Sunday, August 19, 2012

Crisis In Journalism

What the hell is happening at the Red and Black? How have we gone from editorial control questions to reporters and the folks in charge tussling on the floor?

When I first saw that the student editorial staff of the Red and Black had walked out in protest over editorial control, I've got to be honest, I thought it was a little bit of an overreaction. Maybe I'm just buying into the stereotypes of college kids who get mad when faced with real-world problems, but I'll admit that's where my incredulity comes from. I'll be honest, the reporting regarding the walkout in the regional and national press was pretty thin on the reasons why, save the story from the folks who actually walked out, and tended more towards a repetition of the situation without any in depth look at what was going on. Oh, and also because the Red and Black, when I was in college at UGA, provided a platform for a whole lot of college kids getting mad when faced with real world problems on their op-ed pages.

So you could say I was primed by the current state of the media (college, regional, national) to pretty much dismiss this story. New Orleans has her own problems with media, and they relate to slightly more robust publications than the Red and Black, and we've got a whole lot of more pressing issues on the plate. Though there are enough similarities between the situations in Athens and New Orleans to keep things interesting for me - a once daily news publication switching (or already switched) to a less-than-daily printing schedule to  supplement the online content; a question of editorial turnover and what that means for quality of reporting; issues of organizational hierarchy about where decisions were made; local groups turning to reporting bodies made possible by the internet (blogs, investigative websites, competing publications, etc.); the publication's value to the community it serves; the strange aspect of people having been removed (willingly or not) from a job having to re-apply for said job; value of the content reported; etc. Sound familiar? As someone who consumes a great deal of information from various sources of media during any given week, the fundamental changes and turmoil to how media works is something I consider important.

But I'll admit, I was willing to accept the official story of college kids and their outrage, and turn my attention to other, more interesting train wrecks.

Strange enough, a friend posted a link on Facebook about someone actually doing some investigating in to the Red and Black story. This is a link I never would have looked at in the course of my normal media consumption. But when I clicked on it, the page was down.

So I do what I always do when a page is down, I assume somebody got the URL wrong, and click on the website's headline. And then I read this. Holy ironic twist, Batman. A report investigating editorial control and possible censorship was removed from an organizational blog to a personal blog because the overall editors didn't like the content. This makes the situation very interesting, because what is going on isn't about college kids and their outrage, this is about the state of the media in our culture, and who controls it. This is big. This draws the line between what's happening in Athens and what is happening in New Orleans and Alabama and Michigan and all of these places where the institutions where people consume their information are undergoing radical changes.

We'll be talking about those changes in New Orleans at this year's Rising Tide conference. I can only wonder if those changes inspire the same sort of conversation to take place at the University of Georgia.

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