Students walk out on University of Georgia newspaper

Athens Banner-Herald | The Red & Dead | Student Press Law Center
| The Red & Black
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.

We have made it easy to comment on posts, however we require civility and encourage full names to that end (first initial, last name is OK). Please read our guidelines here before commenting.

  • Anonymous

    I’m having trouble understanding this, especially after learning at the end that the paper is independent of the University. What is the composition of the board of directors? Does the university play any role at all? Where does the money come from? Who are the students angry with–the board, the school, each other?

  • Pingback: MediaShift . Red & Black Lesson: Students Must Balance Business Needs at College Papers | PBS

  • http://twitter.com/kristenbmorales Kristen Morales

    No. The editorial advisor did not write that memo. The author is a member of the newspaper’s board of directors, who was hired by the board to serve as a consultant this past summer and into the fall.

  • Anonymous

    Get ready for defense as soon as you hear someone in charge — someone with power over you — refer to the organization as a “family” as in “… broad and supportive family of current and former R&B’ers ….” That’s the classic CEO line that holds up until trouble arises. Then half the “family” is fired and the other half does twice the work until collapsing from exhaustion. Such a poor choice of words. Family. Right. Maybe if the word “dysfunctional” was added it might better portray the role of this particular board.

  • Anonymous

    Was it the assigned “professional” who confused “liable” with “libel?”

  • http://www.catherineblakeney.com Catherine Blakeney

    I spent a semester as a web intern with the Red and Black over a decade ago. I’m proud of the students for standing up for journalism.

  • http://twitter.com/acarlson91 Adam Carlson

    To clarify: The Red & Black named its editorial adviser, a non-student professional, as editorial director with direct approval over all editorial content. Neither he nor The R&B is affiliated with the university; the paper is independent.