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.