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Meaningful Conversations: Community Leadership with Leroy Chapman, Jr.

March 2024

Meaningful Conversations: Community Leadership with Leroy Chapman, Jr.

Atlanta Journal-Constitution Editor-in-Chief joins Jackson Spalding to discuss his approach to building community

Last week, Jackson Spalding hosted a conversation with the Atlanta Journal-Constitution’s editor-in-chief, Leroy Chapman Jr. about his family history, career in journalism and his vision for the AJC.  The event was part of a series on leadership Jackson Spalding holds for clients and guests called “Meaningful Conversations.” 

Chapman’s award-winning journalism career has spanned 25 years in newspapers across the southeast.  He was a writer and editor at his hometown paper in South Carolina, The Greenville News, for six years before moving to The State in Columbia as the state politics and government editor.  From there, Chapman went to the AJC, where he spent 12 years as an editor before being the named the first person of color to the lead the paper in March 2023. 

In his conversation with Ted Metzger, Media Relations Practice Lead at Jackson Spalding, Chapman touched on the experiences and lessons that gave him the leadership skills he relies on today. Chapman also spoke about the changing roles of media in the 21st century, and how the AJC and other newspapers must grow and adapt to the ever-shifting media landscape. 

Impactful Community Leadership 

Chapman credits his parents and lessons learned as a midshipman in the U.S. Navy as strong leadership influences early in his life.

But Chapman cites one specific opportunity as a life-changing leadership moment. It’s about the first story he ever wrote, years after leaving the Navy. Chapman covered a hairdresser in Greenville who volunteered her Mondays off to give free hair styling to girls in protective custody. She believed that a good haircut would give these girls the confidence they needed to go to school with their heads held high.

Chapman says it was this story that hooked him on becoming a journalist, because it showed him the influential role media can have in community leadership. Not only was he able to highlight someone attempting to make a difference and solve a problem in the community, but after writing the story, several other hairdressers reached out to him wanting to join the mission and serve. To Chapman, that’s what journalism is all about. 

Fast-forward to March 2023, when  Chapman made history by being named the first Black editor-in-chief at the AJC.

By his own admission, Chapman says even he underestimated the impact of his appointment. But reflecting on it, he realizes that he was the first Black person to serve in this role in a city like Atlanta, which he describes as “probably the place that’s best known that if you are Black, you can come here and succeed.” Coupled with the fact that Chapman was a born-and-bred Southerner now leading coverage at the South’s most important outlet, he was in a unique position to place the AJC at the center of the Atlanta community.

The Role of Newsrooms in Providing Community Leadership 

Considering the future of local news, Chapman asks a critical question: what will the youth of today inherit where information bubbles and echo chambers are only growing? Where the idea of mass communication does not bind us the way it has in the past? 

To hear him tell it, part of the solution lies in visibility. Chapman wants the AJC to remain a central part of the lives of Atlantans of all ages. That means being active on social media and using newer methods of storytelling beyond ink-and-paper, but that also means moving to a new office in Midtown where the AJC can be a visible and active part of the community. 

Chapman also acknowledges that part of the struggle comes from media fatigue and a distrust of news sources in many communities across the country, not just Atlanta. To fix this, Chapman knows the AJC needs to show up where people need them: in the communities that receive the least coverage and have the biggest problems to solve. 

The editor believes the AJC is in a unique position to address these concerns. Not only is the AJC covering the Atlanta community, but it’s also made up of people who live and work in Atlanta. The AJC’s goals are the same as many other residents and organizations in the city — improved access to housing, improved education systems and highlighting the groups and people working to make those dreams a reality. Chapman also asks all consumers of news to be discerning and curious about the sources of our information. 

Looking to the future, the AJC’s leadership in the Atlanta community focuses on adapting to the changing media landscape while continuing to highlight the stories that matter by building out coverage networks for business and state and local politics. Chapman says the goal is to foster even better communication within Atlanta and use the AJC to start conversations that can solve the city’s most urgent problems.