A year of important work

Over the past year, it’s become my Sunday morning habit to sit down with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution and a cup of coffee, and make notes to myself on a file card as I read the newspaper.

I use those notes later in the day to write emails to members of the newspaper staff and compliment them on the best work in that day’s paper.

Our goal is to provide you with an outstanding Sunday newspaper each week, with information you can only get from us.

And this year, my notes were in response to some extraordinary reporting.

• In what might be the most important work we’ve done, reporter Alan Judd’s year-long investigation of state child protective services uncovered a culture of secrecy that shields failures and blocks the public from assessing how well the state is doing. Judd revealed that in 2012 alone, state workers failed to recognize or act on signs that foretold the deaths of at least 25 children. The AJC also reported that a push to decrease the state’s foster care rolls had left many children in dangerous situations. Following these revelations and two high-profile child-abuse deaths, Gov. Nathan Deal pledged funding for a 26 percent increase in the child protective services division’s workforce. Judd’s latest story is on today’s front page.

• One of the biggest stories of the year involved the secret negotiations that resulted in the Atlanta Braves planning to move to Cobb County. Reporters Tim Tucker, Dan Klepal, Katie Leslie and others exposed every detail, from the impact on taxpayers and traffic to a spate of nearby property sales made before the announcement. Our goal was to ensure the public was well informed before a vote just 10 days after the announcement.

• In ongoing coverage, statehouse reporters James Salzer and Chris Joyner took readers inside the state Capitol to see how business gets done — in secret, fueled by cash and driven by lobbyists. The reporting and a campaign by these Opinion pages helped spark new limits on lobbyist spending and influence.

• Reporters Johnny Edwards and David Wickert exposed deep flaws in the Fulton County Registration and Elections Department, including serious shortcomings in the hiring of a former director. The reporters pored over documents and interviewed everyone from experts to voters. The result: The state attorney general’s office launched an investigation.

• Reporters Shannon McCaffrey, J. Scott Trubey and Michael E. Kanell disclosed how nearly half the companies that pledged to create jobs in return for millions of dollars in Georgia tax breaks failed to fully meet their promises. The coverage, which included analyzing thousands of pages of state documents, caught the attention of observers looking for ways to protect public dollars.

• Our six-part “Voices on health care” report in print and online also kicked off a special web guide to the Affordable Care Act at MyAJC.com. The reporting began with a poll commissioned by the AJC that sampled the attitudes of Georgians toward the Affordable Care Act. In the next five installments, reporters Misty Williams, David Markiewicz and Carrie Teegardin interviewed business owners, young people, uninsured people, those with individual policies and health care providers, and enabled them to discuss, in their own words, the impact of the health care law on them, their families, their employers or their workers.

• Several years ago, AJC investigative reporters Heather Vogell and John Perry began reporting on the statistically improbable gains Atlanta public schools students were making on state standardized test scores. That led to an erasure analysis by the Georgia Department of Education and a state investigation by special prosecutors and the Georgia Bureau of Investigation. This year, beat reporters Jaime Sarrio, Mark Niesse and Bill Rankin have covered the fallout of these investigations, which culminated in indictments in March 2013. You can expect us to keep following this story.

You can find a compilation of these stories and others at MyAJC.com, our web site for subscribers.

In my notes to our newsroom employees, I always emphasize the importance of the work we do for our readers.

We know you expect us to bring you the news, with urgency, insight and depth, and to demand integrity and effectiveness in your government and important community institutions. We strive to produce stories and content that inspire and entertain. With our subscriber web site, MyAJC.com and our apps, we work to provide a superior news experience, however, whenever and wherever you want it.

As your newspaper, we believe we’re crucial to citizens of this state and region — and their future. We must set and demand high standards for Georgia and Atlanta.

As 2013 draws to a close, we’re looking forward to continuing that mission in 2014.