On May 11, 1971, The Daily Californian published an editorial encouraging readers to “Take Back (People’s) Park.”
The controversial editorial divided the public, the staff and the editorial board itself — so much so that, the Daily Cal’s Publisher’s Board fired the three editors in favor of the editorial.
Shortly after, the Daily Cal staff published an editorial refusing to accept the firings, elected a new editor in chief, appointed a new Senior Editorial Board and became editorially and financially independent. The rest is history.
This story, epic in its sweeping narrative of the fight for independent student journalism, is not as unique as one would think. The University of Georgia’s student newspaper, The Red & Black, had to stage its own campaign to retain its independence less than a week ago.
The Red & Black had been student-run for nearly 119 years until its Board of Directors and publisher appointed themselves and other as professionals in charge of the paper, taking away editorial control from the students. Top student editors and staff responded Wednesday by walking out and resigning, an action we not only fully support but also empathize with.
The importance of independent student journalism cannot be overstated. In this digital age of immediacy and quantity, we must look to the future. The power and purity of the written word remains essential.
The staff of The Red & Black handled its conflict well: The situation has since been mollified, and the students are back in charge.
But that does not necessarily solve the larger problem. A memo written by one of the paper’s board members who has since resigned is as frightening as it is strange. It goes again basic journalistic tenets. Despite what the memo said, student journalists should not fear mistakes, they should learn from them, and controversial or negative aspects of articles should not be diluted or removed.
Student newspapers exist for a reason — professionals exist to fill in the gap. Without independence, where are the watchdogs and fact-checkers going to come from?
The student journalism should not be of a conflict between students and professionals but rather putting out the best product possible — whether that’s in Athens or Berkeley.