Georgia students will return to newspaper for meeting

Some of the student journalists who walked out on the University of Georgia student newspaper The Red & Black on Wednesday will return for a meeting Thursday afternoon, publisher Harry Montevideo said in a phone interview. He wasn’t sure which students would attend.

The students quit after the volunteer board for the paper, which operates independently from the university, changed Ed Morales’ position from editorial adviser to editorial director. Morales is an employee of the paper, not a student at Georgia. Editor-in-Chief Polina Marinova resigned, saying in a blog post that students would no longer have final approval of content in the paper.

That’s not the case, Montevideo said. From his point of view, the paper’s board is trying to professionalize an existing relationship. “There has been prior review in the past,” he said. “We’ve had an editorial adviser on staff since the ’80s.”

That may prove to be an important point: The Student Press Law Center says the “First Amendment drastically limits” a school’s ability to to censor a student paper, and prior review is one activity courts have prohibited.

But The Red & Black is separate from the university, run by an independent board, and “virtually everybody” who works on the paper is paid, Montevideo said. SPLC attorney Adam Goldstein told me via email that to avoid a First Amendment issue, “the board and its decision-making have to be genuinely independent; it’s not merely enough that they be legally separate.”

The students who walked out posted a draft of a memo about editorial standards. Montevideo said the board wrote it, and it was a rough draft. “It was certainly not meant for publication,” he said. “It was an internal communication between our board and our editorial director.”

According to the paper’s 2011 IRS form 990, three of its 15 board members are formally affiliated with the university. One is Kent Middleton, the head of the school’s journalism department. “A university doesn’t avoid a First Amendment problem by giving itself seats on a board and having its employees on that board censor, because at the end of the day, those employees hold the seats due to their government-related jobs and their actions are still attributable to the government,” Goldstein wrote.

“I hate to say it, but from my viewpoint it was an overreaction,” Montevideo said about Wednesday’s brouhaha, “and our best attempts at creating discussion and dialogue around it were met with emotional responses.”

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  • Anonymous

    Start a student newspaper and leave the censors to run their own. I bet students would pick the student run paper over the propaganda rag anyday.

  • DocDunn

    Independence would suggest no influence from the university. By having at least three members of the board with direct ties to the university, including the journalism department head, that claim of independence is a weak one at best. Money is not the only influence. Traditional student media advisers are there to do just that. Advise. Anything beyond that is control, thus the opposite of independence.

  • JJ Cooper

    University administration doesn’t have anything to do with this I believe, as the paper is truly independent with no school funding and it does not operate on school property. These decisions were in no way made by the University of Georgia, but by the board of the Red and Black.

  • Barry Hollander

    An “overreaction?” Hardly. It’s not only editorial control. Just read this gem of a draft memo a member of the Board dreamed up.

  • DocDunn

    I would suggest the board members and university administration look into Kincaid vs. Gibson. The federal court has made it clear that the application of Hazelwood or the use of prior restraint and other forms of regulation at the collegiate level are NOT constitutional.

  • Lona Panter

    When I was at The Red & Black from 2000-2002, our prior review consisted of the editorial advisor sitting in on budget meetings, sometimes offering suggestions, and then critiquing the paper the next day. The advisor left shortly after the meeting, and it was the students who spent their evenings actually putting the paper together. This, I feel, is a bit different than allowing a paid non-student employee the ability to yay or nay student work.

  • JJ Cooper

    As a former Red & Black editor, I can say with confidence that there was not prior review from 1992-1994. The editorial advisor was never around when the paper was being put together. He only saw and critiqued the finished paper the next day. In conversations with other Red & Black staffers from other eras (stretching from the start of the paper’s independence in the early 1980s to the 2000s), they say the same situation was true during their tenure. So when Mr. Montevideo says that there has been prior review in the past, it has not been true for at least the vast majority of 30+ years the Red & Black has been an independent paper.