AJC appoints its first Black editor-in-chief

A picture of the building that houses the AJC’s office. Chapman’s appointment to his new role within the AJC makes him the paper’s first Black editor-in-chief. // Photo courtesy of www.ajc.com

After 155 years, the Atlanta Journal Constitution (AJC) welcomed Leroy Chapman Jr. as its first Black editor-in-chief. Chapman will be replacing the publication’s longest serving editor-in-chief, Kevin Riley, who announced his retirement at the end of March.

In a recent opinion piece reflecting on his historic appointment, Chapman wrote, “the significance of that piece of history is not lost on me. And the size and visibility and influence of this job are things I embrace. I want to be in Atlanta. I want to do right by this city, this metro
region, this state.” After weighing in on the momentous topic, his colleagues expressed a similar sentiment. 

“In a city where there is such a dynamic and influential Black community, it means a lot to have a leader like Leroy,” said Andrew Morse, AJC president and publisher, in a recent article on
the new tenure-ship.

The change in leadership comes during a pivotal chapter as the AJC continues to transition from a print publication to an around-the-clock digital news outlet.

Morse, whose goal is to ensure this transition, is confident in Chapman’s ability to oversee the process.

“[Chapman] shares the vision I have of the AJC as a modern media company. And he agrees that we need to be both essential and engaging in what we cover,” Morse said.

Serving first in the Navy, Chapman has 28 years of experience as a journalist and has been with the AJC since 2011. During his time as managing editor, he oversaw pieces that raised awareness for issues ranging from the Atlanta Public Schools cheating scandal to affordable housing to election fraud in the 2020 Presidential race.

“Some of the issues debated by the Legislature this year are on the agenda only because the AJC’s reporting brought them to light, like a bill that guarantees tenants the right to a habitable home,” Chapman said in reference to the impact these stories can have.

While Chapman’s career as a journalist has been defined by a succession of accolades, in a recent opinion piece, he largely defined himself by his family.

“I’m a son. Firstborn of Leroy Sr. and Carolyn, he a Marine combat veteran and she a 21-year-old receptionist,” he said. “I’m a husband to Dawn Chapman, who I met at a football game in 1988 when she was 16 and I was 17. … I’m a father to Isaiah and Isley, now 24 and 20 and a couple of smart creatives. I’m a father to DeQuan, a relative who joined our family when he was 13 and needed us. He is 25 and no longer needs us. He’s building such an extraordinary life that it’s more likely that we will need him someday.”

Ultimately, Chapman sees the appointment as a positive sign of change; one whose efforts spanned multiple generations and were made possible by trailblazers.

“My family traces its history back to Colonial times. There is an arc from seeing my family on census reports listed as property all the way to this. It is a fantastic American story,” he said.

While Tech does not have a school of journalism, the field can be seen having an impact on students across disciplines. 

The Technique reached out to students in the school of Literature, Media and Communications (LMC) and Public Policy (PUBP) to survey thoughts on the appointment.

Both Steph Oliva, fifth-year LMC, and Noemi Carrillo, third-year PUBP, acknowledged the poignant historical significance of Chapman’s new position, but were both surprised that this first had not come sooner. 

“I think it’s really interesting that we’re still having firsts and specifically to still have firsts[s] [for] Black people in Atlanta,” Carrillo said.

Oliva specifically pointed to the city as a spot where “people of color have really thrived, especially in the last 100 years … it’s kind of amazing we haven’t had it previously.”

When asked about the role journalism plays in public policy, Carrillo said,  “it can be useful to help bring a degree of transparency that previously was not there [within the government].”

Specifically as it relates to having underrepresented minorities in positions of power within the field of journalism, Carrillo said, “I think it’s important because a lot of the time, there are narratives to be told … that you can read about as much as you want, but there’s a certain amount of lived experience you need to have. Otherwise you won’t be able to accurately represent the issue to the public.”

Echoing this sentiment, Oliva weighed in on the issue, saying,  “especially in roles of communication, people [of color] at Tech deserve to see themselves as people who hold ownership and power.”

Oliva, who works closely with English language learners said, “as a Latinx person, it’s really important these people are able to have their voices boosted and have access to the power of communication.”

Oliva concluded that it “allows people to tell their stories. Everyone has the right to express their ideas and defend themselves, and I think that is extremely valuable.”