In the fall of her junior year at the University of Georgia, Lindsey Cook found herself in the middle of one of the highest-profile campus media battles of all time.
It began in August 2012, when Cook sat in an editorial meeting for The Red & Black, the university’s student newspaper. One of the professional, non-student board members read a list of publication requirements to the student journalists, which included giving the head of the board final say on all content printed in the paper or posted online. Cook and others walked out, infuriated.
They retaliated as any savvy, digital-minded journalists would: by causing a media storm online. The only weapons needed were a computer, campus Wi-Fi and knowledge of Web coding and social media. Cook was a driving force, creating a website called Red & Dead, which covered the newspaper’s fallout like any other news organization would. Several social media posts later, caught the attention of national news.
“The students organized themselves in a digital way, and they had the battle won before the board could even figure out they were in a fight,” said Barry Hollander, a University of Georgia journalism professor.
Quitting the paper might be the best career move Cook has made thus far — it has opened up many other opportunities, such as becoming more involved with SPJ.
At the peak of the Red & Black controversy, Region 3 Director Michael Koretzky offered advice and support to the former staff. Afterward, Cook spent a weekend producing a homeless shelter’s newspaper during Region 3’s Will Write for Food program and became Koretzky’s assistant for all things SPJ. She was elected a campus representative on the national SPJ board last year.
“I have been directly helped by SPJ,” Cook said. “I feel that I got a lot of support from them during a difficult time in my life, and now owe them and have tried to be there to help others.”
Cook’s main goal this year has been urging conversations about a revision to the Code of Ethics, particularly among young journalists who will face more challenges as technology changes. To facilitate these discussions, she created an easy step-by-step guide for students to hold a brainstorming session among their chapters.
It’s clear that Cook puts an extraordinary amount of effort into every task and learning opportunity. This attitude isn’t limited to SPJ. When Cook wrote her first story for the Red and Black, it was returned covered in red ink.
“The easiest way to get me to do something is to tell me I can’t do it,” Cook said. “I guess I got more determined.”
Jennie Springer, Cook’s grandmother, recalls a similar moment when her middle-school-aged granddaughter came home crying about a paper she didn’t do well on.
Springer, who Cook calls her first editor, said to her: “You’re learning to drink coffee, and you’re learning to stay up and do this as long as it takes.”
Springer noted that when Cook went to college, she had a hard time deciding what to study. Cook finally solidified her plans to major in journalism, minor in computer science and receive a new media certificate, which she will complete this May. Cook’s experience has led her to summer internships at the Athens Banner-Herald, Voice of America and The Washington Post.
Cook is also one of six AP-Google scholars, a program that awards $20,000 to students in order to shed light on digital-minded journalists who are the future of the industry. For her project, Cook is researching ways to bridge the gap between female journalism students and the male dominated computer science field.
“I had a professor tell me I wasn’t a journalist because I coded,” Cook said. “I’ve had computer science students tell me I wasn’t one of them because I was a journalist.”
She has found some trends in her research: Journalism students are intimidated by computer science, and male computer science students aren’t aware that female retention for their field is low. In late March, she gave a TedX talk on this topic. Cook plans to create a website containing the information she has found.
“She has the right amount of snark with the right amount of skill,” Hollander said. “I would love if we could have 10 Lindsey Cooks a year.”