Controversy With UGA’s Red & Black Staff, SPJ Leaders’ Feud Provide Great Social Media Lesson

This month’s walkout of the editors at University of Georgia’s Red & Black and the disagreement between two leaders of Society of Professional Journalists over how to respond provide a great lesson in the power of blogging and social media.

If you teach journalism, you can appreciate the value of a fresh case study in social media when you’re kicking off a new school year.

It just so happens that this is my 200th blog post on this new WordPress platform, which I switched to three years ago next month, after four years blogging under the Blogger platform.

So I’ll use this post to speak to the power of the blogging platform in a recent  controversy to which I was connected in more than one way.

My beloved alma mater– University of Georgia — and its independent student newspaper, The Red and Black,  (for which I wrote multiple times as a graduate student in the Grady College of Journalism and Mass Communication) are the setting for this lesson in both the power and potential of social media.

Instead of focusing on what prompted the UGA students to walk out and what Red & Black Publisher Harry Montevideo reportedly did when a student videographer attempted to videotape a closed meeting,  I want to focus on the use of social media.

Red & Dead

You have to see the Red & Dead blog that was created by the students who walked out to appreciate the power of this platform for telling a story.

Their mode of communication was not just text, but video and images. Their transparency was reflected in providing readers access to a draft memo that put in writing the policies that they felt were wrong.

Their Twitter account, @RedandDead815  attracted more than 4,300 followers in a matter of days.

“Conversations we’ve had here prove social media can foster meaningful relationships,” the students tweeted from the account, which they stopped posting on last week.

But, the social media power doesn’t just end with the students.

SPJ Leaders Disagree

You’ll want to see how a public disagreement between members of the Society of Professional Journalists national board over how to respond to the events at UGA played out on this same platform.


Full disclosure: As a member of that SPJ National Board, I was privy to e-mails regarding the disagreement and asked to weigh in.   Until now, I haven’t written about or commented publicly on the situation.

Michael Koretsky, our regional director for SPJ here in the Southeast, had one strategy.

But, our SPJ National President John Ensslin had another.    He took a slower, more measured approach, releasing a letter to the Chairman of the Red & Black Board several days after the controversy in Athens occurred.

Both Koretsky and Ensslin explained in great detail their


respective strategies.

They all did it with the same tool I’m using here– BLOGGING.

Even in the last communication between the two, Koretsky used the interactive tool  of reader comments to have the “last word” so to speak in their back-and-forth saga.

Other SPJ members, some who hadn’t previously spoken out on the issue, also weighed in there.

Why Spotlight This?

Journalism students and some journalists wonder why they should be blogging or tweeting or using any of these web-based tools to communicate.  They ask why they should have public comments to the things they post on their blogs.

One of Koretzky’s points is that SPJ is not utilizing these platforms enough to respond quickly on behalf of those whose forums for free expression are threatened.

Whether or not we use them for advocacy, the blogging platform and its multimedia capabilities have a power that many have yet to realize or tap into in doing journalism.

Fortunately, the editors at The Red & Black and some of our most outspoken SPJ leaders have harnessed that power.  And, we’re all the better for it.

Author: George Daniels

George L. Daniels is an associate professor of journalism at the University of Alabama. After spending eight years in the local television newsroom working as a producer at stations in Richmond, Virginia; Cincinnati, Ohio; and Atlanta, Georgia, Daniels moved from the newsroom to the classroom. He’s conducted research on diversity issues in the media workplace and change in the television newsroom as well as media convergence. Before going to work in television news, Daniels worked briefly as a freelance writer for The Richmond Free Press in his hometown of Richmond, Va.

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