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Student journalists at University of Georgia newspaper The Red & Black walked out after the paper’s board put its adviser, Ed Morales, in charge of the paper’s editorial content. The students have set up a blog and a Twitter account, which was suspended but is now back in action. Karah-Leigh Hancock reports from Athens about how things went bad:
On Aug. 6, Kent Middleton, head of the journalism department at UGA’s Grady College of Journalism and Mass Communication and a member of The Red & Black’s board of directors, sent out an email detailing the upcoming changes to The Red & Black. Among those changes were appointing Morales the editorial director, hiring new non-student marketing and product managers, a multimedia director, a business manager and a creative director.
Polina Marinova resigned as editor-in-chief of The Red & Black. In a post on the exiled students’ blog, she describes some of the friction between the student journalists and its advisers before the split:
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.
Here’s that draft memo. Under the rubric “Content that is unacceptable – Must Nots” it lists “Sarcastic comments directed at our audience in non-opinion sections” and “Liable,” among other things.
Marinova told the Student Press Law Center that Morales “explained to me that he would read and be responsible for all the content that was to be published in print.”
The editors walked out during production of Thursday printed edition. The paper publishes in print once a week, a decision made last year. It’s unclear if any staff remain to complete the paper, what would have been the second of the school year.
In a post on Facebook, newspaper board member Charles Russell portrayed the changes as part of a new emphasis on digital journalism:
Last year, the leadership insisted—and the students embarked—on a bold move to digital-first. That move also included abandonment of the daily student newspaper that generations of UGA students, faculty and staff have come to expect; and a move to publication of a weekly format in print that was largely unsuccessful in filling that need. What we’ve done at the board level, is authorize significant new expenditures from reserves to more fully deliver on our training mission, by providing the support staff to help the students learn how to juggle multiple media initiatives successfully—all while staying focused on why they’re in Athens in the first place: to get their education. Will we get everything right as a board, as permanent staffers, or as students? Probably not. But with a broad and supportive family of current and former R&B’ers engaged inthe effort, we’ll get it done together.
Red & Black publisher Harry Montevideo and the board of directors issued a statement apologizing for the “failure of clarity with our core constituency, the student journalists.” They say Morales will not “censor student content”:
The Red & Black does not plan to have these professionals assume the role of our student Editor in Chief. The editorial director is a counselor, teacher, mentor, coordinator and manager. The editorial director is charged with helping students make smart content decisions prior to publication, particularly on stories, which involve issues of libel or standards of quality and ethics. It is not, nor has it ever been the intention of the board to censor student content.
Montevideo encourages “any UGA student interested in working at their student newspaper to come by our office at any time. And that includes any former, staff members.”
Correction: This post originally said the university put Morales in charge; The Red & Black is independent of the university.