Monday, September 20th, 1999
Someone handed me a copy of The Hudspeth Report the other day, just another one of those free papers (like this one) that decorate the entrances to restaurants, video stores, and bookstores around town. Hadn’t looked at it in a while, and when I do, it’s always with a nostalgic lilt. Ron Hudspeth was a columnist for the Atlanta Journal (before it was quite so inextricably welded to the Atlanta Constitution), and his mission then, as it seems to be now, was to chronicle the nightlife in Atlanta-at least the white boy, Buckhead-centric partying that Hudspeth and friends enjoyed and perpetuated: This bar was opening, that one closed. A TBS exec punched the lights out of some sales manager at Harrison’s last night. Ted Turner was seen dancing with an unidentified blonde. Harmon Wages threw up all over the owner of Panos and Paul’s. Ah, the early eighties.
Funny thing, there in the back of this late nineties issue of The Hud Report was a column bemoaning the good old days when the JourCon had real columnists. And, especially because these words were written by a guy calling himself Red Neckerson, I can’t really tell if he’s serious or not. He says, in a roundabout way, that the four best columnists the paper ever had were Hudspeth, the late Lewis Grizzard, the recently late Celestine Sibley, and the not late yet Furman Bisher. When Bisher leaves, he says, he’ll cancel his subscription. Why wait till then?
"Neckerson"’s nostalgia for Grizzard’s "usually hilarious vignettes on Southern life, written with enthusiam and pride" and for Hudspeth’s who-punched-whom-in-what-bar updates is a cry for recognition from the old-boy network who used to run this town, setting a significant part of its cultural agenda. Their area of influence has, now, retreated outside the perimeter, leaving intowners with a diverse population that deserves to be represented-somehow-in their daily paper.
They are not just the Hudspeths and Houcks and the people bickering on The Georgia Gang on Sundays. They are, for one thing, younger than these guys in their fifties. Some are African-, Asian-, or Mexican-American. Many are women. Sexual preference? Religion? All over the map.
The slogan of the Gannett newspaper chain (at least at one point) was "A world of different voices where freedom speaks." Nice ideal, but then again, the AJC isn’t a Gannett paper (and we may well be grateful for that.) I think the Atlanta Journal Constitution took the first steps toward that kind of ideal in the late 1980s during Bill Kovach’s tenure, when people like Ron Hudspeth began to disappear from its pages and the first tenuous voices from these other parts of our city began to be heard. How have they done since then? Well I wouldn’t put Colin Campbell (again, another white guy in his forties or fifties) up as the foremost evidence of that effort. Rheta Grimsley Johnson? Well, she certainly represents diversity, but not necessarily a voice from and of our town. No, I’d point you toward the words of people like Jeff Dickerson, Cynthia Tucker (with reservations) or even the ajc.com’s Nadirah Z. Sabir, for a sense of what this place, these days, is all about.