UPDATED THURSDAY MORNING:
The student staff of the Red and Black, the acclaimed University of Georgia student-run newspaper, walked out en masse Wednesday to protest what the student journalists consider intrusive oversight of what had been one of the nation’s most well known independent campus publications.
Expect a lot of news coverage as many Atlanta journalists worked at the Red & Black while students at UGA. Please keep in mind that the newspaper is an independent, non-profit enterprise that supports itself largely through ad sales. It is not under UGA or President Michael Adams and receives no direct university support. That independence has given it far greater freedom over the years to criticize the university and its policies.
The Red & Black publisher Harry Montevideo has responded to student charges that their role was being minimized and that the board was giving more powers to non journalists to dictate content and that the focus was shifting from “news” to “good news.” He says:
“The Red and Black has always championed the best interest of student journalists. Core to our mission is providing the best possible training and experience which mirrors the real world. The changes occurring here reflect an ongoing commitment for the Red & Black Publishing Company, Inc to continue to offer a news product which is relevant for and accessible to our audience as we also train student journalists for futures in a rapidly changing world of news delivery beyond our traditional print format. There will be a quality student newspaper in our racks tomorrow, as there will be next week and the week after.
In a letter on a new blog, Red & Dead, former editor Polina Marinova explains:
The Red & Black’s top editors, design staff, photo staff and reporters walked out of the newspaper building this afternoon.
The Red & Black has covered the University of Georgia community since 1893 and has been independent of the University since 1980. The newspaper has always been a student-run operation, but recently we began feeling serious pressure from people who were not students. In less than a month, The Red & Black has hired more than 10 permanent staff with veto power over students’ decisions.
In a draft outlining the “expectations of editorial director at The Red & Black,” a member of The Red & Black’s Board of Directors stated the newspaper needs a balance of good and bad. Under “Bad,” it says, “Content that catches people or organizations doing bad things. I guess this is ‘journalism.’ If in question, have more GOOD than BAD.”
I took great offense to that, but the board member just told me this is simply a draft. But one thing that would not change is that the former editorial adviser, now the editorial director, would see all content before it is published online and in print. For years, students have had final approval of the paper followed by a critique by the adviser only after articles were published. However, from now on, that will not be the case. Recently, editors have felt pressure to assign stories they didn’t agree with, take “grip and grin” photos and compromise the design of the paper.
But what’s most alarming to me is that there was no input from The Red & Black student staff about any of these changes. I was doing an internship this summer, and I did not receive any materials related to these changes until I emailed the board member about it.
Even then, nothing was solidified, and I still do not even know what the print product will look like in a week. I’ve worked at this paper since I was a freshman and held multiple leadership positions. This semester, we have a really talented, smart and dedicated staff that had no voice in these changes. It all came from the top, not from the students.
The Red & Black has always been the best experience for student journalists. It’s no longer a place where lessons can be learned without “serious repercussions.” We don’t believe that is a learning environment.
As the former editor-in-chief, I stood by my editors and staff 100 percent, and what I found out today was that we all stood together.
You can read more about the controversy on this Facebook page for Red & Black alums, many of whom work in Atlanta media. You can also read more about today’s events at the Athens Banner-Herald.
–From Maureen Downey, for the AJC Get Schooled blog