This is a guest post by Atlanta magazine intern Amanda Wolkin, a rising junior at the University of Pennsylvania and a former opinion columnist for the Daily Pennsylvanian:
The University of Georgia’s 119-year-old newspaper, the Red & Black, has made national news for the second time this summer—but this time, for a good reason.
The satirical(ish) op-ed about achieving that coveted M.R.S. degree has all but been forgotten now that the newspaper has suddenly lost its editorial and production backbone. A mass walkout of students Wednesday following a series of bureaucratic decisions has turned the largest college newspaper in Georgia on its head.
And, as a former high school classmate of ex-editor-in-chief Polina Marinova and fellow student journalist, I could not be prouder.
According to Marinova, the changes began accumulating over the summer. In an effort to provide students with more resources and guidance, the newspaper recently hired more than ten industry professionals. Soon, as Marinova noted in her formal letter of resignation, this student-run newspaper started feeling “serious pressure from people who were not students.”
The ticking time bomb combusted Wednesday when Marinova received a draft of a memo, titled “Expectations of Editorial Director at The Red & Black,” that would make any student of Journalism 101 cringe. In addition to outlawing sarcasm and foreign language in headlines, the editorial director, whose title was changed from editorial advisor in an email from the head of UGA’s journalism department on August 6, would see and correct “poor quality” articles before they were published.
With industry professionals holding veto power, how can student journalists possibly learn from their mistakes? Not every (or any) article I’ve written has been a pristine journalistic masterpiece, but it’s through my errors and my feedback that I’m beginning to grow.
Marinova, after hearing about the changes from the editorial director, consulted the publisher before deciding to resign. After meeting with her fellow editors and discussing the newspaper’s upcoming changes and her resignation, they each left—movie-style—with her one by one.
The blogosphere quickly became the battlefield as the former Red & Black staff turned to social media. The “Red and Dead” Twitter page has more than 3,500 followers, despite the page being shut down by Twitter for several hours because, thanks to its rapid following, it looked like spam. Former staff members also have been posting updates via their Facebook page and WordPress site, which was supplied by the Student Press Law Center.
While publisher Harry Montevideo blamed the incident on a “miscommunication” in a statement posted on the Red & Black website, that seems much too easy of an explanation for an entire student editorial board to desert the positions they spent so long trying to obtain. Marinova, a current senior, had been working toward her position her entire collegiate career.
I reached out to a local member of the Red & Black’s board of directors, Alexis Scott of the Atlanta Daily World, but she declined to comment.
A meeting was held yesterday afternoon between former editors, Montevideo, and a Red & Black board member. While it was off the record, I can only infer that the meeting did not go well, as Marinova said she did not see foresee herself returning to the Red & Black unless significant changes are made, including increased student input, no prior review of the paper from the editorial director, and the removal of Ed Stamper, the man behind the memo, from the board of directors. For now, she and other editors are continuing to report—independently. The Red and Dead began posting stories, including a sports article, opinion column, and music review, early this morning.
“I cannot speak for everyone who resigned and what they plan to do, but I can say we all love journalism too much to give it up, and we love it too much to stay under these conditions,” said Marinova.
These intrepid journalists should be applauded for setting a standard of what is—and is not—acceptable for fellow student journalists, like myself. It is unfair, unethical, and unprofessional for the student voice of a self-proclaimed “independent student newspaper” to be compromised by professionals.