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Red and Black walkout a lesson for students, publishers

By eijnews

By Mary Kenney
The Working Press

Adina Solomon, news editor at the Red and Black student newspaper at the University of Georgia, went to work Aug. 15 as usual. She fired up her computer, ran through stories coming in that day and talked to her boss.
An hour later, she went on strike.
Solomon, a senior, had been at the Red and Black since her freshman year. When she walked into work that day, her editor-in-chief, Polina Marinova, said the students no longer had editorial control of the newspaper. The publishing company’s Board of Directors had decided to give that power to Ed Morales, a nonstudent who served as the paper’s editorial advisor.
An internal memo obtained by Marinova outlined Morales’ promotion and new responsibilities, which included dictating content. Previously, Morales had reviewed the paper only after it was published, giving critiques to the Red and Black’s staff.
“I told Polina if she left, I would leave,” Solomon said.
Publishers of the Red and Black did not respond to repeated requests for comment about this memo and later decisions.
Marinova called a meeting at 5 p.m. Fifteen editors waited for her news.
“She told us she was leaving because it was no longer a student newspaper,” Solomon said. “We said, ‘we are, too.’”
During the next five days, top editors and other members of the staff went on strike and began publishing to a website called the Red and Dead, attracting attention from media watchdogs such as the Poynter Institute.
Red and Black’s problems may have started long before that internal memo was drafted, said Andrew Beaujon, who reported on the story for Poynter.
The newspaper stopped printing daily during Solomon’s four-year tenure, shrinking to a weekly publication, though it continued to publish online every day. Board members may have had knowledge of the newspaper’s finances that prompted a staff shakeup.
“Something set off the sense of urgency among the board members to fix these problems,” Beaujon said.
Solomon said she and other students holed up in a staff member’s apartment to make their online newspaper. The Red and Black kept publishing without them, but many eyes turned to the Red and Dead, she said.
The students walked out on a Wednesday. They kept in constant contact with the Student Press Law Center, an organization that promotes First Amendment rights for student publications. SPLC staff helped the Red and Black students draft lists of demands and statements for the media, Solomon said. They called for two student members to be added to the board of directors and for editorial control to be taken from professional staff and given back to the students.
The following Tuesday, the students were back to work, their demands met in full.
Morales’ title was changed from editorial director to editorial adviser. Ed Stamper, the board member who drafted the memo that caused the walkout, resigned.
“For the students, it was a resounding victory,” Beaujon said. “There’s really no other way to frame it. They got what they wanted and got it publicly and got it hard.”
Solomon spoke with clear pride in her voice. “I’ve learned that we have power,” she said. “It’s really nice knowing we can effect change.”
She said the days of being on strike showed her how important the newspaper is to the campus community. She said journalists often receive much criticism and little praise. But during the strike, students not affiliated with the Red and Black stopped her as she walked down the street, congratulating her and other staff members.
“It was interesting, being in solidarity with people,” Solomon said.
The blowup at the Red and Black could hold lessons for other private papers that work with student journalists. Financial problems may have led to hasty decisions, prompting a walkout that may have been avoided with more transparency, Beajuon said.
Said Beaujon, “I have a hard time believing this whole thing would have happened if the board had communicated with the students in the first place.”