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Friday, May 9, 2014

Graduating GSU students to protest WRAS takeover at commencement ceremony

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  • Chris Shattuck

A group of Georgia State University students are planning to protest during the school's graduation ceremonies over Georgia Public Broadcasting's recent takeover of WRAS 88.5 FM.

Earlier this week, GSU officials announced a two-year, $150,000 agreement that hands over a 14-hour daytime programming block to the state media radio network starting next month. From 5 a.m. to 7 p.m., GPB would broadcast local and national news. College DJs would program evening and early morning slots from 7 p.m. to 5 a.m. and remain in charge of the station's a 24-hour online streaming radio.

Before students receive their diplomas tomorrow, WRAS supporters will handout stickers with the 100,000-watt station's logo for gown-wearers to place on their caps. Protest organizers will hand out the "Save WRAS" stickers, donated courtesy of Neighborhood Vinyl, outside Georgia Dome's Gate A prior to the 2 p.m. commencement.

Chris Shattuck, former editor of GSU's student-run newspaper The Signal, says he hopes the demonstration will give students a way "to send the message to the administration that this is someone that no one really wants" and to show disapproval for GSU's unilateral decision. Following graduation, volunteers will hold #SaveWRAS signs and round up as many graduates as possible to take photos, all in hopes of raising awareness on social media.

"We're not trying to take away from the ceremony itself," Shattuck says. "We want to respect the sacredness of the event. We want to respect the graduates with family and friends there to support us. It's something we can do last minute because it's what we've been forced to do by the university. There's not a lot of option beyond that as a student body."

Students have blasted GSU's decision to make the announcement on the second-to-last day of finals. Since then, President Mark Becker has remained adamant that the GPB-GSU partnership would move forward despite growing concerns from WRAS supporters. When CL asked Becker this week if there was no looking back, in his mind, to reconsider a different kind agreement involving student input, he said, "that's absolutely true."

Shattuck says that Becker is "backing himself into a corner he doesn't want to be in right now." He thinks his unpopular decision could lead to a decline in alumni donations, strain relationships with current students, and cast doubt on the uncertain futures of other student media organizations.

Richard Belcher, WRAS' first general manager and longtime WSB-TV reporter, tells CL that he's "very disappointed" and thinks the partnership gives students fewer chances to sharpen their skills and learn about radio station operations.

"I understand that NPR listeners want more of their favorite network, but satisfying them comes at a cost to, ultimately, hundreds of would-be broadcasters, writers and producers," he says, stressing that he speaks only for himself and not his employer. "A university should favor the students over the general public. I'm sorry that is not what GSU chose to do."

Since making the announcement about the deal, people have flooded social media with calls for protesting the partnership. More than 6,500 people have signed a petition expressing disappointment with GSU's decision and asking university officials to stop the deal.

Becker says his office has received emails and phone calls about the partnership. The president says "it'd be accurate to say the majority are expressing concern or disappointment." However, he says many people have been given misinformation about the partnership and aren't aware of the potential benefits, including what he considers increased educational opportunities for students.

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