The University of Georgia student newspaper’s board apologized after a memo instructing on what type of content the newspaper should publish prompted the newspaper’s staff to quit, Student Press Law Center reported.
The newspaper, The Red and Black, is “an independent, non-profit enterprise that supports itself largely through ad sales” according to the Atlanta Journal Constitution, which added that the newspaper also “receives no direct university support.” Student Press Law Center pointed to “Red and Dead,” a site by “former staff of The Red & Black,” which outlined the student journalists’ perspectives on the situation.
On August 15, the newspaper’s editor-in-chief, Polina Marinova, announced that its staff quit because of the changes at the newspaper. For example, Online Athens reported that the newspapers “editorial director” Ed Morales “was given full editorial control of the newspaper.” (Student Press Law Center has more background on this year’s changes at The Red and Black. )
And, in question was an August 15 “draft” memo “Expectations of Editorial Director at The Red and Black“ which called for the newspaper’s “Editorial Director and the entire professional staff” to follow certain guidelines, including publishing “a balance of good and bad.” For example, the memo labeled “content that catches people or organizations doing bad things” as “bad” and that “if in question, have more GOOD than BAD.” Also, the memo tagged “sarcastic comments directed at our audience in non-opinion sections,” “obscenity” and “headlines that aren’t in English” as “must nots.”
The Red and Black’s Marinova explained in the statement about quitting that
“The Red & Black’s top editors, design staff, photo staff and reporters walked out of the newspaper building this afternoon.”
“For years, students have had final approval of the paper followed by a critique by the adviser only after articles were published…However, from now on, that will not be the case. Recently, editors have felt pressure to assign stories they didn’t agree with, take ‘grip and grin’ photos and compromise the design of the paper.”
But, The Red and Black’s publisher Harry Montevideo said in a statement that
“It is not, nor has it ever been the intention of the board to censor student content….The changes occurring here reflect an ongoing commitment for the Red & Black Publishing Company, Inc to continue to offer a news product which is relevant for and accessible to our audience as we also train student journalists for futures in a rapidly changing world of news delivery beyond our traditional print format.”
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But, on Aug 17, the board issued a “statement on behalf of Red & Black Board of Directors” that apologized for “the misunderstandings,” announcing the resignation and apology of board member Ed Stamper — who wrote the controversial memo — and inviting “all applicants for those currently vacant positions, including those who recently resigned.”
The statement added:
“The student editor has always had the final editorial decision responsibility for our news content. That is still the case. The professional staff who work on the editorial side of this newspaper are intended to be coaches and advisers only.”
Separately, Stamper said “I sincerely apologize for all the embarrassment these documents have caused” and that “very little thought was given to the form or content” of his draft memo. (His full statement is posted on the Red and Dead.)
The “former staff of The Red & Black” wrote in a statement on Red and Dead that they are “thankful and excited” about the apologies and news concerning the newspaper’s future, writing:
“Prior review is off the table; student editors retain final content approval. Ed Morales, who was promoted earlier this month to the role of editorial director, made it clear that he has returned to his role as editorial adviser. And Ed Stamper, a board member who authored an internal draft of a memo that called for new content guidelines, tendered his resignation.”
However, in an August 19 post, Red and Dead added:
“While we are excited about the discussion with the board on Friday and thankful for their openness, we realize nothing has been put into writing yet, including two of our three concerns. We have heard not anything specific from the board on prior review although Ed Morales said on Friday it would not be enforced. “