The University of Georgia’s Grady College of Journalism & Mass Communication experienced two great tragedies this year. The first was when long-time professor, Conrad Fink, passed away. Fink left behind a legacy spanning 80 years of fantastic journalism with almost three decades of teaching us young “rascals” of the world to become decent reporters, editors and publishers. His classroom was small (a rarity at UGA) where he gathered the best and brightest Grady had to offer to impart his words of wisdom. I can’t even think about Grady now without remembering Fink.
Grady’s second great loss occurred this week, when Polina Marinova resigned as Editor-in-Chief of The Red & Black. Marinova spent this past summer interning at USA Today. Her story profiling Aimee Copeland’s recovery process even made national headlines before she returned to Athens for her final fall semester. I’ve met Marinova only once, at Professor Fink’s memorial service. Upon meeting her, it’s easy to see that this girl has got “it.” I couldn’t think of a better Grady candidate to serve as Editor of The Red & Black.
I was in her shoes about five years ago. Back then it was my turn to captain the helm at UGA’s newspaper. For those who have never visited The Red & Black, the pretty two-story building sits atop a hill in Athens looking down over the historic campus. To write for The Red & Black is to be a part of history in the making. Established in 1893, as the independent voice for students, this newspaper’s mission is to empower its young journalists with their right to Freedom of Speech. UGA was home to some of the most famous writers such as Lewis Grizzard, and even The AJC’s own publisher, Amy Glennon. Other notable Red & Black alumni at The AJC include Kyle Wingfield, Greg Bluestein, Elissa Eubanks, Matt Kempner, plus many more.
Therefore, it was disappointing to see The AJC not take a stronger stance on the ruckus over in Athens this past week. For those readers who missed it, on Aug. 15 it was announced in a memo from the board (albeit a draft) that UGA’s students would no longer have the power to veto content for their own publication. Final discretion of all stories would be given to a newly created Editorial Director. Effectively, an executive committee presiding over the student newspaper was trying to take power away from its student journalists. This is the first time in 120 years such audacity was ever considered.
The national media, including The New York Times, Huffington Post, Gawker and The Poynter Institute gave more editorial space to this story than Georgia’s own leading newspaper. When I looked to The AJC for coverage, the best it could come up with was a story from The AP Wire. As a former Editor of The Red & Black, I was bombarded on emails, texts, and Facebook posts with the simple question “What the hell is going on in Athens?” I could only respond with the answer I knew to be true: if Fink was alive, this would never have happened.
Last Thanksgiving, AJC columnist Kyle Wingfield’s paid homage to Professor Fink as his mentor; yet, I’ve seen nothing from the staff of The AJC calling attention to the dire situation at their own college paper. Perhaps The AJC didn’t think this story was newsworthy. The other major media outlets who care about journalism in America sure thought this was fit to print.
Thank God…Marinova had the gumption to call “foul.” She and the entire group of desk editors resigned from The Red & Black, launching their own website and Twitter page appropriately called “Red & Dead”. Yet the AJC hasn’t published her side of the story. By the way, Marinova is from Atlanta. The young 20-something alumna from North Springs High School made headlines in The New York Times. Isn’t that newsworthy in-and-of-itself?
And perhaps The AJC thought the story would die away. Harry Montevideo, The Red & Black’s publisher of more than 20 years sure did. “I hate to say it, but from my viewpoint it was an overreaction,” Montevideo told The Poynter Institute. “It was our best attempts at creating discussion and dialogue around it. We were met with an emotional response.”
As a former Editor of The Red & Black, my heart broke upon hearing the news of the staff walking out of the building on Wednesday. Sure, it was an emotional response, but it was the right one, and the student staff should not be penalized for it. This is my formal request to The Red & Black board to reinstate Polina Marinova, Julia Carpenter, and the rest of student staff who resigned last week, should they so desire to return. I know the majority of Red & Black alumni feel the same.
Grady will be in dire straits if it cannot continue to supply its most talented student journalists the opportunity to manage their own newspaper. Although The Red & Black became an independent student newspaper in 1980, completely free from the influence of the University’s administration, perhaps it is now time for Grady to get more involved. The whole reason this hullabaloo occurred was because of money. The Red & Black went to printing once a week last fall, when it previously published Monday through Friday, due to rising costs. Continuous coverage could be found online at redandblack.com. But insufficient funds incited Montevideo and the board to hire a staff of professionals to help increase revenues. It was the new General Manager, a board member by the name of Ed Stamper, who wrote that terrible memo. Stamper has hence resigned, but the problem of funding remains.
Maybe it’s time Grady gave The Red & Black some financial help. If The Red & Black board cannot continue to protect its own students’ First Amendment rights, then perhaps Grady should play a stronger role in the management of its students’ media outlet. Without The Red & Black and Professor Fink, The AJC wouldn’t have the staffers it does today.