Student Journalists at UGA Walk Out After Hostile Takeover of Paper by Non-Students

By August 16, 2012

The student editorial staff of the award-winning University of Georgia (UGA) independent student newspaper The Red & Black quit en masse Wednesday in response to the appointment of a non-student editorial director with power of prior review of the paper. The Atlanta Journal-Constitution and a variety of other media have also covered the developing story, and the staffers who walked out are reporting on the situation from their new blog, Red & Dead

A statement from former Editor-In-Chief Polina Marinova lays out the facts, and here is her explanation as to why the students quit: 

In less than a month, The Red & Black has hired more than 10 permanent staff with veto power over students’ decisions.

In a draft outlining the "expectations of editorial director at The Red & Black," a member of The Red & Black’s Board of Directors stated the newspaper needs a balance of good and bad. Under "Bad," it says, "Content that catches people or organizations doing bad things. I guess this is ‘journalism.’ If in question, have more GOOD than BAD." I took great offense to that, but the board member just told me this is simply a draft. But one thing that would not change is that the former editorial adviser, now the editorial director, would see all content before it is published online and in print. For years, students have had final approval of the paper followed by a critique by the adviser only after articles were published. However, from now on, that will not be the case. Recently, editors have felt pressure to assign stories they didn’t agree with, take "grip and grin" photos and compromise the design of the paper.

But what’s most alarming to me is that there was no input from The Red & Black student staff about any of these changes….It all came from the top, not from the students. [Emphases added.] 

The full Board of Directors memo Marinova references is available here (PDF)—an eye-opening read. 

It’s shocking to see student journalists steamrolled like this. The Board of Directors’ actions seem to represent the view that student journalists are hapless children who need to be spoon-fed, rather than young professionals who are capable of learning through trial and error.

So who sits on this Board of Directors? To begin with, a number of former editors of the R&B, who should have known better. However, other board members include the head of the journalism department at UGA, Kent Middleton; Melita Easters, a local playwright who has also served as the president of the University Union at UGA; Don Carter, a former journalist and major donor who has endowed a chair in journalism at UGA; Carroll Dadisman, retired publisher of the Tallahassee Democrat who has lectured at UGA functions internationally; Ron Lane, UGA professor of advertising in the journalism school and "Acting Head of Advertising at the University of Georgia"; Alexis Scott, who has been invited to headline events at the journalism school in the past; and Burgett Mooney, trustee of the journalism school. 

Indeed, there is a lot of cross-pollination between the Board of the R&B and the UGA administration. It makes one wonder about the motivations in what seems like a very puzzling power grab by the board. However, on Red & Dead, the former student editors state: "We would like to make a public statement letting people know that the University of Georgia administration is not affiliated with the Board of Directors of The Red & Black." Why is this happening at all? Why put people who aren’t students, faculty, or administrators in charge of a student paper?

FIRE will continue to inform you as more information comes out. The Student Press Law Center has more here

Schools: University of Georgia