UGA student paper staff walk after faculty memo forbids ‘Liable’
The student editor-in-chief and most of the student staff of the University of Georgia’s The Red and Black newspaper resigned en masse on Wednesday, contending that control of the paper was being taken away from students and placed in the hands of non-students. In a statement published by Red and Dead, a website established by the former staffers, former editor Polina Marinova wrote, “I, Polina Marinova, have resigned as the editor-in-chief from The Red & Black, the student newspaper covering the University of Georgia. The Red & Black’s top editors, design staff, photo staff and reporters walked out of the newspaper building this afternoon.”
The departing students believe that the paper, which has existed alongside the university in Athens, Georgia since 1893, but has run itself as an independent organization since 1980, is increasingly coming under the control of non-students. “The newspaper has always been a student-run operation,” Marinova continued, “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.”
The students are supervised by publisher Harry Montevideo and editorial adviser Ed Morales, and overseen by a board of directors. According to the Athens Banner-Herald, it was the board’s decision to move Morales to the position of editorial director and to hire outside marketing and product managers, a multimedia director, a business manager and new creative director.
The board members presented a draft memo (.pdf) to Marinova outlining changes in the paper’s editorial policy on Wednesday, which prompted the walkout. Citing “sarcastic comments,” “obscenity” and “misquotes, errors in fact, typos and other basic journalistic errors,” the board announced that the paper’s final draft would be subject to board approval before going out to the public.
Presumably the board also wishes to avoid repetitions of the “How to Find that Perfect Husband in College” debacle which took place earlier this year, in which a piece by sophomore Amber Estes, a public relations major, teetered back and forth across the line of self-parody and gained worldwide attention for its vapidity.
Media critic Jim Romanesko wrote, “The column is getting attention because many people aren’t sure if Estes is serious when she advises women on campus to ‘throw on a nice fitting frocket (one that displays your [sorority] letters loud and proud) and make sure you look your finest.’ She adds: ‘Trust me, the fellows will come flocking.'”
According to Marinova, however, “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.”
The anonymously-written memo divides The Red and Black‘s proposed coverage into “GOOD” and “BAD” sections. “GOOD” content is defined as “Content that is ABOUT our audience doing something unique, helpful, outstanding, new, dramatic, ie scholarships for Freshman (sic),” and “Content that our readers have asked for, ie. how to save money, where to find a job, how to join a club, what’s going on (events), what’s new.”
“BAD” content is defined as “Content that catches people or organizations doing bad things. I guess this is ‘journalism’. I think we are aligned on Crime and ‘who started the year off with a police record.’ and the freshman class lacks some minority demographics.'” The board member instructs editors, “If in question, have more GOOD than BAD.”
The memo listed a set of errors that will not be tolerated in the future, including “Liable,” which one assumes, is meant to read “libel.”
Publisher Montevideo said in a statement, “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.”
Raw Story attempted to reach the students for comment, but when the spokesperson was informed that the story faced an afternoon deadline, they replied, “Noted. I hope someone can respond, but we are students. We’re in class right now.”
(image via Shutterstock)
(The author is a graduate of the University of Georgia, AB English, Class of 1990, and published music reviews in The Red and Black as a student.)