A little more than a week ago I was given a new job.
Since then, the immediate questions have mainly been ...
Who are you, new guy?
And what do you plan to do?
Fair questions, both.
In case you missed it, I am the new editor in chief of The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.
The move got plenty of attention here because the beloved Kevin Riley, who has run the AJC newsroom for almost 13 years, has chosen to retire.
The move made national news because I am the first person of color to lead the South’s largest and most influential local newsroom. The first in 155 years.
The significance of that piece of history is not lost on me. And the size and visibility and influence of this job are things I embrace. I want to be in Atlanta. I want to do right by this city, this metro region, this state.
This job and every commitment it demands are an honor of a lifetime. I am here because of a praying mama and a patient wife. A great boss, terrific mentors, a handful of true advocates. An extraordinary newsroom. A few successes but definitely more mistakes. Good timing. And years and years of preparation.
But back to those questions.
Who are you? And what do you plan to do, exactly?
I’ll start with the who, beyond the journalism and the credentials.
I’m a son. Firstborn of Leroy Sr. and Carolyn, he a Marine combat veteran and she a 21-year-old receptionist.
I’m a Southerner, born two hours north of here in Greenville, South Carolina.
I’m a husband to Dawn Chapman, who I met at a football game in 1988 when she was 16 and I was 17. Our dating relationship endured two proms, my enlistment in the United States Navy and student poverty while we were both at the University of South Carolina. We married in 1996.
I’m a father to Isaiah and Isley, now 24 and 20 and a couple of smart creatives.
I’m a father to DeQuan, a relative who joined our family when he was 13 and needed us. He is 25 and no longer needs us. He’s building such an extraordinary life that it’s more likely that we will need him someday.
I live in Gwinnett County and I’m a member of Leadership Gwinnett’s 2020 class. We’ve lived there since I was hired by the AJC in 2011.
I am dangerously close to a Southern stereotype: I love bourbon, BBQ and ball (football, baseball, basketball). That describes my Saturday. Increasingly, that’s followed by church on Sunday.
I’m simple and purpose-driven. A lot like Leroy Sr.
As for what I plan to do, well, that is a long, complicated answer. One that we will keep revisiting as I settle into this role.
I am ready to pledge the following.
I will listen.
I will show up.
I will operate ethically and transparently.
There is no finer example to follow on those points than Kevin Riley. I will do what he did.
I will work hard to get it right.
I will publicly acknowledge and own it when we get it wrong.
I will act fearlessly in the best interests of this community.
I will act fearlessly in the best interest of our journalists.
I will aim our journalism at solutions.
I will tell the truth, especially when it’s unpopular.
Bert Roughton, a former managing editor here at The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, said during his retirement speech that a newspaper expresses its love to its community by telling it the truth.
That’s our love language. That’s our role. That’s our tradition.
That’s not to suggest that we aren’t going to immediately improve some things.
Here is one we will prioritize immediately. We will do a better job of celebrating Atlanta, its people and our collective successes. The AJC is often institutionally focused. That’s out of necessity when your mission is centered on watchdog journalism. Even so, we will be intentional about focusing a little more on our people and their stories.
Our community loses something with Kevin’s retirement. He was the longest-serving big-city newspaper editor in America. He is the kind of leader who would show up and listen. He was committed to making Atlanta and Georgia better.
I’m here now. I have been for a long time. I love this city and this state.
I’m ready to show up. I’m ready to listen.
Leroy Chapman Jr. is the editor in chief of The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.
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