of guiding them. Your support of them now matters more than it ever has. If you have turned to us during these difficult times, I hope you will continue to support our work going forward. Getting to the truth is expensive; the benefits of a free press are not made for free.

In the end, 2020 has challenged us all in a lot of ways, and more is likely to come. But Atlanta’s up for it, and so are we. Let’s press on together.

Sincerely,

ExploreKevin G. Riley

Editor

ExploreKevin.Riley@ajc.com