Student staff walks out at UGA's Red and Black

"The Red & Black's top editors, design staff, photo staff and reporters walked out of the newspaper building this afternoon," Polina Marinova, former editor, wrote in an online letter.

Marinova's letter was posted on Facebook and Twitter, where a new group calling itself "Red and Dead" continued to pick up followers through Wednesday evening. Marinova did not respond late Wednesday to messages from The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. The group's Twitter account was later suspended.

The student newspaper has been independent from the Athens university since 1980 and is self-funded. Many of the university's journalism students work at the paper for real-world experience coinciding with classwork.

But an editorial board that oversees the newspaper is at the center of the conflict, Marinova wrote in her resignation letter.

"For years, students have had final approval of the paper followed by a critique by the adviser only after articles were published," Marinova wrote. "However, from now on, that will not be the case. Recently, editors have felt pressure to assign stories they didn't agree with, take 'grip and grin' photos and compromise the design of the paper."

"In less than a month, The Red & Black has hired more than 10 permanent staff with veto power over students' decisions," she wrote.

Publisher Harry Montevideo, who responded to students' charges in a statement, stressed a quality student newspaper will continue.

"Core to our mission is providing the best possible training and experience which mirrors the real world," he wrote. "The changes occurring here reflect an ongoing commitment for the Red & Black Publishing Company, Inc to continue to offer a news product which is relevant for and accessible to our audience as we also train student journalists for futures in a rapidly changing world of news delivery beyond our traditional print format."

At issue is a memo from the Board of Directors that outlined new new expectations the staff.

A draft version of the memo says that Ed Morales, editorial adviser, would be responsible for "providing direction to students on what to cover to ensure we are covering topics that are compelling" and "holding our students accountable for quality, by correcting poor quality before publication and grading quality post-publication."

The memo, which Red and Dead posted online, suggests a mix of "good and bad" stories and that when in doubt content should "have more GOOD than BAD."

Morales did not respond to an email message late Wednesday. No one answered the phone at the newspaper office.

Kent Middleton, head of the journalism department at UGA's Grady College, serves on The Red and Black board. He told the AJC late Wednesday he was still learning the facts about the walkout, but hoped the student journalists would be able to resolve the conflicts.

"I hope the students go back and assert their right to practice good journalism," Middleton said in a phone interview. "We want a strong and thriving Red and Black and I hope the students will go in and make it that way. ... They can't be as effective journalists outside The Red and Black."

UGA's administration is not affiliated with the paper's board of directors.

Although previously published five days a week, the award-winning newspaper switched to one printed publication a week in August 2011 and announced it would be ramping up its online news.

"Forget everything you've ever thought about newspapers, because we're redefining how it works," the paper stated on its front page. "Think a breaking news operation, run by the generation which grew up with computers, cell phones and iPods."

Students involved in the walkout did not respond to messages sent via Twitter and Facebook requesting comment.

Staff writer Laura Diamond contributed to this report.

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