Gay Atlanta’s own Rich Eldredge has reported the city's never-ending tapestry of stories for 25 years. Now he brings that experience and vision to his own digital media outlet. Welcome to Eldredge ATL.
The website launches on Aug. 24, serving Eldredge’s unique perspective and insight based on experience in some of the city’s best-known publications. You may remember his name atop the Peach Buzz column in the Atlanta Journal Constitution for 16 years. He also contributed as far back ast the '90s to LGBT publications including Southern Voice, Etcetera magazine and even Project Q.
In 2009, Eldredge brought his buzz to Atlanta magazine where he is now a contributing editor. He has served as an advisor to the Georgia Voice and also works with VOX Teen Communications mentoring young people to write their own stories.
A changing media landscape, attrition of employed journalists, and a passion for keeping Atlanta’s stories alive nudged the veteran to add Eldredge ATL to his plate.
“So many of our city's arts and entertainment writers have left the business, and I realized with some horror that institutional knowledge was being lost,” Eldredge tells Project Q. “Too many great stories are going completely unreported. I saw a real missed opportunity.”
We’ve watched him celeb-stalk the likes of B52s' Fred Schneider, Indigo Girls, and even Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal. Among thousands of articles, Eldredge has diligently reported scandals including a local rag dissing the late queer chef Ria Pell, taught Kim Zolciak not to get him drunk in her home, and broke the story that beloved lesbian Melissa Carter was leaving Atlanta radio.
The website has been reserved and brewing for years, but with the help of professionals in every aspect of its development, it's finally ready for its close-up. Eldredge officially announced his plans on Tuesday, so before the grand debut, we asked him to turn his talents on himself and answer a few burning questions about what readers can expect.
How does it feel to branch out on your own?
It's been scary but also reassuring. I've had dozens of meetings about this project and across the board, the response has been overwhelmingly supportive. People still want actual journalism. People still crave a good story told to them by someone they trust. People still want to discover something new through reported journalism. Thank God!
Will you remain at Atlanta magazine? How about your role with VOX?
I love Atlanta magazine. I'll write for them as long as they want me to. They yanked me out of a burning building five years ago. I was that kid in high school who couldn't wait for the Best of Atlanta issue. Now I get to contribute to that issue.
In late 2009, they brought me over to help grow their digital audience. I got to do a lot of fun scatter-shot stories at a time when the coverage canvas was really broad. Five years later, the audience is there and rightfully so, there's a much more nuanced approach to what they cover online. It's been one of the most intelligent approaches to digital expansion I've seen.
Atlanta's editor Steve Fennessy and I had a great chat. I'll pitch ideas that might fit in their current coverage mix to them first and if they pass, I'll report it for Eldredge ATL. I'll remain at VOX, too, editing and story coaching with our young reporters after school a couple of nights a week and on Saturdays. It's an amazing program.
What’s your editorial vision, and what can readers expect?
We boiled down to three sentences for the website: “Atlanta's stories. A trusted source. Eldredge ATL.”
I've built up an amazing array of sources and contacts over 25 years in this city. And I've built trust, an increasingly rare commodity in journalism circles in 2015. I'm going to leverage those relationships and the trust I've built over the years to tell great stories. People know I'm not going to screw them over in exchange for page views.
Many remember your juicy dish in AJC’s Peach Buzz. Will there be a place on the site for that?
When I was at the AJC, writing Peach Buzz was the best job at the paper. I'm ridiculously grateful to them for allowing me to contribute to it for 16 years. But in 2015, with social media and a zillion famous folk all with blue checked, verified Twitter accounts, there's zero need for a column like that.
Snark is everywhere now. Everyone on earth has a Twitter account and is banging out one-liners like they’re a contestant on “RuPaul's Drag Race.” Eldredge ATL is going to focus on what’s missing from coverage these days. I’m much more interested in offering substance and committing acts of journalism to spotlight a great new actor, musician or chef in town who's doing amazing work but doesn't have a single clip in their press kit because no one is left to write about them anymore.
That's not to say I'm not going to go after scoops when I can get them. I'm still a very competitive person.
What’s your vision for content generation?
The plan, at the starting gate at least, is for me to tackle the bulk of the writing and the reporting. My name is in the title. I should be doing the heavy lifting. There will be fresh content up daily. There'll be some shorter fun things and some more in-depth reads. But when I do use a contributor, whether it's a writer or a photographer, you're going to get paid. Journalists should be paid for their work. Period.
What will EldredgeATL add to the local media landscape that it may be missing?
Logging onto Facebook and Twitter and seeing so much complete junk and negativity in my newsfeed has proved inspirational to me. What if we replaced some of those click-bait headlined empty calories with actual, honest-to-goodness reported content written by someone you've trusted to bring you the news for 25 years? Atlanta is a great city filled with amazing stories. I'm going to get to work reporting them.
What’s the general business model?
The goal is for Eldredge ATL to be an ad supported website. The content itself will be free. We lost that battle back in the mid 1990s. I just need to find the right person who gets the concept who can sell it for me. I’m in no hurry.
Do you think being gay influences your writing or topic choices?
Whenever you're perceived by society as an outsider, you're going to bring that perspective with you on whatever assignment you're covering. Hopefully, you'll bring empathy too.
One of the things I love most about our city is its diversity. Over the years, I've learned a lot from and been inspired by interviewing civil rights icons like Andrew Young, John Lewis and Xernona Clayton. Being a reporter, you’re able to drop yourself into someone's life, a life that might be completely different from yours, life experiences you can learn from and hopefully a life readers can learn from as well.
Who are some of your most notorious LGBT interviews?
Three interviews spring to my mind. I interviewed author Patricia Nell Warren back in the 1990s, either for Southern Voice or Etc magazine. I read “The Front Runner” as a kid and it had a huge impact on me. It was great to get to talk about those characters with the woman who created them.
I was petrified the first time I interviewed Elton John for the AJC in 1998 at his place in Buckhead. His staff made me really nervous before he ever walked in the room. But we're both incredibly sarcastic, he's fantastically witty and we just struck up an instant rapport. He’s a tennis player. A great interview with him should be like a challenging tennis match. Every time I see him now, he gives me a hug. The 11-year-old inside me who spent his allowance on that “Philadelphia Freedom” 45 in 1975 is pretty impressed by that.
Interviewing Fred Schneider from the B-52's is always utterly unpredictable. Before the era of the “It Gets Better” PSA campaigns, there was this band of cool queer outsiders from Athens, GA telling us kids through their music that it’s OK to be you.
Through a bizarre set of circumstances I call my life, two years ago Fred narrated a children's book I co-wrote. The theme of the book was the same message: “it's OK to be different.” It was my small way of passing that on to the next generation. I got invited into the studio to hear Fred record part of the book. For all of his hilariously wacky voices, Fred took the book’s message seriously. When he got to a certain point in the text, I had to quickly excuse myself. I sat in my car and cried.
What else? Anything you’d like to add?
Very few journalists in this city are lucky enough to have an ongoing conversation with readers for 25 years. I respect that relationship greatly. From day one, I’ve always viewed my job as working for them.
Through our comments section, social media posts and email, our readers will have an opportunity to tell me what they like and who I need to write about next. I started Eldredge ATL to better serve them. That’s why I got into this business and it’s what’s kept me happy doing this work for so long.
Photo by Alli Royce Soble