Better Off Dead Than Read? Staff of UGA student newspaper Red and Black resigns in protest

Meta, meta, read all about it! Photo of the former staff of the Red and Black announcing their resignation posted on Red and Dead, the blog created to announce their resignation.

Most of the top student staff of the Red and Black, the University of Georgia student newspaper, resigned en masse last night.  Why and what will happen from here is not clear, and might change in the time it takes to write and post this.  But here is a try.

The resignations were announced on a WordPress blog Wednesday night.  The blog was written by now former editor-in-chief Polina Marinova (an alum of the Auburn Summer Journalism Workshop for high school students).  The walkout seems to center on changes created by the Red and Black board of directors, which not only added non-student staff to the student newspaper, but gave editorial director Ed Morales, also a non-student, full editorial control over the newspaper, as reported by the Athens Banner-Herald website.

The students were also dismayed by a draft internal memo on editorial policies.  The memo had the usual stuff that every student journalist is exhorted to strive for, but also an unfortunately worded directive to strive for the “good” over the “bad.”  That seemed to erode the newspaper’s traditional watchdog function.

At this point, it’s wise to point out that the Red and Black is structured differently from the Auburn Plainsman.  While the Plainsman is housed within the Office of Student Affairs, with the Journalism Program providing a faculty member as adviser, the Red and Black is independent.  So don’t assume that this is the University of Georgia asserting control over the paper.  This is an internal struggle.

Former staff member of the Red and Black checks out her new journalistic digs.

And a struggle it is.  The students have set up a Facebook page, titled “Red and Dead,” posting information and responses from alumni and others.  You can click there for updates, etc.  They had also set up a Twitter account, @redanddead815, to allow for expressions of support.  But the account was suspended — for following too many people too quickly, according to the Red and Dead Facebook page.  They are hoping to get it reinstated.

One obvious question is, Could something like this happen at Auburn?  In the sense that anything can happen anywhere as long as it fits within the laws of nature, yes. And we’re still less than 15 years away from the Comm Board censuring a student editor for criticizing a board of trustees member (with a memorable front page).

But at least at this point, Auburn is blessed with a structure that grants the students freedom of content.  The adviser does not look at the newspaper content until after the content is produced, whether on the Web or in print.  The students can consult with the adviser at their initiative beforehand, particularly in cases that might involve libel or other forms of trouble.  But the adviser does not control the newspaper.

(Disclosure: I have just finished 2-1/2 years as Plainsman adviser.  Austin Phillips is assuming the role as of fall semester.  And aside from an irrational hatred of all things Kyle and Kurt Busch, he is 100% solid.  He will continue this tradition of student-written and student-produced.)

Where does it go from here?  I would imagine that meetings are going on this morning.  I am hoping that it comes to some kind of resolution that brings the students back to the Red and Black and gives them the authority to continue the tradition that has guided the student newspaper throughout its history.

Until then, break out the popcorn and click on those “Red and Dead” Facebook page links.  This is drama worth watching.

John Carvalho, associate professor of journalism at Auburn, blogs about the sports media at johncarvalhoau.tumblr.com. Find him on Twitter at @johncarvalhoau. Read his previous columns here.

Related: As story of the year unfolds, AU student journalists face challenge.

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