Jul 19, 2023 - Sports

AJC reporter fired amid UGA investigation blowback

A wide-angle photo of UGA's Sanford Stadium packed with Bulldogs fans wearing red and black on gameday

Sanford Stadium on a game day. Photo: Scott Cunningham/Getty Images

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution on Wednesday announced it had fired a veteran journalist and issued corrections to his recent high-profile investigation of UGA's football program.

Why it matters: The late June story told of how the school's football program "rallied" behind players accused of sexual misconduct, raising questions about coach Kirby Smart's leadership and the outsized role the Bulldogs play on campus life.

  • It was the latest in a series about how the program responded to alleged player wrongdoing like traffic offenses.

Driving the news: The AJC said on Wednesday the story failed to meet its editorial standards, corrected it, edited the headline and "removed or adjusted" several paragraphs. Editors have attached a new note to the top of the article's online version.

  • When asked for comment, investigative reporter Alan Judd referred Axios to a past statement to the newspaper, saying that he's "proud of the work I have done for the AJC for the last 24 years and I am grateful for the opportunity I’ve had to serve the community."

Catch up quick: On July 11, UGA's general counsel, Michael Raeber, sent a nine-page letter to the AJC outlining "errors, unsubstantiated allegations, innuendo and possibly even fabrications" and demanded the paper retract Judd's story.

  • Raeber said that, despite a months-long investigation, Judd reached out to the school for comment only the day before publication.

Details: The paper said on Wednesday a team of editors and attorneys had investigated the concerns and were unable to substantiate "one of the article's key assertions" that 11 players remained with the team after alleged violent encounters. The new version of the story cites only two players.

  • The paper's investigation also found Judd linked two separate statements "made minutes apart" by a detective as a single quote.
  • AJC editor-in-chief Leroy Chapman said doing so "did not change the meaning of the quote, but the way it was presented to readers failed to meet AJC standards."

Yes, but: The paper said it did not find any fabrications in the article.

Between the lines: Judd had been at the paper for nearly 25 years. A two-time finalist for the Pulitzer Prize, his stories have spurred reform of the state's mental health system, helped uncover teacher cheating at Atlanta Public Schools and shined a spotlight on derelict absentee landlords.

  • Decades ago, Judd resigned from the Louisville Courier-Journal after a series he co-reported faced allegations of misquoting by sources and led to 10 corrections by the paper, as The Washington Post reported in 1988.
  • At the time, Judd told the Associated Press that "the entire story has not been told."

Of note: The AJC and Axios are both owned by Cox Enterprises.


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