Red & Black publisher: Resignations the result of 'miscommunication'

Responding to an editor walk-out Wednesday night, The Red & Black’s publisher said in a statement that the student editors resignations were the result of a “miscommunication.”

Harry Montevideo disputed student editors’ claims that professional staff would replace student editors, saying that the paper “does not plan to have these professionals assume the role of our student Editor in Chief.”

The paper’s editorial director, Ed Morales, is “a counselor, teacher, mentor, coordinator and manager … charged with helping students make smart content decisions prior to publication, particularly on stories, which involve issues of libel or standards of quality and ethics,” the statement said.

“It is not, nor has it ever been the intention of the board to censor student content,” Montevideo wrote. A meeting is scheduled for 2 p.m. Friday at the paper’s Athens offices to discuss the situation, and the public has been invited to attend.

The paper’s top editors quit en masse Wednesday after receiving a memo from a member of the paper’s independently incorporated board of directors. The memo detailed changes that include a new policy requiring content to be approved prior to publication by Morales, the paper’s non-student editorial director.

Polina Marinova, the former Red & Black editor-in-chief, said that student editors have been feeling pressure from board members and professional staff for the last month or so after 10 professional, non-student staff were hired. Editorial adviser Morales’ title was changed to editorial director and he was given expanded control, students said.

“Ed explained to me that he would read and be responsible for all the content that was to be published in print,” Marinova said in an interview Wednesday. “I thought this was a student-run paper. Why now?”

In addition to spelling out Morales’ new role, the memo also questions past coverage and directs students on types of content to run, advising the editors that “If in question, have more GOOD than BAD.”

Marinova found out about the memo Wednesday afternoon, after Morales contacted her and said the two needed to talk. The former editor said discussions with the paper’s professional staff left her feeling there was no chance the memo’s directives would be reversed.

Later that afternoon, Marinova met with editors, who decided to resign with her in protest. Within a few hours, the group had set up Twitter and Facebook accounts and a blog to tell its side of the story.

Morales and Montevideo did not return messages seeking comment.

The Red & Black
is editorially and financially independent from the University of Georgia. The paper officially separated from the university in 1980, when it formed The Red & Black Publishing Company, Inc., an arts and literature non-profit.

The non-profit is run by a 16-member board of directors, which includes Montevideo as well as two members of UGA’s journalism school.

According to the company’s 2011 IRS Form 990, the most recently available report, the paper reported $1.6 million in revenue and a little over $1 million in expenses between June 1, 2010 and May 31, 2011.

Montevideo was paid $189,545 in salary and other compensation, according to the 990 form.

A year ago, the paper announced it would drop its daily in favor of a weekly printed edition. Montevideo told MediaShift at the time that the change was educationally, not financially, motivated.

“Our mission is to prepare students for the next level of journalism,” Montevideo said then. “And the next level of journalism is digital first. That’s the way it is. We wanted to see if there was a way to get the students to focus on the Internet, on the website, in a way they haven’t before. A daily print paper pretty much ties them into doing that daily miracle, as we call it, every day. If you take that away, they will be more inclined to think about the daily breaking news cycle on its own merits, instead of how they’re going to make it fit the space.”

The board decided recently to reverse that decision and return to daily publishing, according to excerpts of an e-mail sent from Kent Middleton, a board member and the journalism department chair at UGA’s Grady College of Journalism and Mass Communication. It’s unclear what prompted the board’s decision to return to a daily schedule.

The Red & Black is a top award-winner among college papers. So far this year, reporters have taken home 10 national awards this year, and more than 50 in the past five years, according to a July article published by the paper.

By Sara Gregory, SPLC staff writer