News - Skube-doo, where are you?

Pulitzer Prize winner apparently leaves AJC

Michael Skube, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution's popular book critic, may not be explicating books for Atlanta readers for much longer.
Skube, who won the Pulitzer Prize in 1989 for book criticism and joined the AJC to general fanfare in 1993, has left the paper and is negotiating with the company about the terms of a severance agreement, according to friends and colleagues, all of whom asked to remain anonymous for fear of repercussions from the AJC's management.
Skube, reached at home on Friday, Oct. 13, refused to say anything at all about his current situation. It's likely that, until the terms of the severance agreement are finalized, neither Skube nor the AJC's editors can publicly disclose the exact nature of his employment situation.?AJC managing editor John Walter told me Oct. 16 that Skube "is on the paper today and I can't talk about the future." Skube's column had run in the previous day's paper. Walter declined to discuss the matter further, citing confidentiality about personnel matters. Susan Soper, the assistant managing editor for features, also said that Skube was still on staff.
But people close to Skube report otherwise, and few are surprised that he appears to have left the paper. It's no secret around town that Skube has had some run-ins with the AJC's management lately. When Skube joined the paper in April 1993, he was something of a golden boy.
Since then, he has fallen out of favor with the paper's editors. Some editors reportedly were angered by a couple of columns he wrote about the sorry state of newspapers. AJC management was also concerned about Skube's "productivity," current and former staffers say. "Productivity" is a term that — and I'm speaking from personal experience with other newspapers here, not of Skube's particular situation — more often than not, cloaks a general and unspecific dissatisfaction with a writer, rather than with his or her work.
But Skube certainly is not all over the paper. He writes one book column weekly for the Sunday paper and occasional other features. His beer column, which won the James Beard Foundation Journalism Award for newspaper writing on spirits, wine and beer this year, was discontinued before he received the award this spring. A general interest column was also cut after a brief run.
"I'd always sensed that [Skube] felt that he wasn't being used effectively at the newspaper," observes Vincent Coppola, a friend of Skube's and a longtime Atlanta freelance writer. "There were lots of things he could do or was capable of doing, but nobody was taking advantage of his skills and experience and expertise."
Skube joined the AJC as book editor from the News and Observer in Raleigh, N.C., where he won the Pulitzer Prize in 1989 for his writing about books and other literary topics. He has become a popular writer in the Atlanta area too. Creative Loafing's readers this year voted him the city's best columnist.
It's possible that Skube could reach an agreement with the AJC that would have him continuing to work at the paper. This would be a great thing for readers, since Skube is almost universally agreed to be one of Atlanta's most-talented critics. But, considering his already strained relations with management, I wouldn't hold my breath expecting that sort of settlement. And considering the options for Pulitzer Prize-winning critics in the Atlanta area who don't want to work for the AJC, I wouldn't be surprised if Skube leaves town for another major daily.?"I don't think his talents or skills have diminished," said Coppola, who has lived and written in Atlanta for over 20 years. "He is a hell of a writer and a hell of an intellect. Is there room for people like that in Atlanta, if they don't play the game? I don't know."
?Evelina Shmukler is media columnist for Creative Loafing. Reach her at evelina@mindspring.com

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