Letter to the Editor

I introduce myself as somewhat of an oddity to the former staff of The Red & Black. My Grady class résumé is slim, but not for lack of trying. I was a double major in the College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences, and I tried to triple major in newspapers. I wanted a full-on education that delved deep into the Associated Press Stylebook and learned the textbook basis of media laws, but a background in science, since my eventual career goal was to be a science and agriculture reporter.

However, one begging and pleading email led to another and ended up with me not being allowed to get that third major. Thus, the vast majority of my knowledge of AP style and writing came not from a classroom or the red pen of a Grady professor, but instead from the lessons I learned at The Red & Black.

The first of many lessons were learned from fellow staff members, and countless others from spending hours with Ed Morales, the editorial advisor. As a freshman, unsure of anything except I knew I loved to write, I brought a résumé and cover letter to then-recruitment editor Philip Kisubika. A couple of weeks later, I wrote my first story about the engineering majors at the university — or University, as proper Red & Black style dictated. Four years later, after semesters as the south campus reporter, a summer as editor-in-chief and a year as senior reporter, Morales gave us staff shirts that said, “Just Can’t Leave.”

While originally meant as an inside joke based on some filler copy for layouts, the statement rings true today more so than ever. Because we cannot leave. The Red & Black is just as much an ideal as it is a business. Look at these alums — most Grady grads, others not so much — who write in support of the student newspaper they helped continue a legacy that spans more than a century. Sure, things need to change from time to time, but I stand firmly behind the majority of fellow Red & Black alumni who agree that removing the core value of “student-run” from that legacy is a horrible idea. In several news stories published Aug. 16, board member Kent Middleton was quoted as saying, “They can’t be as effective journalists outside The Red & Black.” Publisher Harry Montevideo was quoted in videos insisting that surely there would be plenty rushing to fill the spots vacated by the editors and some staff writers on a campus of more than 30,000 students. But trust me when I say that having a staff full of students is not enough, even if there are 10-plus professional staff members serving in an advisory capacity. I worked on a news staff at one point with nearly 20 names on the roster, and I can probably count maybe half of them who showed up regularly and covered stories more than once a week. That is not the answer.

We “just can’t leave” because we never left. The lessons we learned, the critiques we got each day from Morales, the good times and the bad times will stay with us forever. And love it or hate it, people want to be a part of that. They don’t want to be a part of a newspaper that is controlled by others — trust me on this, there were days when former Red & Blackers I worked with at a “real-world” daily newspaper would lament about how we wished Morales and so-and-so were around to run things a little differently. They want to be part of The Red & Black legacy: a student-run newspaper that focuses on finding breaking news and teaches how to cover it.

I encourage members of the Board of Directors to assume transparency in this situation. We have many unanswered questions: What’s true in the memo Ed Stamper wrote? Why were student staff not more informed as to what was going on? Why were a consultant and team needed? Why hire a board member rather than a third party?

I applaud Polina Marinova, Julia Carpenter and the rest of their editorial team for driving to get the answers to these questions. I hope those other students Montevideo refers to as the future pool of Red & Black student staff get to learn from their experiences, the way they learned from the editors who came before them, the way I learned from those before me. I hope this issue gets resolved and the primary objective of The Red & Black is not compromised, but instead, greets the future with an open mind and understanding of both sides of this complicated story.

I am a proud University of Georgia graduate who firmly stands behind The Red & Dead in reaffirming the mission the campus newspaper was founded upon. I hope you will join me.

Dallas Duncan

Animal Science, Agricultural Communication 2011

Former Editor-in-Chief/News Reporter

Advertisements

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

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.