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American Journalism Review
Shake It Up  | American Journalism Review
 AJR  The Beat
From AJR,   July/August 2002

Shake It Up   

As Atlanta Journal-Constitution Editor Ron Martin retires, Managing Editor Julia Wallace wins the top job and Executive Editor John Walter resigns.

By Kathryn S. Wenner
Kathryn S. Wenner, a former AJR associate editor, is a copy editor at the Washington Post.     

A new era begins at the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, as Managing Editor Julia Wallace is named to succeed Editor Ron Martin, and his No. 2, Executive Editor John Walter, resigns. Martin, 64, is retiring from the paper to work full time for parent Cox, where he will keep his position as senior editor.

Martin had worked with Walter at USA Today and brought him on board shortly after becoming editor in 1989. Though many in the newsroom expected Walter, 55, to move up the ladder, "anybody who is experienced in reading tea leaves...could tell that [Wallace] was being groomed" for greater responsibilities after she was hired from the Arizona Republic a year-and-a-half ago, says Lifestyle writer Jim Auchmutey, who has been at the paper for 22 years.

"We brought her in because we had a structure that needed some additional management strengthening," says Publisher Roger Kintzel. "At the same time, we knew we were going to have to find a successor" to Martin.

Newsroom staffers express cautious optimism about Wallace, 45, the first woman to hold the editor's job. She needs to make some key hires, including a managing editor and a metro editor. "She generally gets high marks for having reenergized the newsroom, having stressed aggressive news and hard news coverage and for having retooled the metro desk," Auchmutey says.

There seems to be agreement in the newsroom that metro is still one of Wallace's most immediate challenges. Insiders say the section has gotten lax and did a poor job of covering the scandal-ridden administration of former Atlanta Mayor Bill Campbell.

"I think it needs some work," Wallace says. "It's a very complicated metro area--a lot of suburban growth, a lot of inner-city issues.... It's an area we really need to focus on."

Last year, Wallace shook things up by having most in metro and features apply for the jobs they wanted, including their own. It was the kind of attention-getting, time-consuming overhaul she spearheaded in Phoenix when she demanded a complete redesign of the Arizona Republic in six months.

"It was sort of like being in a whirlwind," says Republic Deputy Managing Editor John D'Anna of Wallace's tenure there. "She's like a nonstop idea person, and she has just the right amount of impatience. She wants it done now."

Wallace says she believes that newspapers have to be fast on their feet and willing to change. "It doesn't mean that you throw everything up in the air every six months. Are there times that you have to be brave enough to do it? Yes."



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