The Atlanta Journal-Constitution will discontinue its daily print edition and go to a weekend print edition, but it will continue its digital news operation seven days a week, according to interviews with a half dozen people close to the newspaper.
The timeframe to implement the discontinuation of the daily print edition has not yet been decided, but it likely would happen sometime in 2023, most likely within a year from now.
Senior editors were told of the decision during a zoom meeting Sept. 1. The meeting was led by Kevin Riley, editor of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, and Shawn McIntosh, the newspaper’s managing editor.
During the meeting, the editors were told there were no immediate plans to lay off newsroom employees, according to people familiar with the meeting.
All newsroom employees also have been sent an email inviting them to an “in-person” staff meeting on Sept. 8 at 11 a.m.
The invite to the staff meeting from Kevin Riley stated:
“It’s been a while since we’ve had an in-person newsroom staff meeting – but don’t worry, I promise there won’t be any shoes dropping at this meeting. Instead, I would like to get together and share exciting information as we plan for our future. The leadership team hopes you leave the meeting feeling as optimistic as we do about our path forward – a path that allows us to continue to produce our meaningful work for a long time to come.”
In a brief telephone interview on Sept. 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 Sunday print edition within the next year, Riley answered: “No such decision has been made.”
Friday morning, Riley was asked to clarify whether his quote referred to the decision to go all-digital except for a weekend paper or whether it referred to timing of when it would be implemented. As of the time of publication of this story, Riley had not responded to the text. This story will be updated if and when he does respond.
However, in the telephone interview, Riley essentially confirmed the likelihood the print product was on its way out, with the possible exception of a weekend paper.
“I can tell you that everyone knows that the future of our business is digital,” Riley said.
In a host of background conversations with people close to the AJC, the decision to discontinue the daily delivery and printing of the newspaper did not come as a surprise.
Newsroom employees have been witnessing the shift to a “digital-first policy.” The AJC sold its printing press and contracted with another newspaper company to print its paper, but that meant daily deadlines were pushed to 4 to 6 p.m., which meant the morning newspaper did not include any breaking news from the night before, including sports scores. Readers began to rely on the digital news product to get the latest news.
The decline in daily print subscription and sales has been in play for the last couple of decades.
In an AJC story in 2009, the newspaper announced a steep drop in its daily and Sunday circulation because of a decision to reduce its distribution area from 74 counties to 20 counties. At the time, the Sunday circulation was 405,549, according to the Audit Bureau of Circulations. And daily circulation had dropped to 214,303. Those numbers meant that the AJC “fell out of the top 25 newspapers for daily circulation.”
The circulation of the print newspaper has continued to decline. A June 2022 story in the PressGazette showed that the AJC was not among the top 25 newspapers in the country. The 25 largest paper was the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, with an average print circulation of 47,832. That would mean the AJC’s print circulation had dropped to even below that number.
Still, the AJC has continued to be the largest metropolitan daily newspaper in the Southeast.
The AJC’s advertising website claims the paper has 1.2 million print readers, without explaining how that number — which is many times higher than the amount of papers printed — is calculated or audited. The same website reports the AJC has 9.2 million digital readers. An AJC spokesperson did not respond to questions about the current circulation numbers.
The AJC is owned by Cox Enterprises, a privately-owned company based in Sandy Springs. The AJC was bought by the Cox family more than 70 years ago, originally as two separate publications before a 2001 merger.
In 2010, the AJC moved from Downtown Atlanta to Dunwoody as a cost-savings move. Cox has made major changes in its media portfolio in recent years. In 2018, it considered merging the AJC and WSB TV and radio operations. But in 2019, it made a big change in course by selling WSB and several other national broadcasting outlets, while keeping the AJC and several Ohio newspapers.
On Aug. 8, Cox Enterprises announced that it had an agreement to buy Axios, the national news website, for $525 million. According to people close to the AJC, Cox’s decision to acquire Axios was not related to the decision to discontinue the daily print product of the AJC