When you leave

BY BLAKE SEITZ

Sometimes the most important events occur not when their participants show up, but when they leave.

On Wednesday, the staff of The Red & Black student newspaper walked out of the newsroom to protest restrictive policies the newspaper’s Board of Directors plans to impose upon the paper.

In a three-page “draft” memo (which stated it was to go into effect immediately) the Board outlined its new vision for The Red & Black.

 Per the Board’s dictates, prior review of all content would be exercised by a non-student “Editorial Director.”

That a non-student should have final say over the content of The Red & Black is contrary to the paper’s history as an independent publication. It is contrary to the spirit of a student-run newspaper.

The move — to usurp students’ editorial control over the University’s most-prominent campus paper — is particularly unsettling given recent events in The Red & Black newsroom.

Over the summer, the Board of Directors began planning changes to the paper. It did not inform the paper’s editorial staff or seek their input.

More recently, editors have been pressured to assign stories they did not agree with, and online content has been changed unilaterally prior to publication.

Such actions require an extraordinary rationale, and indeed the Board of Directors made clear what it finds troubling in its memo.

“Inconsistency in design style,” reads one bullet of the poorly-formatted document.

“…Typos and other basic journalistic errors” reads another, which shares the page with a misspelling of the word “libel” (“liable” [sic]).

“Sarcastic comments,” reads a third bullet, several lines up from a sarcastic comment about the body piercings of Red & Black staffers.

And to think that through this whole kerfuffle, it was us staffers who were the alienating party.

Thus is the caliber of our self-appointed, adult saviors. The mind reels.

Implicit in their arguments, however, is a lack of trust. They do not trust student journalists to police their own ranks and create great, relevant content for a campus newspaper, as The Red & Black has in fact done for decades — without a set of adult eyes over our shoulders before the paper is printed.

The Board believes that putting themselves in charge will bolster the paper’s flagging circulation numbers. If I were to hazard my own opinion, the only thing they have managed to accomplish is to destroy their own paper in a circular firing squad.

As a result of the toxic environment the Board has created at The Red & Black, editors and staff have for the moment decided to go their own way and create a new, truly independent student-run publication.

No bridges are being burned. If and when the problem of prior review and others are resolved, staff will return to The Red & Black to produce the student-sourced, student-driven, and student-approved content for which the paper is known.

We hope to show the Board that, far from being incapable “outside The Red & Black,” we will succeed when left to create our own standards and write our own material. The Red & Black taught us that.

Still, one thing that can be said for the recent imbroglio is that it has boosted readership.

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6 thoughts on “When you leave

  1. Former Fink grad here … one of my best publishing memories is seeing my byline in a Red and Black column.

    Miscommunication or not, the decision to bail instead of work with mentors is prideful, not heroic. The petulance of ridiculing the document’s grammar is unnerving at best.

    I am saddened by your actions. Generation X Grady grad here hoping you guys get a real world wake up call. It’s a private business. When you answer to yourselves, the money runs out quick.

    Oops, anyone got a basement we can write in?! (Silence)

  2. As a former staffer at the Daily Tar Heel at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, I applaud your efforts and your stance. I was not a journalism major, but I did hone my skills and “graduate” from the DTH with the ability to work in the field as a copy editor. I think you made a bold decision to walk out, and I wish you all the best, although I hope you can resolve your issues so you can get your professional office environment and resources back.

    Julia Kuhn
    UNC-CH 1990

  3. Russ, but this isn’t a business. It’s a nonprofit – and one that pays its top executive $173,000 a year. Viewed through that lens, I can’t help but see the board’s decisions here as self-serving. The publisher and board should be advising a student-led publication. Instead, it’s become a cash cow, where the board describes investigative stories as “journalism” – their scare quotes, not mine. For me, this illustrates all that is wrong with newspapers these days. Wasn’t Fink all about having journalists in charge instead of bean counters? These kids have done what many of us should have done or at least considered doing in our professional lives: walking away from an organization that shed its ethics and reason for being in favor of chasing dollars for the benefit of those at the top. Forget afflicting the comfortable. The comfortable are calling the shots.

  4. why are all of the paragraphs one sentence? you’re not limited to columns anymore. expand into your new medium.

  5. Russ, keep in mind that these students are not protesting the presence of non-student, experienced adults for assistance, advice, mentoring, critique, etc. — that has always been a part of the Red and Black environment, whether it’s the non-student that’s been on staff as long as I can remember, or advisers from Grady teaching students about their mistakes and how to improve. It’s been a place to learn journalism, do journalism, and then find out how to do it better. Experienced non-students on staff or with the board have ALWAYS been a part of that, mentoring students that run the place.

    They’re protesting the fact that a board of advisers is haphazardly and abruptly making a titanic shift from an independent, student-run newspaper to one where the last word comes from non-students and adults who “know better.” Rejecting that move is far from prideful.

    Former staff of the Red and Black: you have my full support, and I sincerely hope that Dr. Middleton and the other members of the board are scurrying about behind the scenes to try to and restore faith and credibility in an institution that they’ve tarnished overnight. If not, I hope that you succeed in creating a new, independent voice for journalism at the University of Georgia. What better education for the world that awaits to have to think through the whole process of creating a new media outlet on your own.

    Steve Davis
    Grady Class of 2003

  6. Blake,

    You claim that the Red and Black has been providing UGA with great, relevant content, but it seems to me that the average student at UGA would disagree with you. In my experience, mentioning the Red and Black to the average student usually results in a scoff, or a vague reference to its anti-Greek-ness and lack of professionality, or an “I’ve never really picked one up”. I understand that all of the students at the Red and Black try very hard to make a quality publication, and I appreciate your efforts, but the fact of the matter is that very few people view it as a quality publication.

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