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Why Did the Atlanta Journal-Constitution Drop the Ball on the Demaryius Thomas Story?

As I noted following the announcement that the Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets had been placed on probation following a 20-month investigation that managed to occur without even a whisper of media attention, it has not been a proud week for old media. I was not alone in making this observation.

Paul Westerdawg did not exaggerate when he wrote that the Engineers benefited from having "a hometown newspaper completely and totally asleep at the wheel," and, while Senator Blutarsky concurred that it was "an embarrassment to the sports section of a major newspaper that’s clearly seen better days before," he offered an alternative explanation:

No doubt some of what Paul is critical of is related to public interest. There are many more fans of Georgia’s program than there are of Tech’s and what resources the AJ-C has to direct in its sports coverage are going to go more in the direction of Athens than the Flats because that’s where the eyeballs are. If the readership isn’t particularly interested, it’s harder to convince the paper’s editors to be concerned.

The Senator’s take echoed that of SB Nation Atlanta’s Jason Kirk, who wrote:

For one thing, the priority of the Atlanta media will always be on SEC schools over ACC schools, even when we're talking about in-state institutions. That's just the way it is, based on audience interest.

While Jason’s and the Senator’s points are true as far as they go, I don’t think those arguments go as far as they suppose. Yes, there are a lot more fans of the Georgia Bulldogs in the Peach State than there are fans of the Ramblin’ Wreck; that is a function of many factors, including the facts that (i) the Red and Black have been the more successful football program overall for most of the last two decades and have had the upper hand in the rivalry for nearly half a century, (ii) the University of Georgia’s enrollment is roughly triple that of the Georgia Institute of Technology, and (iii) a bigger chunk of Georgia Tech’s student body comes from outside the borders of the Empire State of the South, and is more likely to leave the state after graduation.

However, it isn’t as simple as suggesting that, because there are more Georgia fans than there are Georgia Tech fans, the readership of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution doesn’t care at all about the Golden Tornado. Oh, sure, a lot fewer people want to be kept abreast of positive developments at the Flats, but let’s be frank: this was bad news for Georgia Tech. Georgia Tech fans are interested in bad news about Georgia Tech because it’s about Georgia Tech. Georgia fans are interested in bad news about Georgia Tech because it’s bad news and we enjoy the Jacketfreude. Fans of every stripe enjoy watching their rivals squirm; it is an attribute inherent in sports fandom, for some more than others, but for all to some extent.

Would 20 months of local media coverage of an ongoing NCAA investigation into Georgia Tech’s football and men’s basketball programs have generated interest in the Atlanta market? Sure it would have, and the fact that boosters of the Bulldogs make up a larger share of that market doesn’t change that fact. It simply does not follow that the Journal-Constitution knew of the investigation and made a business decision to sit on the story in absolute silence for over a year and a half because the powers that be in the local press believed no one in the Atlanta area would care.

The simple truth is that the Journal-Constitution dropped the ball. Look at all the media attention that has been drawn by recent inquiries and investigations concerning the USC Trojans, Alabama Crimson Tide, North Carolina Tar Heels, South Carolina Gamecocks, Ohio St. Buckeyes, Oregon Ducks, LSU Tigers, Auburn Tigers, and, yes, Georgia Bulldogs. Granted, this weblog scooped the mainstream media by being the first to break the news of A.J. Green’s four-game suspension, but at least professional journalists were on the story.

After the NCAA dropped the hammer on the Yellow Jackets, Mark Bradley wondered why Dan Radakovich still had his job, given the substandard manner in which this matter was managed. Radakovich fairly might ask the same question about Bradley, and his colleagues. Lewis Grizzard is dead, and the Journal-Constitution shouldn’t feel too good itself.

Go ‘Dawgs!