Media Moves

Business journalists aren't supposed to be cheerleaders

January 5, 2007

Atlanta Journal-Constitution public editor Angela Tuck writes, in the wake of this week’s resignation by Home Depot CEO Robert Nardelli, that the paper’s coverage has been criticized for being “anti-business,” including in some of its Home Depot stories.

Angela TuckTuck stated, “In October 2005, AJC reporter Matt Kempner and columnist Maria Saporta analyzed the company’s charitable giving and found that despite the generous track record established by Home Depot founders Bernie Marcus and Arthur Blank, the $35.5 million the company gave to charity in 2004 amounted to less than 1/200th of its annual sales.

“‘We took quite a bit of heat on those stories,’ said [business editor Mark] Braykovich. ‘Particularly in the business community.’

“The newspaper received letters from readers who questioned the merits of the stories, which noted employee volunteerism and used a measure for charitable giving that Home Depot helped craft.

“Managing editor Hank Klibanoff believes the stories were fair.

“‘We were hearing complaints from the community that the largess they had experienced in the past had dried up in terms of contributions and participation,’ said Klibanoff. ‘We heard that not only from the arts, culture and philanthropy communities but also from the business community, which perhaps felt that Home Depot’s executive ladder wasn’t participating in civic endeavors at a level that was commensurate with its place in the national economy — it’s in the Dow, it’s our biggest company by many measures, yet it was playing a shrinking role in the community.’

“Several months after the stories ran, the newspaper entered a legal fight with the Atlanta Chamber of Commerce over access to records on the city’s bid for the NASCAR Hall of Fame. This added to a belief in some segments of the community that the AJC is anti-business.

‘It’s our responsibility to be assertive in our reporting on corporate Atlanta, and I think we do it knowing that it sometimes might be uncomfortable for corporate leaders who are not used to being asked to explain why they do the things they do,’ said Klibanoff.

Read more here. Disclosure: I covered Home Depot for the Journal-Constitution from 1994 to 1997 and wrote a book about them. I also worked with Kempner, Saporta and Tuck, and count Kempner as a close friend. I also appeared on CNBC on Wednesday to discuss Home Depot’s future.

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