Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Red & Black Redux

I thought my scribbling about the Red & Black was over, and I believe we can all agree that Monday's joint statement from the Board and the students moves us a long way toward ending the saga.  Yes, just when you think we're done, the R&B is the gift that keeps on giving.  And that's unfortunate.  Two points:

1.  The statement itself.  There's this line: "As journalists, it went against our instinct and training to walk out of a newsroom on deadline. We extend an apology to those who were adversely affected."  And yet there is no similar apology from the Board.  And let me be clear -- if anyone should apologize, it's members of the Board.  To the students.  To the UGA community. Hell, Brack and Easters couldn't even bother to stay outside last Friday and hear the two R&B alumni letters of support being read to the crowd.  Shame.

2.  Resignation of Board member Charles Russell.  Below is his statement.
Dear fellow directors of The Red and Black Publishing Company,

This will come as no surprise to any of you. I cannot in my mind--and will not in my heart--be a party to what you are about to do as a board today. Yet, because of my love for the institution and purposes we all serve, I will not stand in your way.

Effective immediately, I hereby tender my resignation from the board of directors of The Red and Black. Further, I respectfully call upon my friend and fellow director Kent Middleton, to tender his resignation as well, as I feel he has a conflict of interest which cannot be resolved in any other way.

I consider you all to be some of the finest leaders, people and friends I could ever have, and that will never change.

Very truly yours in service,

Charles Russell
I don't know Russell, but everyone speaks highly of him.  His "cannot ... be a party to what you are about to do as a board today" has a lot of people scratching their heads wondering which Board action he disagrees with.  Speculation seems to focus on the Board's "continued confidence in Harry Montevideo," a likely scenario given Montevideo's embarrassing wrestling match with a Grady student attempting to cover the news in a newspaper office or Montevideo's collective statements during this whole mess that makes you wonder just how disconnected from reality a Board and publisher can truly be.  I don't know.
The important news, the lede, is the students are back to work at The Red & Black.  
Only the Board, with some push from alumni, can change itself.  Indeed, the Board more or less "owns" the newspaper, if you read the bylaws.  There's no membership that approves a slate of Board members, no appeal process, no way at all to control membership.  The Board approves it's own members, some of them for life.  The bylaws need an overhaul, as does the Board.  And I'm convinced now that no UGA employee should serve on the Board, though department Chair Kent Middleton (a Board member) did a lot of work to bring this controversy to a reasonable close.



Stephen Robinson said...

I presume Harry Montevideo makes more of the day-to-day management decisions, so I think he is responsible for the following:

1) Poor communication when implementing change: Student journalists learned about hiring of professional staff by seeing ads posted on LinkedIn. This does not help build trust and it creates the shaky foundation that led to the student walk-out.

2) Hiring focus groups to determine best way to move paper forward (yet oddly not engaging actual students who work for the paper in this discussion). This is simply bad journalism.

3) Laying down changes in a dictatorial style rather than collaboratively in a manner that is respectful of the EIC/ME.

4) Having no back-up plan if staff resists these changes. This is basic management. The first thing I've asked my own managers in the past when conducting a major change is, "What if the staff walks?"

5) Issuing public statements that provoked rather than attempted to resolve situation (e.g. students "overreacted" and were "emotional"). Monday's meeting with EIC/ME should have happened on Thursday and there's no reason to think that staff would not have been amenable to it. All they wanted was to be treated like professionals. Instead, this was needlessly dragged out and it put the reputation of the paper and the University's journalism school (unfortunately, the public at large does not automatically get that they're separate entities) at risk.

6) Montevideo held an Open House without seeming to grasp that it would be a media event. Surely someone who worked in media would know what would be newsworthy? He then chose the worst of the three options for a journalist who (admittedly rudely) refused to stop taking pictures (option one, just let him take the photos, option two, have a student journalist escorted off the premises by the police, option three, personally manhandle him).

As the Grady School statement said, this was all a crisis of leadership. If Montevideo and the board had sat down this summer with the incoming EIC/ME and talked this through rationally rather than moving ahead and attempting to make these sweeping changes in the most passive aggressive way possible, this never would have happened.

Hollander said...

Very good points, SER. Can't really argue with any of them.

Charles Russell said...

Barry, you have missed fundamental facts that your department head--and conflicted R&B director--is conveniently choosing not to acknowledge. And one question: do you call it public affairs reporting or fiction, when you suggest self-serving guesses in place of fact? You have no idea why I resigned, because you haven't asked. Too much caffeine.
Charles Russell--Grady '79

Michael said...

Charles, would you be willing to say why you resigned? There are a lot of us Red & Black alumni - as well as others, like Barry - who would like to know.

Michael Cass

Hollander said...

Glad to have your comments, Charles. Understand I'm not operating here as a reporter or journalist. This is a personal blog. I didn't phone or email you because I'm not covering the story, just supporting the students. I let the working press handle that. I assume they called you, and I assume you answered. You are on a newspaper board, after all.

Also, there's now a public records request for all emails between me and the Board. None exist. But as an fyi, they also asked for Middleton's and Clark's. My role here was as student advocate.

As to your resignation, I agree. I don't know why you did. I said I don't know in my scribblings and added that speculation centers on the support for Montevideo -- the biggest surprise to most in the letter. I assumed no one was dense enough to resign because of the re-instatement of the student editors. Now I wonder if perhaps it has something to do with the supposed shopping around of a "Missouri model" for the R&B to UGA. I heard whispers of it this summer, but didn't pay it much attention because I knew it would go nowhere and just assumed it was a harmless "what if" conversation. If it was more than that, it's above my pay grade. No one asked me.

Charles, I'm not sure what "fundamental facts" you refer to. Neither Montevideo nor Middleton are likely to tell me, regardless, especially if it has to do with R&B finances or ultimate control of the paper. Hell, Middleton's pissed because I said in a quote to a reporter that the R&B had "financial issues," as if that was a stunning phrase. Name me a paper that doesn't have financial issues.

Doc said...

Charles Russell can surface on your blog to comment that you are incorrect in your assumptions -- but cannot return to set the record straight? Why perpetuate the mystery? I would hope a (former or present) member of a student newspaper editorial board would be transparent about reasons behind making the decision to step down. But there's much during this odd episode that didn't transpire, despite hopes. -Hawley