UPDATE, 11:05 p.m.: Charles Russell, a member of the paper’s board of directors, posted the following statement in a Facebook group for Red & Black alumni:
“Dear Red and Black family members–I am more glad than you know to see you raising questions about what’s going on right now at an organization we all love dearly. As a current member of the volunteer board of directors, I promise you all that the intent of the board is to support and preserve the purpose for which the paper exists: operating a publishing company excusively for literary and educational purposes, including the promotion of educational skills in journalism through the publication and distribution of a collegiate newspaper and other publications in and about the University of Georgia. You all know me, and I hope, still trust me. As long as I’m drawing a breath, I will work to preserve our purpose for being. I have spoken with Bill Krueger to begin the process of bringing him into the conversation, and will also be in touch with our representative director who is onsite working with Harry and the staff on this initiative. Right now, I have not heard from Harry, and do not know where he is on this. Please continue to follow, and weigh in as this unfolds. We are not the enemy; the enemy is indifference.”
GEORGIA – Top editors at The Red & Black, the independent student newspaper at the University of Georgia, have quit in protest over concerns about students’ editorial authority over the paper’s content.
In a statement on a blog set up by the editors, former Red & Black Editor-in-Chief Polina Marinova said she and other editors have been “feeling serious pressure from people who were not students.”
“For years, students have had final approval of the paper followed by a critique by the adviser only after articles were published,” Marinova wrote. “However, from now on, that will not be the case.”
Student editors’ concerns have been growing for the last month, after changes to the professional staff. Editorial adviser Ed Morales’ title was changed to Editorial Director, and an assistant editorial director was hired as well. The exiled Red & Black staff say that more than 10 professional, non-student staff have been hired.
A memo from the Board of Directors prompted the walk-out. The memo announces new expectations for the editorial director and professional staff.
The memo, which is labeled a draft, outlines that Morales will be responsible for “providing direction to students on what to cover to ensure we are covering topics that are compelling” and “holding our students accountable for quality, by correcting poor quality before publication and grading quality post-publication.”
The memo also advises a mix of “good and bad” content: “BAD: Content that catches people or organizations doing bad things. I guess this is ‘journalism.’ … If in question, have more GOOD than BAD.”
Marinova said in an interview that Morales approached her about the memo today, saying that the two needed to talk.
“Ed explained to me that he would read and be responsible for all the content that was to be published in print,” Marinova said. “I thought this was a student-run paper. Why now?”
Marinova said she was not consulted about the changes suggested in the memo. No students sit on the paper’s board of directors.
After talking with Morales, a board member and Harry Montevideo, the paper’s publisher, Marinova said she decided she could not remain as editor. She then met with other student editors.
“They all said, well, we’re going with you. To see that we all stuck together, it was amazing,” she said. “So then everyone packed up their stuff and we all just left.”
Morales and Montevideo could not be reached for comment. Elliot Brack, the chairman of the board of directors, declined to comment.
The editors walked out during production of Thursday printed edition. The paper publishes in print once a week, a decision made last year. It’s unclear if any staff remain to complete the paper, what would have been the second of the school year.
Student Press Law Center Executive Director Frank LoMonte said the student editors’ accusations raise concerns.
“Without having the benefit of a full investigation, any infringement on student’s autonomy to publish content without heavy-handed oversight is worrisome and would represent a significant step backward for The Red & Black,” he said.
By Sara Gregory, SPLC staff writer