Published November 20, 2014
The fight over a student-run newspaper at the University of Georgia appeared to be resolved Friday, after the paper's board of directors apologized in the wake of an online campaign launched by a group of student journalists who aired concerns over editorial control.
Many of the student journalists, including all of the top editors, walked out Wednesday after they said control of the paper was effectively being taken from them. They were angered by a draft memo that suggested what stories they should and should not cover.
By Friday afternoon, the board was welcoming applicants for the top editor jobs, including those who recently resigned. Former editor-in-chief Polina Marinova said she plans to reapply.
"They met all the key points we asked for," she said. "Today we found out they're willing to listen to us. They allowed the student voice to be heard."
Board vice chairwoman Melita Easters called the memo a "misunderstanding." She said the student editor has always had the final responsibility for the paper's news content.
"We appreciate the passion for excellence in journalism displayed by the students," Easters said. "That same passion for excellence and love of The Red & Black motivates our board."
Founded in 1893, The Red & Black has operated independently from the university since 1980 and relies on advertising revenues for most of its funding. The board of directors oversees the paper's operations, but does not have a role in what the paper publishes.
Board member Ed Stamper said he wrote the draft memo quickly and meant for it to be used as reference during a discussion with the paper's editorial director, not a reflection of the board's views. He resigned Friday.
"I sincerely apologize for all the embarrassment these documents have caused," he said in a statement.
Changes at the paper began this spring when the board asked a sitting member to fix problems they believed had led to declining readership, the students said on a website they created after the walkout, called Red and Dead. They also sent out tweets from a new account about what was happening and why.
The outpouring of support was immediate, with Red & Black alumni and some professional journalists taking to social media to back the students.
Independence for student journalists is vital to their mission covering a campus, said Al Tompkins, a senior faculty member at the Poynter Institute, a journalism think tank in St. Petersburg, Fla.
"It's refreshing and good to see students challenge authority and to assert independence," he said. "With independence comes a great deal of responsibility, and they'll live up to that as well."
Marinova said she had never seen the staff so passionate and unified.
"Just seeing that the staff stood behind me and stood behind each other and had each other's backs was so amazing," she said.
The Red & Black publisher Harry Montivideo held an open house Friday at the newspaper's office for students interested in working for the paper. Pictures were posted on Twitter from that meeting that appear to show Montevideo in an encounter with a journalist for Grady Newsource, a television news outlet produced by UGA journalism students.
Grady Newsource tweeted: "One of our reporters just got tackled to the ground by the Red & Black publisher for trying to attend the open meeting."
Montevideo disputed that account in a statement. He said he had asked media to wait in the building's lobby because there wasn't room inside, but the journalist ignored repeated requests to leave.
"After repeated verbal requests for him to turn off his camera and make some progress to the stairs, I began to escort him toward the doorway," Montevideo said. "As a result of either my assistance or his resistance, we both fell to the floor."
No one at Grady Newsource could be reached for comment.
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