An editor reads over pages during paper production on Feb. 16, 2021.

On March 28, 2021, The Red & Black editors held an in-person staff meeting for the first time in more than a year. The last in-person budget was on March 5, 2020.

While students juggled virtual classes, historic protests and a pandemic, we also transitioned the newsroom online. Virtual video calls and 24/7 Slack messages replaced in-person paper production and staff meetings.

But throughout this year, the newsroom maintained its commitment to the communities we cover and students we help to train — just as The Red & Black has done for the last 127 years. We learned lessons of empathy and patience. While there is still room to grow, we have come a long way maturing as journalists and as 20-year-olds.

This drastic change was not without losses — more than a dozen student positions in our business and promotions team had to be eliminated because of COVID-19 restrictions. Our sales team went from eight to four.

Despite the year we’ve had, The Red & Black continues to pay stipends to our student staff and to provide scholarships. Our reporters covered events from Athens and remotely from across the country. The student newsrooms in Athens, Georgia, and across the country have persisted under unprecedented conditions, whatever unprecedented means anymore. This year has demonstrated the importance of supporting these students so we can uphold this level of reporting for future years to come.

The Red & Black Publishing Co. is an independent 501c3 nonprofit organization. Our independence means that our student-run newsroom operates without censorship or restrictions from the University of Georgia. Our independence also means that we are self-supporting. We don’t cut funds from the university or student fees — we support ourselves through advertising sales, events and donations.

#SaveStudentNewsrooms is an initiative from students at the University of Florida. April 25 is the day of action for their campaign, recognizing the importance of supporting student journalism. Here is our story from the past year.

A year of coverage

In January, the news tips started rolling in. The pandemic first affected Chinese students, then study abroad programs. Within weeks, Georgia, UGA and Athens saw their first cases. Parents, students and faculty were coming to The Red & Black for answers — some of which we had, others which we waited for like everyone else.

During spring break, while college students were on cruises and at the beach, The Red & Black’s editors and reporters sat by their emails. As universities nationwide suspended classes or moved to virtual instruction, the University System of Georgia announced it would return that Monday. Hours later, the system reversed its decision, suspending instruction for two weeks.

The Red & Black newsroom did not get an extended spring break. Everyone worked overtime to cover Athens and UGA news while navigating shutdowns, lockdowns and personal breakdowns. Our photo and sports desks got creative without in-person events.

The summer drew one of the highest semesters of web traffic in Red & Black history. Between protests and the pandemic, students checked in from across the country.

Photographers and reporters risked their safety to cover daily protests. They found the balance between compassion and information as the outcry for social justice reached a fever worldwide.

The Red & Black editorial faced its own reckoning, along with the rest of the country. Throughout the past year, we have had transparent conversations with our staff about the lack of diversity in our newsroom and industry.

We created the paid positions of outreach manager, who recruits across campus, and Diversity & Inclusion committee members, who facilitate projects in community outreach and promote diverse coverage. Student media has provided opportunities for students to engage in these initiatives and conversations, which don’t exist in a classroom.

As the fall semester approached, reporters questioned administrators and investigated UGA’s campus reopening. There were dorm room concerns, bars overflowing, COVID cases spiking, reports of racism in Greek life and everything in between.

New recruits like Simran Kaur Malhotra, now the health data reporter, reinvented coverage areas demanded by the situation. Veterans like photo editor Taylor Gerlach created historic content, which won national awards. Editors like Gabriela Miranda, who produced several bilingual articles, reached out to underserved communities during times of need. Investigators like Anila Yoganathan, who led the enterprise desk through these changes, held our institutions accountable. Jacqueline GaNun, then looking at her sophomore year, calmly led the news desk through the summer months of impactful coverage.

Now a year later, we’re continuing our commitment to the Athens and UGA communities.

How you can support

If you want to take a bigger step, consider donating. Every penny counts. Advertisement revenue and donations fund student stipends, equipment and training. These funds allow us to fund investigative reporting as well.

The easiest way to support us — you’re doing it right now! Read our content, pick up our papers and engage with us on social media. Send us your news tips, and let us know how we can better cover our communities.

We thank you for your support.

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