Tag Archives: UGA

Better Off ‘Red & Dead’ than ‘Red & Black’

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Once, I dreamed of an independent Signal.

The Signalis the student newspaper for Georgia State University, and once, I was its managing editor, facing a perplexing pickle: out yonder, in Athens, the largest university in the state had an independent student newspaper, publishing daily, while in the midst of Atlanta, the state’s second largest university trudged along with a once-a-week rag still suckling (somewhat) from the school’s tete.

Godspeed, crew.

We were nearly as large, faster growing, with (one would think) far more to write about than that other school based on simple geography. My office was a block from the Capitol, a few blocks from the Georgia Dome and Turner Field, and immersed in a pretty spectacular music, art and entertainment scene. Athens is alright, sure, but … come on! This is ATLANTA!

So, we did what we could. We launched a Web site. That was a start. We recruited writers (and in the process found that our J-school was evidently dearly lacking; many of these kids couldn’t write a lede or conduct and interview to save their lives and I ended up hosting what amounted to remedial journalism classes for staff in our office). I overlooked insufficiencies, sure. My office manager was running a reasonably lucrative drug dealing operation from our reception area, so what? He was punctual and always polite to visitors and callers.

I tried to make the most of what we had at our disposal. I pushed through my plan to spin off our arts and entertainment section into its own publication – the Urbanite – and later discovered that I’d actually managed to spin off one of the main reasons people even picked up the paper (besides the crime reports). Live and learn. I recruited and meticulously trained a reporter who was going to extensively cover crime on campus. She wrote an article about the prevalence of marijuana on campus and where the major supply points were. It was an incredibly popular issue, being that it featured a large image of a pot leaf on the front (free poster?) and that it amounted to a guide on where one could make his or her illicit purchases. Said well-trained crime reporter subsequently died in a car wreck, on the week of Sept. 11, 2001, which led to a great deal of confusion and rumor that we’d lost a writer to the terrorist attacks who had, in fact, actually driven into a building herself. (Still, I maintain that it would have been in poor chase to try and qualify this fact in the memorial we ran on the front of the paper. We still remember you, Tracy. Or Traci. Or Tracie…)

Yeah, OK, so I wasn’t the best of editors. But that’s kind of what I’m getting at: I was learning. I was already working in the newsroom for the Douglas County Sentinel – a daily paper – when I walked in to the Signal office for the first time. I had real-world experience, but I had a great deal to learn.

Student newspapers have dual roles. For one, they are genuine guardians of the student body. Along with all my many missteps, I still managed to be a part of stories that closed a classroom building that, it was discovered after we looked into it, might fall down in a strong wind, as well as coverage that ousted Student Government Association officials for corruption and perversion and overturned SGA elections.

OK, so I moderated a debate in which I called a state representative’s daughter a whore (from the podium) and was chased by the Secret Service after knocking down a photographer in front of Jimmy Carter and grabbing Al Gore’s leg for support. I once stepped on Shirley Franklin, who was then the mayor of Atlanta. I also stepped on the foot of Mark Taylor, who was the lieutenant governor. Mistakes were made.

That is the other role of student newspapers: they’re a laboratory to make said mistakes. They’re the place where it doesn’t hurt as bad when we fall. It’s a whole lot better to learn the skills needed to conduct an interview on the staff of a student newspaper than it is when you get your first “real world” writing gig. That’s sort of the payoff – one gets to learn, and one gets to guard.

In Athens, the esteemed Red and Black has taken a turn, and a dramatic one, from being a student-centric publication to a more professional – and, perhaps, more polished – one. Final decisions regarding content and design have been taken from students and placed in the hands of professionals. This, effectively, means it is no longer a student publication.

In response, editor in chief Polina Marinova and her staff of editors, designers, photographers and top reporters have walked out, establishing a new organization called the “Red & Dead.”

Godspeed! It’s hugely important that you stand up for your morals and take responsibility for the publication you produce. What’s the point of being an editor in chief in name only? No, with this move, the board of the Red & Black have gone from helming a student newspaper to a traditional media outlet run with cheap student labor (as opposed to the normal cheap labor that produces the rest of the nation’s newspapers).

I wish you the best, but I implore caution. You’re truly independent now. That means it’s going to hurt when you fall.

And, I’m sorry, you will fall. We all do. So, please, don’t make student journalists look any worse than I already have.

The Birds

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Cameron was having a bad day.

Slumped in a chair in Tony’s basement, he laid it all out: he got fussed out at work, was short of funds, and had just had a terrible fight with his girlfriend. To close his day, he decided to take a drive in his Jeep. Driving his Jeep, he said, made him happy. But then…

“’Bam! Bam, bam, bam!’ They were pelting the front and the side of my Jeep like little Kamikazes,” Cameron said as I entered the basement for a night of story-swapping and trip-planning.

“Cameron, what are you talking about?” I asked with great interest.

“It was terrible, Joey: I was out driving, and I saw this massive flock of birds walking around on the ground in someone’s yard off to the left,” he told me. “I thought, ‘man, that’s a lot of birds,’ and, right then, they all at once just took off like a big gray cloud. I thought they were going to fly away, but they didn’t; the whole flock just flew right out into the road.”

“Well, what’d you do?”  I asked.

“I couldn’t do anything. They were everywhere,” he said. “I just kept cringing and driving until I got through it. And then I looked in my rearview mirror and saw all these birds laying in the road. A lot of them were dead, and some were almost dead and were flopping about like fish out of water.”

Cameron with Jeep

Cameron, with his Jeep, during happier days.

“Oh that’s awful!” I said.

“Yeah, I felt really bad,” he confessed. “I still feel really bad, but there was nothing I could do. It was like they were all on a suicide mission.”

The Jeep itself was a mess of feather and smeared bird… I don’t know, bird something. Cameron described in grim detail how he heard them desperately beating against the plastic windows of the Jeep, how they’d hit with such force that he’d had to stop shortly thereafter to squeegee off his windshield and readjust the side-view mirrors.

We had all seen birds fly into a closed window, or a pet parakeet fly into a mirror because of the reflection, but we’d never heard of anything the likes of what Cameron had experienced. If I didn’t know him better I would have sworn he was making it up. The thing about Cameron, though is that he never had to make this stuff up.

Despite Cameron’s unintentional bird massacre, we had convened at Tony’s with a mission to plan our trip to Florida in two weeks, so after getting over the shock of Cameron’s incident we got down to business. We left Tony’s basement that night with the satisfaction that another quick weekend vacation had been planned and the knowledge that at least one flock of birds had been infiltrated by a featherbrained cult leader and led into mass suicide.

A few days passed and by the middle of the week Cameron and I once again found ourselves hanging out at Tony’s. As we entered the door, Tony, who was sitting at his computer to the right of us, turned to face us with a look of contained excitement on his face.

“Cameron,” he began, “what day was it that you hit that flock of birds?” He was almost giddy. And Tony’s not a man who gets giddy. It was a little creepy.

Cedar Waxwing

A cedar waxwing, during happier days.

“Saturday,” Cameron said.

“And what road were you driving on when you hit them?” Tony asked.

“Banks Mill. Why?” a concerned Cameron asked.

“Funny thing happened to me at the office the other day,” Tony said. Tony was working as a reporter for the local daily paper, the Sentinel. “I had just got in for the day, and one of the photographers started talking to one of the other reporters about a ‘bird story.’ So, I asked them about this bird story. Seems someone found a massive collection of dead birds along Banks Mill Road on Saturday. The health department is investigating.”

“Really?” I said, not too surprised. This was at the time that the danger of the West Nile Virus to elderly people was a popular news story in Georgia, because the disease is spread by mosquitoes and if there’s two things Georgia has, it’s peaches and mosquitoes.

“Yeah, well, you know one sign that West Nile may be present in an area is finding birds that have died from being bitten by infected mosquitoes,” Tony said.

“Yeah I’ve heard of that,” Cameron said.  “What about it?”

“Well, you see, when you find a dead bird, you’re supposed to report it to the health department, so that they can check it out to see if the bird died of West Nile or not,” Tony said.  “So, you might could imagine the sheer terror one might face upon finding a total of 19 dead birds in one’s yard.”

“Are you saying that…,” I started before Tony interrupted me.

“I’m saying that when I was at the office today, one of our reporters was checking out a story about someone finding 19 dead cedar waxwings on Banks Mill Road,” Tony said.

We all started laughing.  “It can’t be,” I said.

“When did they find them?” Cameron asked.

“Saturday,” Tony chuckled. “I just searched on the Internet for a picture of a cedar waxwing. Is this the bird that flew into your Jeep, Cameron?”

“Yeah, that’s them.” Cameron started giggling.

“Like I said, when you find one dead bird it’s a scare, but 19 is a crisis,” Tony said. “Someone probably came outside and saw all those dead birds and just freaked the hell out. They’re urging old people and children to stay inside if they live near the area where those birds were found.”

“Did you tell your co-worker that those birds committed suicide into the side of your friend’s vehicle?” I asked, knowing that as mischievous as Tony was that he definitely didn’t tell his coworker.

“I thought about it, but the guy said that the workers had already sent the birds off to the University of Georgia to determine the cause of death,” Tony said with a sadistic grin. “They held a press conference. I guess the autopsy results will come back with blunt force trauma as the cause of death?”

The thought of professional public health workers carefully collecting the massacre in little plastic baggies, marking them and sending them to a laboratory made me smile. The likely reaction of the biologist who would determine that all 19 of these birds sent in from Douglas County had been simply hit by a car made me smile wider.

“So, I killed 19 of those little birds, huh?” Cameron said sadly.

Always the optimist, Tony knew just how to cheer Cameron up. “Yeah, but look on the bright side: you single-handedly caused the largest West Nile virus scare this county has ever seen.”

 

Prologue

Driving to Panama City Beach for our weekend away, stopping for one of the many fill-ups the glorified tractor that is a Jeep requires, we spied something peculiar in the springs inside the front wheel well of Cameron’s vehicle. The three of us knelt beside the Jeep, peering at the grayish mash jammed between the coils.

“No way,” Cameron said.

“Awesome,” I said.

“Heh,” said Tony. “That means it was an even 20.”

 

Note:  While searching online for pictures of cedar waxwings to give an accurate description of the birds for this story, I came across a great many articles depicting the habits of the little gray birds. Cedar waxwings are renowned for their voracious appetite and a tendency to eat fermented fruit and berries. When a bird weighing only a few ounces gets a belly full of fermented berries, well, they have trouble flying in a straight line — or just flying at all. 

According to the state of Georgia’s health department on West Nile testing of birds in 2005: “Cedar waxwings, which are never positive, were the third most frequently submitted bird. This bird usually dies from drunken flying into windows or is found dead from alcohol poisoning from eating fermented berries.”

Maybe Cameron won’t feel so bad when he finds out that the birds were FUI (flying under the influence).

Going Down Hill: Athletes and the Law

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Kelton Hill

QB did a bad, bad thing...

There’ve been an awful lot of jokes made lately about that prison work farm out in Athens. I hear they have a football program, something like out of “The Longest Yard” (the good version, not the Adam Sandler tripe).

But it looks like the University of Georgia isn’t alone in its frequent brushes with the law. Though it’s unlikely any felony charges will result, Georgia Tech has had its troubles of late with the NCAA, and just this morning news broke that Kelton Hill – who likely was destined to be the starting quarterback for Georgia State – was arrested with another student for breaking into a dorm room through a window and stealing a $1,300 laptop.

My faith in Coach Curry had evidently been misplaced, since this quarterback (and a Lithia Springs alumnus) would have thought that he could get away with a felony burglary. Granted, it’d be one thing if he largely rode the bench and participated in the football program “just because,” but with the “true” starting quarterback, Drew Little, benched for violating team rules (whatever that means), Hill had the golden ticket.

I had assumed that the problems at UGA – and, to be fair, many other academic institutions with active athletic programs (thereby excluding Vandy) – were rooted in an inherent corruption that grows from coaches and administrators’ willingness to look the other way while over-feted and unpaid student athletes generally run amuck in a culture that would best be described as toxic.

Athletic directors and coaches are hired and paid exorbitant salaries to win games. Winning athletic programs make money for the schools they represent, through boosters and revenues from merchandising and ticket sales. This encourages administrators to look the other way all the way to the top. If a student athlete commits some small infraction here or there, what of it? If they can run, catch, throw, shoot, etc., then the consequences of their infringement on team rules, school code of conduct or Georgia Code would probably do more harm than good to the institution as a whole.

Coach Curry seemed to be more of a fire-and-brimstone coach. Miss a tackle? Watch him eat a kitten. Personal foul? Two kittens. Excessive celebration? You have to cut open the mamma cat and feed him the barely squirming unborn kittens.

Coach Curry’s going to eat a whole tassel of kittens over this Hill burglary.

This is serious stuff, man. Last season, their presumed starting quarterback, a transfer from Alabama who apparently couldn’t cut it under Coach Curry’s leadership, was late for the team bus, and Curry benched him. God only knows what Little did to get benched from his starting quarterback role for four games, but I’m guessing he didn’t wipe down the bench in the weight room when he was through using it.

So, even in the most rigid and strict of programs, we still find student athletes who are willing to take a chance in committing a crime. Why?

Now, granted, we’re probably jumping to conclusions here. Hill has been arrested, but not convicted, and there’s a possibility that he was not as involved with this as we might initially believe. But, seeing how often it is that these privileged athletes get away with the most heinous of crimes, you’ll understand if I’m slow to give Hill the benefit of the doubt.

Ultimately, these institutions – particularly the public ones – are here to educate us, not entertain us. I, too, loved being able to partake in the Saturday fun last fall, shuttling through channel listings to see if Georgia State’s game was going to be broadcast, following the Georgia State blog on ajc.com and generally being a fan. And I was at the school when the seeds that grew into this football program were sowed, with students themselves banding together to form an informal team, built on the support of their peers because we believed – myself included – that football belonged at Georgia State.

But even if the program generates revenue, I am left to doubt that it’s worth the price.