Friday, August 17, 2012

The Red and Black Mess II

I wrote briefly yesterday about the battle between The Red & Black's board and the student editors who walked out in frustration.  Again, I hijack my own blog to comment because, hey, it's my blog.  I can do whatever the hell I want.

Of all that's been written about this mess, I think the Student Press Law Center has the best summation.  This piece gets to the heart of the problem which is, quite simply, an aging out-of-touch board and one board member in particular, some guy named Ed Stamper, who the board sent into the newsroom this summer to turn journalism into something akin to a sorority newsletter.

For me, the problem began with the clumsy shift from a daily paper to a once-a-week print and digital-first version.  This should have been done gradually, with some grace.  Instead, the paper quickly became irrelevant even as it did good stories online.  By the way, it's not digital first.  It's audience first.  Perhaps the board and paper management could return for some remedial journalism courses. 

The board approved that move, apparently without engaging its collective brain cells.

The result?  This summer, a knee-jerk reaction in which the board appears to have brought in one of its own.  He went rogue. The memo he produced, draft or not, is enough reason for him to leave the R&B and resign from the Board.   It's a sexist, racist, non-journalistic embarrassment.  Hell, he can't even spell libel.

The solution?  There's an open meeting today, 2 p.m., at the building on the hill.  I doubt much will get done there other than a massive bitch session, but maybe it'll work out.  I hope so.  If not, below are the minimum steps I think are necessary for the R&B to get back to doing the best student journalism in the country:

1.  Ed Stamper leaves the newsroom, leaves the board.  Non-negotiable.

2.  Editorial control is given, unequivocally, to the student editor-in-chief.  Again, non-negotiable.

3.  The R&B board begins a 1/3-at-a-time rotation off the board to bring in fresh folks who remember it's a student newspaper.  The quotes alone from a board member suggests there are people who honestly have lost touch with the University.

This story has been picked up by everyone, from Athens Patch to the New York Times to a host of journalism sources.  Today, the SPJ is sending someone down to monitor the meeting and do interviews for a story.  It's that serious, folks.  If you're on the board, take notice that nearly the entire planet knows you're wrong.  Knows it. 

Bend, board members, before you break The Red & Black.


Kristen said...

Excellent. And you're absolutely right. Not only is The Red & Black about teaching students, but it's also about teaching when to say you've messed up.

Josh D. Weiss said...

I'm of the opinion that Harry needs to step down as well for the way he has handled all this. He's been insulting to the current staff through direct words and also saying that they are easily replaceable.

Given that the R&B is a paper with a seniority system that rewords people for hard work and dedication to the paper with editor positions, its hard to believe that some random UGA student could step right in and have the paper running at full speed in the next few months.

If Harry doesn't value the time and effort his employees put into their jobs at the paper for the little pay he provides for the sake of work experience, I can't imagine a non-journalism student would put up with it when they don't have any desire to work at a newspaper after college.

The R&B Board of Directors needs to realize that by taking such a hard stand, Harry has virtually guaranteed to not have the respect of any one who might eventually come back to the paper when this is settled. For the paper to continue running smoothly, I believe its time for him to step down.

Female, 42 said...

Are you going to the meeting?

Hollander said...

Oh, I should have added, as someone asked, that I'm not sure it is my place to go to the meeting. This needs to be between the students and management/board. I fully support the students, but I don't want my presence to get in the way of some solution. I suspect my scribblings and quotes in several media have made my position clear. Me being there might make it worse.

lawremc said...

Well said and thank you for the thoughtful commentary on this situation. As a former Red and Black writer, I am appalled by the actions of the board. When I was a writer, we all knew the board existed but they never attempted to micromanage the day to day operations of the paper.

YasminYonis said...

Couldn't have said it better. I also think Harry needs to step down. Threatening people with losing their jobs if they don't go along with this mess, giving himself a $70,000 raise the same year he said the paper needed to stop publishing daily to save money and various other examples of his poor leadership warrant his resignation along with Ed Stamper's resignation. That should get the ball rolling.

Chris Clonts said...

Yep, management and the board, which desperately needs term limits that expire in alternating years, are treating this like a strike situation (we'll find replacements, pal) versus the credibility crisis that it really is.

Andrea G said...

Even though the memo was moronic, isn't this a life lesson of what journalism is like in the real world? There's always going to be publishers and stakeholders who tell you to do things you don't agree with. Editors get pressure from owners and advertisers and executive boards all the time. Learning to make those people happy and still get the news out is part of the job.

National Freedom of Information Coalition said...

Well, yeah, people do moronic things in the "real world," but this is about students being in control of the editorial product, and that, as Barry said, is non-negotiable.

Tommy said...

Well said, I think you're spot on about what needs to be done.
Harry and the board's silence and "no comments" on this whole situation have spoken volumes about how out of touch they are with the world of journalism.

Leah said...

Spot-on. As a former R&B kid and now a nonprofit manager, I believe the board also needs to update the bylaws about board terms and leadership. The fact that the chairman has not changed since 1979 is a large part of this issue. The great majority of paper's audience wasn't born when he took control.

ctrosecrans said...

Agree 100% Dr. Hollander. I'm so happy you're speaking out on this. Too many see it as just "spoiled kids" getting mad they will be critiqued and missing the entire point. Because of your position, your proximity and your expertise, your voice is important. Thank you from the bottom of my heart.

Amy W said...

Thanks for flagging how offensive the memo's language is! There is SO much to be angry about in its larger messages -- and the focus has rightly been on those many big problems -- that several vile & distasteful sentences have just totally been ignored. My jaw dropped at the first reading, and upon rereading the full memo just now, it still makes my skin crawl to think that someone with Stamper's worldview would be in a position of authority over ANY of today's University students, let alone journalists! Ugh. He absolutely must be removed entirely, volunteer or no, and immediately.
I also like your idea to rotate in some new board members. Thirty years is an impressive tenure in any job, even a volunteer job, but there comes a point at which one must step aside... a R&B board position is not a lifetime appointment! They are advisers, not Supreme Court Justices!