Friday, August 17, 2012

Friday Funday: Integrity

For a time of the year when the news is expected to be slow, it's been quite a busy week for our staff. Travel, meetings, guest interviews, and communication issues have only been part of our burden. The sheer speed at which the news has been changing direction this week has only added to the load.

Still, as usual, we're proud of our efforts and proud of the products we've provided you this week. Even in the midst of a challenging week, our regular internal workflow has still included all the required elements of quality journalism. From news gathering and editing, to discussion, checking and re-checking of sources, and decision making - none of the steps that make this a quality product have been skipped.

It's not as though we're worried that our parents are sitting outside our office windows, waiting to pounce on us if we're not following proper journalistic procedures. We'll leave that kind of crazy behavior to the parents of freshman who are beginning college this week, in schools across the United States.

While we were proud to note the journalistic integrity of two of our colleagues in the professional media, it was a group of those returning students that really gave us a true moment of pride this week.

The student editors, design staff, photo staff, and reporters at the University of Georgia in Athens left en masse this week as they prepared to return to their regular publishing schedule, and returned to their classes.

Unlike many college newspapers, The Red & Black is not an organization run by the university itself. Rather, the newspaper is an independent organization, supervised by a publisher and an editorial advisor, and overseen by a board of directors. Since 1980, the student newspaper has been run this way with considerable success.

Recently, however, that changed, as the resigning editor-in-chief Polina Marinova wrote this week. "For years, students have had final approval of the paper followed by a critique by the adviser only after articles were published. However, from now on, that will not be the case."

Over the summer, the board of directors changed the policies of the newspaper and hired "outside marketing and product managers, a multimedia director, a business manager and new creative director." Further, the board's new policies directed the kind of content the students were supposed to write.

As the memo from the board stated, "GOOD" content was defined as "Content that is ABOUT our audience doing something unique, helpful, outstanding, new, dramatic, i.e.(sic),  scholarships for Freshman (sic)." "BAD" content was defined as "Content that catches people or organizations doing bad things. I guess this is 'journalism.'"

The student journalists were also told a list of errors that would not be tolerated including "Liable" - or, as journalists who actually understand their craft call it, "libel."

In short, the student journalists at The Red & Black were no longer going to be allowed to make mistakes, or create things that might be considered pushing the envelope. Or, in other words, they weren't going to be allowed to have journalistic integrity.

So the staff left - and it doesn't look like they're coming back. In fact, it appears they may be planning on setting up their own, secondary operation.

To that, we give a hearty round of applause, long and loud, with whistles, stomps of our feet, and hoots - the kind of display of emotion that might rock the boat of the small-minded board of directors of the now-defunct newspaper.

Whatever your challenges, integrity is key in all aspects of life.

If that's the only lesson those students at the University of Georgia learned, we'd say their education is better than many - and it's only the first week of school.

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