Why the Red & Black student walkout actually worked


I remember my first walkout. Well, I suppose it was more like my first experience with a walkout. And it wasn’t really a walkout, but more of a rumor of a walkout that never went through.

Did I mention this was middle school?

The details are fleeting, but I think it had something to do with 4/20. You know, the day when everyone with access to marijuana goes out and smokes it? Well, we didn’t exactly have access to weed and if my seventh-grade observation skills were worth their salt, I’d venture to say that our knowledge of the stuff probably came from the TV show South Park or something on MTV (note: since I never watched either that show or that channel, this is and likely was pure conjecture).

I remember hearing that the serious students had planted their backpacks in the stairwells as to make an easy grab on the way out. I remember wondering where all these backpacks were when I walked by one stairwell during the day’s final passing period.  I remember thinking how dumb these student were to stash their backpacks in stairwell. Didn’t they  know they’d get stepped on? Ridiculous.

You can see my trajectory. This was a failed walkout, that is, had it actually taken place, it would have survived as nothing more than a pithy middle school memory that landed a few kids in ISS.

The decision of top student staffers at the Red and Black student-run newspaper (University of Georgia) to walkout was a much more mature decision than anything I experienced in earlier life (I have to credit Jimmy Cornfoot for alerting me to this rich little nugget of media news). According to follow-up stories about the walkout, the student staffers’ actions made a profound statement that caused board members to essentially meet all of their demands with little to no reprecussions for the paper or the students. So why did it work?

The walkout was legitimate

According to a story reposted by The Huffington Post on August 21, the newspaper “has operated independently from the university since 1980.” Editorial staff, including photographers, designers and reporters, has traditionally been comprised of students, who use the experience for professional growth and, like most J-schools, as coursework. However, the paper is overseen by a board of directors, which consists of “more than 10” non-student staffers, that according to Slate and the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. Here’s where everything begins to get murky. The Athens Banner-Herald reported that, among many changes scheduled to take place this fall, non-students were appointed by the board to positions such as editorial director, marketing and product managers, multimedia director, business manager and a creative director.

Students claimed such appointments effectively removed editorial control of the paper from their hands, leading to the mass walkout. And here, it’s fairly simple to justify walking out. The standard – that a paper for students be produced and edited by students – was overturned. The students in charge left. And this forced the “new management” to recognize the central importance of a student staff.

Good timing

There was probably no better time for the student walkout than early August. The fall semester was about to begin, traditionally the starting point for campus newspapers as well. The first issue greets incoming students happily with summer news and fall semester forecasting. The pulse of the campus is captured in those first pages, opinion pieces and editorial cartoons. Readers get their first feel for how the paper will function in the weeks and month to come and a decidedly student vision is applied to national events.

The fact that this has been an politically charged summer makes that first issue much more relevant. The tone with UGA students may begin interpreting November’s election is implanted early in the semester.

With the walkout, student staffers effectively pointed their paper to the gallows and the board was forced to face the reality that there might not be a paper come fall. And that is a sobering fact. The students recognized that, regardless of employment implementations, they still held control over the paper’s fundamental future. By acting at such a crucial time, students reminded the board that it lacked the very power it sought to set forth.

Post-protest tactics

The walkout happened rather quickly, making the students’ actions appear to be instinctually motivated. It’s no secret that college students are often swayed by external influences that seem attractive one moment and old the next. The Red and Black staffers, however, executed a post-walkout plan that sealed the success in a matter of days. According to several reports, the student staffers set up a Twitter account (@redanddead815) only to have their efforts suspended for unknown reasons, took to Facebook, and constructed RedandDead.com, as well as reached out to alumni for additional support.

The walkout, then, takes shape as a sober-minded activity meant to prove a point while forcing a strategic response from the controlling board. It was reported that board member Ed Stamper resigned following his drafting of the memo that sparked the students’ protest.


The students win. And, not just for their own sake, but for the sake of the campus. Around this time last year, the Red and Black became a once-per-week print publication with the majority of editorial efforts focused on the web. While innovative, this response is in line with how many print-based media outlets have responded to digital changes and student preferences. Could there be a better time to be a student journalist? Not only must you exercise the journalistic principles learned during coursework, but you must think strategically, flexing mental muscles many students do not even begin to consider until several years after graduation. These students were in a position where their actions would influence the life of the paper for years to come. By walking out successfully, they appear to have defended the paper’s principles and will likely attract future student staffers willing to do the same.


Why younger people don’t read the newspaper

A girl holds The Washington Post of Monday, Ju...

Image via Wikipedia

Three things happened within the last week or so that led me to write this post.

  1. The New York Times website alerted me that I had only 4 articles left to read until I was kicked out behind the pay wall for the rest of the month.
  2. The PIPA and SOPA legislations attracted a lot of attention at the hands of Google, Wikipedia, and others, if only momentary, for internet freedom.
  3. My autumn 2011 copy of Journalism & Mass Communication Quarterly arrived in the mail and includes an article about why young people have stopped reading the newspaper.

The bulk of this post will focus on a review of that article in the spirit of looking at journalism and mass communication through eyes seeking its advancement rather than its demise. For all the scholars out there, this is the article to which I’m referring:

Zerba, A. (2011). Young adults’ reasons behind avoidances of daily print newspapers and their ideas for change. Journalism & Mass Communication Quarterly 88(3), 597-614.

What initially sets this study apart from others is its qualitative nature. Zerba sites several studies that addressed the phenomenon of, as she terms them, “nonuses,” from a uses and gratifications (U & G) approach. Because both U & G research and studies of newspaper use and nonuse have been rather prevalent since the advent of journalism research, the focus group method employed is able to better unpack in detail the nonuse findings of other generations. These include lack of time; availability of other media choices; access; and possible bias, to name a few. As the author states, she aims “to get at the underlying meaning of nonuse” (p. 597).

Possibly of greater importance, focus groups enable the researcher to capture a small slice of one of the primary news-reading audiences highly affected by the current shift from print to digital. And in an age where the internet has become a concept of legal upheaval, a study of print media is extremely relevant.

Zerba puts forth two research questions:

  1. What are the most popular reasons for not using a daily newspaper?
  2. What would your ideal print newspaper include?

Focus groups were formed using research companies in three major cities – Chicago, San Antonio, and Dallas. Sixty four adults between the ages of 18 and 29 were assembled in total (an error in San Antonio resulted in eight groups for evaluation, rather than the anticipated six). The discussions had among the groups revealed results that were both predictable based on previous research and worthy of reflection with respect to today’s somewhat tumultuous media environment.

In sum, adults 29 and under viewed newspapers as

  1. Difficult and inconvenient to access and use
  2. Environmentally unfriendly
  3. Slow to report the news and redundant
  4. Difficult to multitask with
  5. Drag on one’s time
  6. Irrelevant to the age group
  7. Boring
  8. Biased

When given the opportunity to design their own daily print newspaper, respondents decided that the perfect paper would be:

  1. Brief with only the fact
  2. Local in focus
  3. Inclusive of diverse perspectives
  4. Simply formatted and aesthetically pleasing with color, pictures, and a table of contents
  5. Easily accessible
  6. More entertainment content
  7. Topically specialized
  8. With slightly less negative news and summation of leading news items
Front page of the first issue of The New York ...

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In sum, young people want a newspaper that is easily accessible and up-to-date, aesthetically pleasing, and convenient for their multitask, on-the-go lifestyles. In essence, young people want the internet.

In today’s world, to describe why people choose not to use a newspaper, even though they call themselves news aficionados, is to describe why people do use the internet. The real question for practitioners in the news world coming out of this study might not be, “How can we make our print product more accessible to the younger demographic of readers,” but, “How can we make our online product more accessible to everyone?”

Look at the New York Times online. It doesn’t look all that different from the company’s print product. Look at the Washington Post online. Stunning images, fonts, headlines, and masthead all there. Purchase digital subscriptions and customize your own news on your mobile device.

The only way for a print enterprise to save its print product from extinction is to dramatically change the content offered through its online medium. This is why I am in favor of paywalls, especially when a particular newspaper, say a local one, does not have the human resources to produce new electronic content that will add value to its overall product.

I love this article because of its methodology and because of what it says about individuals of my age. I like to live in my bubble and believe that most people are like me. But they are not. And my close-minded perspective is selfish and unjustified. This does not, however, stop me from hoping that a more literate cohort of twentysomethings will rise up and work as hard to “save” journalism as the generations before us did to build it.

Domestic security measures


Steve Blow of the Dallas Morning News wrote a column on Feb. 7 (that I can’t seem to find online) titled “Two discouraging snapshots of society.” In it, he reminds readers early that he is an optimist, so when something shockingly negative comes along, it draws his attention away from the good things just enough to make him write about it.

The story goes that out of 206 new Dallas County police applicants, only five were deemed fit for duty after a series of physical, psychological and polygraphic-al test. That’s around 25 percent of the original applicants, and 167 of those failed the physical fitness test: 21 push-ups, 29 sit-ups, a 15.5-inch vertical jump, and a 1.5-mile run in less than 16 minutes, 28 seconds.

While Blow would like to see the bright side of the situation, he’s been unable to do so as this trend seems to span across the nation’s police forces and even into our military.

One of my friends completed his officer training for the Marines a couple years ago before he was stationed elsewhere. While he was still living in Waco it was his responsibility to work with future recruits as a kind of go-to/trainer. One day, I walked out of the gym and found him sitting quite comfortably alone on a camping chair across the street. I walked over to talk to him as a moderately overweight male in thick black glasses came huffing a puffing around the corner toward us. As he passed by, my friend called out a finishing time of around 11 minutes, and the recruit dropped his hands to his knees to catch his breath.  Of course, he was only the first finisher.

I tell this story not as a way to insult anyone in the police or armed forces, but to elaborate on Blow’s point.

Oh, we have glimpses of the problem. We know the kid who got mixed up in drugs or bailed on high school. We know the lard butt who excels only at videogames and potato chips.

But maybe it’s time for us to wake up to just how pervasive those problems are.

The military fitness report concluded that more early-childhood education is the key to turning things around.

I’m sure that’s one step in the process.

But maybe the starting point is a little more alarm and a little less optimism.

We Americans like to ignore things that are uncomfortable to address. Needing to be “politically correct” in the process doesn’t help. Something like physical fitness isn’t just what the movie stars do to stay skinny; it’s sort of a prerequisite to being a mammal in a world where couches, Doritos and cars have taken over how we live.

Why journalism? Independence


Graduating with a B.A. in religion and journalism, most of my close friends were surprised I chose to enter graduate school rather than seminary.  Of course, a good chunk of my friendships were made in churches where I had some type of leadership role.  Even though many of them still see me having a future in divinity school somewhere, I keep receiving confirmation that I’ve made the right decision.

A recent AAN article reported Lucy Dalglish’s concers over media freedom.  The article said she mainly expressed concern over the financial status of newspapers affecting the openness of information in government court cases.  While the financial decline has no doubt taken jobs from competent reporters and writers, could it also be harming the information we have access too?  Courts and other high-profile institutions don’t regularly let bloggers cover their stories (unless it’s the Navy).

A few weeks ago, I ran into a religion professor I had for my final 4000-level class.  I told him about my plans for graduate school.  Rather than asking why I’d not chosen seminary or some other option, because we all know there’s nothing more secular than journalism (at least that’s what the general feel for me has been around some church crowds), he proceeded to tell me one of his main concerns for the future is the state of the American newspaper.  To him, the newspaper is the last hope for a truly free society.

Now, the term “free society” is thrown around so much I’m not sure I know what it means.  It always seems that we’re free, but only to a point.  We’re open, but only this much.  With the definition still not “set in stone” (or Webster’s), I think we’ve got a good chance of helping mix the mortar.

Faltering newspapers and such


I’ve been doing a lot of reading about the current and future state of newspapers, magazines and general print media.  The May 16-22 edition of The Economist ran a brief and an extended article about the influx of online journalism especially the “online portals like Yahoo! and Google News” which provide a plethora of free news to users.

The article cites falling percentages of newspapers, television and radio broadcast digestion among Americans while contrasting them with the ever increasing numbers of Internet news access.  On another blog, I found that while Americans spend an average of 4.6 hours per week reading newspapers and magazines, we spend 15.3 hours online.

Certainly this seems unfortunate, especially for those of us whose passion for writing extends beyond the headlines most net users skim past on their way to more “interesting news” or the 140 characters allotted by Twitter.

Right now, I’m not so certain if this is an ethical dilemma or a trend threatening the foundation of free press and speech – that is, press and speech that is credible.  Will the academic practices of ethics simply vanish with the decreasing need for professional editors and fact-checkers?  How much easier will it be for a Stephen Glass to capture our imagination with faux truths and lyrical suave?