EDITORIAL: Student newspapers must remain in hands of students
Red & Dead, the official blog of the former Red & Black staff
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Our View: Student media should remain by students, for students and under the control of students.
When defining The Daily for readers, we often describe ourselves as independent, student-run and student-led. In fact, our very masthead reads, “The University of Oklahoma’s independent student voice since 1916.”
But rarely do we have the opportunity to examine what that means and why it is so important that control of The Daily remain in student hands.
Wednesday brought such an opportunity, when word spread that the editors and senior staff of The Red & Black, the University of Georgia’s independent student newspaper, had walked out of the newsroom following the resignation of the editor-in-chief.
The reason for the mass exodus? Changes to the paper’s structure planned by a professional board of directors that would have given final say over the paper’s content to non-students, stripping students of editorial control.
A draft of a memo outlining some of the changes was released by the former staff of The Red & Black. It showed that the new position of “editorial director” now would have prior review and veto power over all content published in print and online.
Further, the director would be expected to ensure the content of the paper fit expectations laid out by the board of directors — more “good” stories about student achievements or university programming and fewer “bad” stories about people or organizations behaving illegally or unethically.
This kind of control and content-shaping from non-students certainly would make The Red & Black no longer a student publication. Worse, it would strip the paper of its ability to fulfill its central purpose: to keep its audience informed about the truth of what is happening at the university.
That is why student control and independence from university meddling is so important to student media. Sometimes the truth includes stories about people or groups doing bad things. Sometimes the truth includes information the university would rather keep quiet. Sometimes the truth leads to serious repercussions.
And it is during those times when the press, whether professional or student, must be free from the interests and control of those who would keep that information from the public.
Bringing that information to you is, after all, one of the most important reasons a free press exists. Yes, we keep you informed about how the football team is doing this season and how new campus policies will affect your daily life. That is an incredibly important part of what we do and certainly our most practical function.
But our other role — to be watchdogs, the ones who keep track of those in power and ensure they are following the rules and telling the truth — that role enables a free society to function. On a smaller scale, it allows you to keep track of the people you trust with your education, tuition and reputation.
So the staff of The Red & Black did not walk away from their publication because they didn’t get their way or because they couldn’t handle change. They did it for the same reason freedom of the press is protected in the First Amendment: Because where there is oversight, interference and editorial control, the press is unable to freely and without bias hold those in power accountable to the people they serve.
Though the board of directors of The Red & Black has met with the former editors and staffers, the statement the board released Thursday showed no signs of remorse or backing down.
For now, the students who left The Red & Black have affirmed through their Twitter, “We are committed to providing a student newspaper that is student-written, student-sourced, student-designed and student-approved.”
We stand behind that commitment and join them in reminding universities across the nation, including our own, that as a source of student power, student press should be created for students and controlled by students ...
So that scandals will not go undiscovered, truths will not be hidden behind spin and student voices will not be silenced.