Open Letter to Red & Black Board of Directors: What the Heck Are You Thinking?!

Revolution in Georgia!  Almost a year ago to the day, I wrote a post for PBS MediaShift with those words in the headline.

To be clear, at the time, the revolution was innovative in nature.  The Red & Black at the University of Georgia had just announced a bold shift to a digital-first workflow and publishing philosophy.  It was by far the most proactive, high-profile student press move away from print.  As the paper explained on the front page of a special wraparound section explaining the shift, “Forget everything you’ve ever thought about newspapers, because we’re redefining how it works.”

Now, a year later, there has been another high-profile, proactive Red & Black redefinition: stealing control away from the students who run and create the paper.

As I first posted last night, a sizable portion of the Red & Black’s student staff has officially quit, including “top editors, design staff, photo staff, and reporters.”  Their sudden mass exodus is in protest of a loss of student control over editorial content and decision-making.

As editor-in-chief Polina Marinova explains on The Red & Dead, a simple independent website set up by now-former staff to tell their story, the walkout was specifically in reaction to the recent hiring of “more than 10 permanent staff with veto power over students’ decisions” and an apparent plan to give editorial director Ed Morales final say on all content prior to publishing or online posting.

An Open Letter to The Red & Black Board of Directors:

What the heck are you thinking?!

Seriously, what sane human with an ounce of journalism DNA coursing through them puts this type of plan in motion, even in draft form??

The Red & Black is a Higgs boson of college media.  It provides God-particle-like proof that student press quality actually exists.  By playing God yourselves– and reducing the students to cogs in a machine they don’t control– you are killing the very media outlet you worked so hard a year ago to help reinvent.

Forget digital first.  A college paper must be STUDENT FIRST.  Disregarding that sacred fact is so tone-deaf it makes me wonder whether you know anything about journalism at all.

The instantly-infamous memo now spreading across the web detailing what you feel is the difference between good and bad journalism is exhibit A in your know-nothing trial.

You define bad as “[c]ontent that catches people or organizations doing bad things.  I guess this is ‘journalism.’ . . . If in question, have more GOOD than BAD.”  I am shaking my head, pounding my fist, slapping my forehead, and screaming in agony to the journalism Gods all at the same time.  Here is Student Press Law Center attorney advocate Adam Goldstein’s retort to that monstrosity of a definition: “While ‘have more good than bad’ is terrible journalism advice, it is excellent oyster advice. Pity the Red & Black isn’t a raw bar.”

Nope, but for the students, the Red & Black is right now a raw deal.  To the R&B board, correct your recent mistakes.  Give power, full power, back to the students.  Prove you understand even the slightest bit about student journalism.

In a vague statement from board member Charles Russell posted last night on a Facebook group for Red & Black alumni, he wrote simply, “We are not the enemy.”  Sigh– speaking of tone deaf.  No, sir, right now, until you clarify or set things right, you are the enemy– a head-shaking-fist-pounding-forehead-slapping-sheer-agony-inducing enemy to the students and alumni of a fantastic outlet and everyone who loves a free and hard-charging college press.

BAD: Your decision.  GOOD: The students recognizing they have power to fight back.


Red & Black Becomes Red & Dead: Student Staff Quits, Protesting Loss of Editorial Control

11 Responses to “Open Letter to Red & Black Board of Directors: What the Heck Are You Thinking?!”
  1. As an Editor at The Daily Athenaeum in Morgantown, W.Va., I knew and appreciated the value of a free student press. The paper just won 19 West Virginia Press Association awards without any administrative interference. Sure, staffs come and go and quality suffers, but through that you learn so much more in one week than you do spending three weeks on one story in a classroom.

  2. As one of the walkouts (former variety editor), I completely agree with your sentiment and truly thank you for writing this. Hopefully everything will turn out for the better. Until then, we fight back.

  3. Wendy Darling says:

    That memo deserves to be infamous. He “guesses” that is journalism? Ugh. – Journalism major and one-time reporterer for the UMass Collegian and later an occasional writer for Red & Black, disgusted.

  4. I agree. Audience first, not digital first, and then figure out how best to serve your audience in terms of news and platforms. This is a disaster and as a UGA journalism prof I completely support the students.

  5. Matt Prichard says:

    To the person who wanted mostly happy news and said “I guess” that “bad news” is journalism — I wonder if you would have pulled Woodward and Bernstein off their little story? You, sir or ma’am, don’t know the difference between animal waste and a once-popular brand of shoeshine when it comes to journalism. Students need to tell the R&B advertisers what they really think. This debacle doesn’t have to stand … Former R&B’er, J School Class of ’79

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