University of Georgia wants student newspaper to stop catching people doing bad things

Top editors and much of the staff at the University of Georgia's student newspaper have resigned en-masse following managerial changes, and proposed content guidelines, that undermined editorial independence. Student newspapers like this one are independent entities: Students run them from top to bottom and faculty/consultants operate as advisers, not editors. Students have the final word. The University of Georgia hired a non-student manager and gave him veto power over editorial decisions. Meanwhile, the paper's editor-in-chief says she felt pressure to not publish certain content, and a leaked memo showed non-student board members wanted the paper to stop covering so much negative or "bad" news, such as "content that catches people or organizations doing bad things."


  1. Maggie, a couple corrections —

    The recently-resigned EIC of the Red and Black is a woman. Also, the R&B has been independent of the University since 1980. There is a board of directors for the paper who oversee it’s operation as a nonprofit, one of whom authored that draft memo.

    As a UGA alumnus, I stand by the editorial staff’s decision to resign in protest. The R&B at times made me extremely angry with their coverage of the Greek system during my tenure as an undergraduate, but they were always fair. This top-down “I know better because I’m older” approach just won’t fly.

  2. Though I never participated in any newspaper throughout my high school or post-secondary studies, that memo makes me cringe.  The ‘I guess this is journalism’ comment after the point on defining ‘BAD’ news, plus the apparent ‘liable/libel’ typo… ow.  Just… ow.

    Good on the students for continuing their own coverage, as pointed out by Ravelite.

    1. Yeah, the actual “standards” are really deplorable. The administration obviously doesn’t know the difference between “journalism” and “PR vehicle”.

  3. I can’t believe someone allowed you to post an article about people doing bad things.  Where are the standards for BoingBoing?

  4. Having covered my college’s Police Station and various crimes and shenanigans for our student paper, I know it was the type of stuff people picked up a paper for. 

    An article on a topic such as a prize awarded for some student’s poetry might be interesting to a handful of students, but if your’re reporting on corruption in the the voting process and it’s $250 prize, well that’s a whole new matter and people might just start to find it interesting. (For example)

    And the idea of faculty only having an advising position is very fundamental to the core education of journalism courses. A student paper and the democracy that runs it help shape the morals of journalistic integrity. 

    Overall their leaked memo looks alright until it gets to that paragraph in question near the end of page two, which actually doesn’t even make much sense. “aligned on crime”, what the hell does that even mean here?

    But then the part that got me was the example under sarcasm on page three. Who came up with these examples?

    1. Not sure. I wonder if it’s a veiled attempt to protect some of the bad recruiting decisions the football team has made in the past few years. One that immediately comes to mind is then-recruit Deion Bonner and friends stealing from the locker room and tweeting the stolen items were for sale: 

      If students follow up on unflattering things happening on campus, it’s bad for business. 

      Also, I’m thinking that Red and Black management didn’t want a repeat of this:

  5. Like many of you, I know nothing about this student newspaper. But reading the memo, it sounds like there are a lot of quality issues. The memo does NOT say to stop reporting on bad things. It says to find more of a balance of good and bad stories. I’m not agreeing that is good advice for journalism in general – sometimes there is a lot of bad stuff – but it may be that the paper is overly-fixating on the negative, infusing its coverage with snarkiness, and not following good journalistic practices (all suggested by the memo). Unless I were to review to journalistic quality of the paper and hear from the University of Georgia students, I’m not going to assume the disgruntled staff are in the right. I’ve worked as editorial staff at a college newspaper and it can be amazingly cliquish, resulting in a lot of bad self-involved decisions. It is also naive to think that a student newspaper can do whatever it wants. I don’t know who is in the right in this case, but it sounds like the University simply wants a better paper.

    1. No, it sounds like the University wants a high school paper. Journalism is. If the reporters have stories of “BAD” such as wrongdoing and crime that relate to their environment then that’s what must run. 

      They can seek out “GOOD” but let me ask you this. Is there a daily or weekly newspaper out there that has such a “balance” as the draft suggests, which is “…more GOOD than BAD”?

      Yeah? Name it. 

      No? I know, that’s why I asked. Except inasmuch as news of a wrongdoing exposed is good news because it is usually reporting an end to the wrongdoing or the report contributes to ending the wrongdoing. 

      You (perhaps accidentally) conflate reporting on misdeeds and wrongdoing with being mean-spirited and snarky. I’m pointing out that that makes no sense.

      Finally, check it out. Doesn’t look like it needs anything from the author of that crazy lazy mazy draft memo. There’s even some “GOOD” reported on. If you check stuff out you don’t have to state that you don’t know stuff and are thereby one-sided, as you clearly accepted the memo over the staff in your final sentence after the comma despite your disclaimer.

      The draft writer wouldn’t know journalism if it bit them in the ass, they want a simplistic PR rag that features lots of photos of happy students on campus that they will show to their parents and cheery stories of freshman with scholarships selecting that university and no frowny faces because nothing bad happens on campus, plus Garfield. 

      All that describes a high school clique paper. That is NOT a better paper for a University.

      1. First, the “GOOD” and “BAD” distinction, like many elements in the memo, are pretty ham-handed. It should go without saying the paper shouldn’t have the university exercise editorial control. What great act of wrongdoing was exposed by this paper that lead to the university action?

        “You (perhaps accidentally) conflate reporting on misdeeds and wrongdoing with being mean-spirited and snarky. I’m pointing out that that makes no sense.”

        I do not. You assume they are one and the same, but I was referring to the memo’s illustration of sarcasm in articles and the failure to report both sides of a story.

        As far as me “clearly accept[ing] the memo over the staff,” I’m merely pointing out that it doesn’t support the narrative of this blog’s headline that the newspaper was punished for having reporting on something “bad.” It was one item among many many others. The university essentially said, “c’mon guys, have more happy stuff.” If this is simply the usual complaint by college administrators for every paper that does run occasionally critical stories, I’m totally with you. If, however, the paper was consistently negative for the sake of being so, I must disagree.

        And perhaps the paper isn’t that negative but the many other issues listed in the memo are the primary reasons for the university intervening. If that is the case, the newspaper staff has themselves to blame. The college may be using their powers inappropriately the edit out simply undesirable content  – or not, since we don’t have examples – (in the course of making sure the paper is of good quality) but the memo cites many quality issues.

        I’m saying I wouldn’t jump to conclusions and that the narrative presented here is (so far) not supported by the evidence.

        1. There actually is a paper with “Good vs bad” standards – The Christian Science Monitor.  And it’s pretty well-respected.

  6. This memo is appalling. Typically, a memo will have a consistent style or voice, but this is shocking in its inconsistencies. The grammar is poor, the bullet points switch from noun to adjective, and they don’t seem to know the difference between “liable – an adjective meaning legally responsible” and ” libel – defamation by written or printed words”. The authors of this memo need an editor. Perhaps they can find one at their University.

    1.  I agree the memo was very poorly done and there is no excuse for things like “liable.” But to some extent, we may be attacking the messenger there. Many of the solutions proposed may even be flawed solutions. But maybe the paper really does need reformation. I’d certainly prefer college papers to teach solid practices and a sense of editorial responsibility, rather than a little club where people can be frivolous and mean-spirited. Again, I don’t know what the situation actually is.

      1. I’d be surprised if any college paper were run as a tabloid. Different people are involved, with different priorities. “A little club where people can be frivolous and mean-spirited” is just incredibly unlikely. Maybe in high school…

        1.  That’s a conjecture with which I disagree. And ultimately, likelihood has nothing to do with a particular situation. Again, so many of us are talking with very little knowledge of this paper. The presentation that good-intentioned kids are being censored for saying unflattering things isn’t supported well by the memo. Granted the memo comes across as fairly ham-handed.

          But the memo identifies a broad swath of concerns and the  griping about negative coverage is that is seems to be excessive. Maybe there is a glimmer of censorship lurking there, but that doesn’t seem to be the main thrust or intent. Mostly, it sounds like their is a sense that the paper is poorly done.

          I would want to hear from the students who attend the university and at least read the papers to get a feel for their coverage. I’m speaking as someone who wants the student journalists to develop good practices and some sense of editorial responsibility.

          The narrative that the paper reported on some negative thing and was subsequently punished doesn’t seem to be the reality.

          1. Teh memo was dated 8/15/12, one day before the paper ran the story of their former football coach and college hall of fame inductee turned TV personality being caught running a huge Ponzi. 

            Maybe they hoped that could stay out of their own newspaper? 

            Ha, I’m kidding, no one would try keep national news out of their related uni rag, it’d look dumb. Plus their troubles pre-dated the SEC decision by at least some hours.

  7. Then don’t fixate on semantics. I think you can work out in your mind how a newspaper could focus on negative things to the exclusion of the good. That a newspaper could simply be nasty and mean-spirited. I don’t know that’s the case here. But if your argument is simply that a university should simply abide a newspaper that is unrelentingly negative, lest that be “censorship,” I’m not with you.

  8.  Skimmed the memo, saw the “have more GOOD than BAD” part, banged my head against the desk.

    Gotta wonder who the paper pissed off enough to bring in this changing of the guard, so to speak.

  9. “Student newspapers like this one are independent entities”

    Apparently not, if the school can hire a non-student manager.

  10. The paper is not controlled by the university. They don’t appoint the board or hire the publisher nor do they hire the professional staff. There might be an agreement between the paper and the university for use of the university name and trademarks.

    The board member responsible for the memo has been let go and the board has apologized to the students who are welcome to reapply for the positions they resigned.

    That’s not the end of it though. Before the board gave in, an open meeting was held for the public to come hear the board’s side of the story. While waiting for that to start, a reporter who was in with the former staff members was attacked by the publisher. The publisher claims it didn’t happen, he asked the reporter to please leave and they both accidently ended up on the ground.  The reporter’s camera however was still on during the incident: (attack at around 0:45).

    This guy makes a reported $190,000/yr as the adult leader of the student newspaper and these are his people skills? 

Comments are closed.