University of Georgia student newspaper staff walks out after pressure to take grip-and-grin photos and focus on ‘good’ news rather than journalism

“GOOD

  • Content that is ABOUT our audience doing something unique, helpful, outstanding, new,
    dramatic, ie scholarships for freshman.
  • Content that our readers have asked for, ie. how to save money, how to join a club, where to
    tind a job, what’s going on (events), what’s new. We have a list to start. Build the list by talking
    to our audience.

BAD

  • Content that catches people or organizations doing bad things. I guess this is ‘journalism’…

If in question, have more GOOD than BAD.” –Expectations of Editorial Director at The Red and Black, 8/15/12

Both Matt and I got our starts in student journalism, together at the official student newspaper at our university, and me at an unofficial student newspaper. One of the most tenuous holds of freedom of the press and speech in the US is in the classrooms of student newspapers, stemming from the landmark court case Hazelwood School District et al. v. Kuhlmeier et al., 484 U.S. 260 (1988). Today, students in the editorial staff at the University of Georgia who run the independent newspaper the Red and Black have walked out after new regulations (may require login to your google account) were imposed on the paper by the paper’s editorial board. At issue, the new regulations require more good news than bad, where bad means “content that catches people or organizations doing bad things” and refers to this sarcastically as “journalism” in scare quotes; require that the paper not print large photos or photos that don’t clearly show the subject; focus on attracting submitted content from readers; and print grip-and-grin photos of the paper’s audience. While the editorial board says these regulations are just a draft, now-former Editor-in-Chief Polina Marinova said in her public resignation letter, that all content to be published by the Red and Black would be reviewed by a non-student Editorial Director prior to publication online or in print. Former student newspaper staff have created their own online publication in the wake of their walkout, Red and Dead.Poynter has more coverage, as does the Student Press Law Center. The Red and Black has released a statement in response to the student staff walkouts.

The whole situation reads like a microcosm of what’s been happening at newspapers across the country as staffs are gutted and institutional knowledge is lost in favor of cheap and quick content.

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