Atlanta Constitution editor Ralph M. McGill writing at his old Royal typewriter.
Photo: AJC file photo
Photo: AJC file photo

Opinion: Times change, our mission does not

The Book of Proverbs speaks to the estimable value of a good name. Seen in that light, there are sound reasons why Henry Grady and Ralph McGill are household names across metro Atlanta, Georgia and, really, the entire nation. Their work, and that of the newspaper they boldly represented – The Atlanta Constitution – has stood the test of time.

The Constitution, long-ago combined into today’s The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, is celebrating its 150th birthday. A special keepsake section in today’s newspaper commemorates this landmark date.

A sesquicentennial is a notable anniversary for any business, we’ll admit. It is a tremendous amount of time, spanning more than half of America’s existence.

In that great span of days, empires have risen – or fallen, multiple generations have lived and died, and ideas great and small, good and bad, have come into fashion, thrived or faded away.

Against that era-spanning backdrop, one task has remained top of mind among those drawn to produce the AJC and its predecessors – offering readers great, substantive journalism. It’s a noble calling, one whose inherent strength and value to society has endured across three centuries.

Those of us at today’s AJC are doing our level best each day, 24/7/365 really, to live up to this tall standard. To a person, we believe that metro Atlanta, this state and nation deserve nothing less than our best effort toward this lofty endeavor.

At our core, journalists are driven – and even awed by – the faith that this nation’s founding fathers placed in our work. It’s codified as one of the five freedoms guaranteed by the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. As the only private-sector business explicitly protected by the Constitution, we feel both humbled and empowered by this responsibility to our nation and our community.

That’s what drives us each day to do the often-tough work of fact-gathering and other tasks of news reporting. It’s what keeps us laboring late into the evenings and early in the mornings to turn notebook scribblings and hard drives worth’ of data and interviews into compelling, complete, accurate, credible and fair news coverage.

It’s what leads our investigative reporters to produce terrific, well-documented, engaging stories that speak to misfeasance, or malfeasance, in places both high and low. We’ve told the stories of questionable police shootings, serious systemic problems that have cost lives in state mental hospitals, and unearthed widespread school cheating in Atlanta and elsewhere that no doubt reduced many children’s already-iffy chances for academic success.

Vice-president of the United States at the time, Richard M. Nixon chats with Ralph McGill in the editorial offices of The Atlanta Constitution in August, AJC File photo 1959

Digging deeply to uncover and expose things powerful entities would like to keep hidden is in our DNA. The AJC has long worked hard to hold public officials and institutions accountable. Each day, our journalism provides real details and insights that are unavailable elsewhere. Shining sunlight into dark corners motivates us each day.

This type of journalistic fervor is common across our pages, in print and online. We care about this community. We want to see it thrive. After all, we live here. We worship here. Our children are schooled here. We’re invested in metro Atlanta. This earnest motivation’s as true today as it was 150 years ago, or at any point along that way.

We see our journalism as empowering metro Atlantans and Georgians. We believe our work helps feed a common civic responsibility that our interactions with you tell us is part of this region’s core and identity.

Sometimes the AJC’s work kickstarts tough realizations about ourselves, or the place we call home. Our ongoing examination of race relations, politics, or community problems in need of correcting sometimes creates hard feelings, or draws intense criticism from some quarters. In those instances, our intent remains the same: to tell inconvenient truths when necessary in the hope that positive change results.

You’ve told us that knowing what’s really going on around this community and region is important to you. We work hard every day to fulfill that need for reliable information. We take it as our responsibility to help document and preserve this community’s notable moments, and the people in all quarters who make metro Atlanta the unique place that it is.

This mindset across our newsroom is nothing new. The 150th anniversary of the old Constitution reminds us that this journalistic spirit has inhabited our halls for a long time.

Consider these words printed on the Constitution’s pages in 1882. They come from its famed Managing Editor Henry Grady, considered the “spokesman of the New South”:

“As for me, my ambition is a simple one. I shall be satisfied with the labors of my life, if, when those labors are over my son, looking abroad upon a grander and better Georgia – a Georgia that has filled the destiny God intended her for – when her towns and cities are hives of industry, and her countrysides the exhaustless fields from which their stores are drawn – when every stream dances on its way to the music of spindles, and every forest echoes back the roar of a passing train – when her valleys smile with abundant harvests, and from her hillsides come the tinkling of bells as her herds and flocks go forth from their folds – when more than two million people proclaim her perfect independence, and bless her with their love, I shall be more than content, I say, if my son, looking upon such scenes as these can stand up and say, ‘My father bore a part in this work, and his name lives in the memory of this people.’ ”

That earnestness and clarity of purpose lives on at today’s AJC. It’s evident, we believe, in our toil to report, write and opine in such a way as to do our part to help make metro Atlanta a better place for all of us.

As we look back across 150 years of The Constitution, and toward the AJC’s future, this news organization will keep at our center an earnest desire to help our still-growing, ambitious region continue to reach far toward fulfilling its destiny as a prosperous, pace-setting and pleasant place to live, work and do business.

Thanks for your long support that’s enabled us to do this work. We greatly appreciate it, and will never take it for granted.

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Andre Jackson, for the Editorial Board.