The board member of the University of Georgia’s student newspaper who wrote a controversial draft memo that proposed giving increased editorial control to a professional staff member resigned from the board Friday.
Following the resignation of top student editors and staff of The Red & Black Wednesday afternoon, the paper’s board held a recruitment meeting Friday at the paper’s offices, which the resigned staff attended. At the meeting, board member Ed Stamper released a statement of resignation from the board.
The staff who resigned, which included the paper’s editor in chief and managing editor among other editorial and reporting staff, were encouraged to reapply to their former positions. A statement from the resigned staff said the two top staff members plan to reapply and work with the board for a more open dialogue regarding the paper’s future.
“We, the former staff of The Red & Black, are thankful and excited for the progress that has been made today, following the afternoon meeting with representatives from the Board of Directors,” the statement reads. “Prior review is off the table; student editors retain final content approval.”
However, Frank LoMonte, executive director of the Student Press Law Center, a nonprofit advocate for rights of student media, said although the meeting was a step forward, the resigned staff should not have to reapply, but instead be reinstated.
“The board belatedly seems to have figured out that they overreached,” LoMonte said. “They’ve recognized they’ve lost public support. You can’t run a student newspaper like you run a candy shop.”
The paper’s sudden shift in policy is the result of systemic problems within the Red & Black organization, according to Student Press Law Center Attorney Advocate Adam Goldstein.
According to Goldstein, the center has questions about whether or not the board has been compliant with its bylaws, which is a necessity for non-profit organizations such as The Red & Black.
“Either the board voted and approved (the memo) and should be accountable, or the board didn’t follow its bylaws,” Goldstein said. “If the rules weren’t being followed, the way to get the staff back is to evict the board because it didn’t follow its rules.”
The resigned staff members have requested copies of the bylaws but have not yet received them, according to Goldstein.
On Wednesday The Red & Black’s editor in chief, managing editor, design staff, photo staff and reporters were among those who walked out after receiving a draft memo from the paper’s Board of Directors that outlined expectations of a newly appointed editorial director and also gave direction about the type of editorial content the paper should publish. The Red & Black has covered the campus since 1893 and has been independent from the university itself since 1980.
“The newspaper has always been a student-run operation, but recently, we began feeling serious pressure from people who were not students,” said the paper’s Editor in Chief Polina Marinova in a letter of resignation posted on “Red & Dead,” a blog created by the resigned editors that is chronicling the controversy.
The former staff held a meeting Thursday with a board member and publisher during which they had an off-the-record discussion on prior review of the paper’s editorial content, lack of student input in the memo’s creation and the removal of Ed Stamper from the board, according to a statement on the blog. Stamper is the board member who wrote the draft memo, according to the statement.
In less than a month, the paper hired more than 10 permanent staff with veto power over students’ decisions at the paper, Marinova said in the letter. Furthermore, Marinova explains in the letter that according to the changes to the paper’s structure, the editorial director — who is a non-student professional — would see all content before publication.
“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,” the letter reads. “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.”
In response to Marinova’s letter, the paper’s publisher Harry Montevideo issued a statement Thursday that said the paper will continue to remain an “independent student media organization,” and continues to look out for the best interests of student journalists. He also said the paper made the decision to add professionals to both the editorial and business staff, half of whom are part time, so that the quality of the paper would increase and a better product could be produced.
“The Red & Black does not plan to have these professionals assume the role of our student Editor in Chief. The editorial director is a counselor, teacher, mentor, coordinator and manager,” Montevideo said in the statement. “The editorial director is charged with helping students make smart content decisions prior to publication, particularly on stories, which involve issues of libel or standards of quality and ethics. It is not, nor has it ever been the intention of the board to censor student content.”
The memo also listed suggested changes over what type of editorial content the newspaper should publish, including a balance of “good” versus “bad” content. In the memo, “good” is defined as “content that is about our audience doing something unique, helpful, outstanding, new, dramatic,” while “bad” is defined as “content that catches people or organizations doing bad things.”
Read the full draft memo below.