Top editors of The Red & Black, U. Georgia’s student newspaper walked out of their newsroom this week after a dispute with the paper’s board of directors over editorial control of the paper.
The student newspaper’s board of directors — composed of alumni of the paper and local journalists and business leaders —drafted a memoWednesday detailing new responsibilities for the paper’s professional staff, which has grown over the past few months.
The paper has always had a professional adviser to give the editorial staff guidance, but The Red & Black’s editors maintained final editorial control. But, under the restructuring, editorial adviser Ed Morales’ title was changed to editorial director, and he was given final say over all editorial content.
In response, the paper’s top editors and many reporters left the paper in protest, many in a formal walkout on Wednesday. They created a new website, called The Red and Dead.
Among other requests, the memo said the paper should be doing more “good” stories about positive events at the school, and less negative, critical stories.
Referring to the “bad” stories, the memo, which was written by board member Ed Stamper said, “I guess this is journalism.”
Though no students remain at the paper, according to the staffers who quit, a statement from the board of directors says the paper continues to be an “independent student media organization.” It encouraged interested UGA students to apply for editorial posts.
The board’s statement said the changes were made in the students’ best interest.
“The changes reflect our board’s optimism and the recognition that we must maintain pace in a rapidly changing world of news delivery beyond our traditional print format,” the statement said. “The board is a volunteer group comprised of former The Red & Black staff and other journalists and business leaders, who have a passion for its heritage and wish to see it remain strong and independent for decades to come.”
The former staff said in a statement Wednesday that approval by an editorial director prior to publishing is not an option.
“It inhibits the teaching process, preventing student journalists from learning from both their successes and mistakes,” the staff’s statement said. “But it is the opinion of The Red & Black’s board that allowing students to make these mistakes as learning journalists will drive away readers. We disagree — and it is our hope that these issues are resolved quickly so that student-driven and student-approved content can continue to be the priority of The Red & Black Publishing Company, as it has been for more than a century.”
Polina Marinova, the paper’s editor-in-chief, said in a statement Wednesday that she wasn’t notified of the board’s changes. In fact, it wasn’t until Marinova e-mailed a board member that she understood the gravity of the situation.
“Even then, nothing was solidified, and I still do not even know what the print product will look like in a week,” Marinova said. “I’ve worked at this paper since I was a freshman and held multiple leadership positions throughout. This semester, we have a really talented, smart and dedicated staff that had no voice in these changes. It all came from the top, not from the students.”
UGA Senior Evan Stichler — a former chief photographer at the Red and Black who is now running the Red and Dead’s Twitter and other social media accounts — said in an interview Thursday that the board has recently taken an aggressive top-down approach, where the students have little say in how the paper is run.
“It used to not be this way,” Stichler said.
“We used to be a seriously-run student newspaper, and as the past couple of months — and especially days and weeks — have progressed, it has gone into a marketing newspaper, where they’ve been trying to get clicks on the website, and to get people to like it on Facebook.”
Stichler said the board wanted student journalists to write specific stories and even instructed the paper’s photographers to take posed photos — a practice that is considered questionable in photojournalism.
He added that the board was unreasonable in suggesting that the paper wasn’t delivering balanced coverage. He said the paper’s coverage was “50-50” between positive and negative news stories.
Though much of the conflict revolves around the role of Morales, the editorial director, Stichler said the conflict is not about his personal behavior.
“I have been a fan of Mr. Morales. He’s been a great adviser; he does a great job when the newspaper is produced,” Stichler said, noting that Morales has simply been caught in the middle of the conflict.
Morales could not be reached for comment Friday morning.
The student journalists met with the board in a closed meeting Thursday. The board refused to speak with the students on-the-record, meaning the students would not be able to report anything that occurred during the meeting.
“Our goal is to return to The Red & Black as a student-sourced, student-written, student-designed and student-approved publication, as the paper has been since it broke from the University,” the Red and Dead staff said in a statement after the meeting.
Until negotiations are settled, Stichler said the Red and Dead staff will continue to write stories regarding campus events, UGA sports and other topics on the Red and Dead blog.
The Red and Black’s website is still being updated with staff reports and newswire stories, and an advertisement for a recruitment open house at the paper was posted this morning. Stichler said it’s likely that the board’s editorial director, Ed Morales is posting the content.