Letter to the Editor

My University of Georgia journalism degree was earned in two places: the newsroom of the student-run Red & Black newspaper and in the class of late journalism Professor Conrad Fink, a long-time advocate of all things journalism who began his class every day with a run-through of the hits and misses of our student-run newspaper. Those of us on staff would have to nervously defend our editorial decisions of the night before in class to the journalism giant that was Fink. You see, we learned on the job. We made mistakes, like any newspaper, and we made sure to correct those mistakes. The education we received by publishing a student newspaper run by students for students cannot be replicated when professional, non-student staffers are running the show. I am not surprised this unethical takeover of editorial power by the board happened after Fink’s death, but I am proud to see his legacy continue in your bold decision to stand up for everything right about The Red & Black.

The Red & Black has always been a place of learning, quality journalism, mistakes and triumphs. It was a place where I, first as a news reporter and later as opinions editor, learned not just the technical skills that a journalist needs to know but also the more important principles of ethics, the public’s need and right to know, and our responsibility to uphold democratic values. These are principles the board is clearly lacking. You cannot have a student-run newspaper that is not run by students. I hope The Red & Black’s Board of Directors and leadership, especially Red & Black Publisher Harry Montevideo and University journalism head and board member Kent Middleton, come to their senses and prioritize student journalism over their need for power and profit. I would also suggest they reread The Red & Black’s mission and bylaws. It seems they have forgotten all that makes The Red & Black great. Hint: It’s not them. It’s the students.

Sincerely,

Yasmin Yonis
Journalism, International Affairs 2011
Former Opinions Editor/ News Reporter

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2 thoughts on “Letter to the Editor

  1. Couldn’t agree more, Yasmin. When I was on staff 20 years ago, an incident occurred which I think illustrates your point — a small group had announced its intention to visit UGA, their goal to espouse the view that certain WWII era atrocities were fabricated (sorry for the euphemism, I’m trying not to get this comment flagged). Their impending arrival was advertised on campus (I think the Demosthenians may have provided a venue for debate, although I don’t fully recall).

    The group decided to take out an ad in the Red & Black to publicize their appearance. The submitted ad consisted largely of their “evidence” of said “fabrication”. After considerable internal debate, our editor-in-chief decided to run it, along with an editorial condemning their viewpoint and tactics.

    Well, as you might imagine (or maybe not…we’ve grown so inured to extreme viewpoints these days) there was quite a bit of outrage expressed at this decision, and the story was picked up by several large media outlets. The furor was not lessened by the interview our editor-in-chief gave to the AJC — the money quote in the resultant article was “It’s the ad department’s job to sell ads, so they damn well better sell ads.”

    Prof. Fink devoted the next couple of class days to addressing the controversy, inviting the editor to participate in the discussion. The editor had gotten a “real life” lesson in journalism — that quote, he said, was just part of a 40-minute interview in which he spent most of the time defending the decision on journalistic principles, only to be portrayed as insensitive due to the choice of quote. We hashed out every detail of the decision — should we have run the ad, or asked for another one? Did we have an obligation to run it, or did our devotion to accuracy in news content demand that we keep it off our pages? What is an advertiser’s responsibility to truth/accuracy? Did the editorial adequately defend the principles we applied to the decision? How should we follow up? These any many other questions were hashed out.

    Our classroom discussion of this incident stands out to me now as the single greatest learning experience of my time at the Grady School, and it happened because students were allowed final determination of content at the Red & Black. It can be debated all over again whether we made a mistake, but what is not debatable is that real lessons were learned, and that these lessons are unlikely to be replicated in an environment where non-students devote their efforts to whitewashing anything that smacks of controversy.

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