The HarBus News How to Make Enemies and $5000
How could anyone possibly make $5000 at the same time he goes to Harvard? Working 70 hours each week on the dorm crews is one way to do it, but each year at the Business School, groups of students caucus and fight for the HarBus News proprietorship instead. And most people who read the HarBus, even its own editors, think that this Business School weekly newspaper and the trash collected by the College dorm crews have a lot in common.
The present five proprietors complete their year of work in another month. Most of them are so fed up with the way the HarBus and its franchised publications are run, that they were willing to talk frankly about the defects of the paper itself and revealed the year-long dissension in their own ranks.
The publisher and general manager of the HarBus, Wil Stevens, did so little work on the paper that the other four proprietors agreed to fire him. When the paper's editor, Jeff Chokel, approached Stevens right before Christmas and asked him to resign, Stevens refused, pleaded that he would devote more time to the HarBus, and offered Chokel $500 of his profits, with the understanding that Chokel instead of Stevens would lay out and write headlines for the paper's final 12 issues.
Stevens is black, and Chokel, apparently realizing the political infeasibility of four whites firing the one black editor, accepted Stevens's money, kept $260 for himself, and for internal political reasons gave $80 to each of the three other proprietors: Sean Withro, the publications editor who puts out Careers in the MBA (the magazine which brings in about $13,000 of the overall $25,000 HarBus profit); Dick Loftin, the business manager; and Winston Duke, the advertising manager known at the College for his controversial views on women which were published in the Independent.
THE problem of personal antagonism is most acute between Wil Stevens and publications editor Sam Withro. Two weeks ago they almost began a physical fight with each other in the Kresge dining hall. When interviewed last week, Withro said Stevens was "an operator from the start. I personally really admired him for his operational ability to get people to do things but really resented it when he started operating on me and giving me all the goddamned work."
Stevens, the publisher and general manager, is supposed to be in charge of communications and internal organization, besides layout and headlines. Around the time Stevens was almost fired, he changed his phone number to an unlisted one and later refused to give the number to Withro. Today, three of the five proprietors do not have Stevens's phone number and although he lives on campus, Stevens is a very hard man to contact.
Stevens has to work least closely with the business and advertising managers but even they expressed their resentment at him. Dick Loftin, who gets a smaller profit share than any of the other four, is the business manager, a fancy term for bookkeeper. Referring to Stevens, Loftin said, "I don't know if he does any work at all, to tell you the truth." Winston Duke, the advertising manager, complained about Stevens and posed the rhetorical question, "Is it legitimate to give a fourth of the profits to a man who's just a fancy talker?"
THE HarBus has a long history of creating personal antagonisms. A year ago the editor and the publisher of the paper were roommates and after working together were no longer on speaking terms. Jim Baughman, the faculty member chairing the Publications Board which ultimately controls the HarBus, said. "In my experience with the HarBus it seems to breed interpersonal conflict."
For the past two proprietorships the newspaper has ended up a one-man operation. The angry editor and his roommate graduated last January because they had gone through a special summer session. The burden of putting out the HarBus finally fell on the number-three man, the publications editor Fred Wood. Wood, who had just finished preparing Careers in the MBA, landed with the job of editor-in-chief. (Before you feel too sorry for him, take a moment to calculate his profit share.)
So anyone who cared enough last year to find out anything about the HarBus and there were a few dozen people who did, realized that the HurBus should have been renamed Fred Wood because he and the HarBus were synonymous. This year, Jeff Chokel is in a similar position. Chokel said that as far as he is concerned, Stevens might as well have graduated because Chokel has had to assume the complete burden of finding copy and deciding how to arrange it in the HarBus.
Professor Baughman, the Publications Board chairman, complimented the last two proprietors, saying that Fred Wood and Jeff Chokel "have done more to get the news behind the news releases than any group before," with the exception of one editor who ran a series of illuminating letters between himself and the publisher of Look , when Look wrote an uncomplimentary article on the Business School a few years ago. In the past, Baughman said, the HurBus simply ran news releases verbatim. Unfortunately, today there is still much too much reporting straight from the administration viewpoint, using the administration's words and phrasing.
"In terms of investigative reporting, the HurBus is miserable and always has been," Baughman said. "Maybe somebody with more of a nose for news, with more of an instinct for the jugular vein, might make it a more elaborate paper." Baughman, who is wrapping up his two-year term as Publications Board chairman next month, was in a particularly good position to evaluate the newspaper and to give his comments on the record.
Chokel bemoans the fact that he has to spend almost all his time putting the paper together for the next week instead of getting out in the field and digging up big stories. "My most important contribution to this newspaper will be when I resign as an editor and become a reporter."
Nevertheless, it seems that Chokel is ambivalent about how much aggressive reporting he actually wants to do. Every Wednesday morning at 8:30 a.m. Chokel meets for briefings with the assistant dean for the MBA program, John Seiler. At these meetings there is a trade-off: Chokel gets a certain amount of petty power from Seiler in return for not shaking up the Business School in the HarBus.
Chokel said that at these meetings he often mentions a minor complaint students have, and Seiler guarantees to remedy the gripe immediately. For instance, when MBA candidates were not allowed to watch color TV in a lounge reserved for other candidates in a special program, Chokel hinted that the story might make an interesting article in the HurBus; within a week, MBA candidates were watching all the color TV they wanted.
Apparently in return for these special considerations, Chokel is not given much leeway to step out of line. According to Chokel, "Almost anything critical said about the administration or faculty gets a quick reaction, really quick."
Chokel is overburdened with work. He puts in 20 to 25 hours each week for the HarBus and has trouble getting reporters to work for him, even though they are paid 50 cents per column-inch. The truth is that in the high-powered tense atmosphere often found at the Business School, time can be a very expensive commodity. "There are a lot of articles I consider real trash in here but I feel we're doing the best job we can," Chokel readily admits.
IT SHOULD be emphasized that, as poor as the paper is now, it is nevertheless better than ever before. Chokel said, "Last year the HurBus was like a bulletin board. Everybody just put his publicity announcements in." This year the bulletin board flavor is still strong, but there is now usually one half-hearted attempt at a feature, non-news-release story in each issue.
It seems strange that a group of fiveBusiness School students with such personality conflicts came together in the first place. Last year there were two competing proprietorship groups. Chokel and Stevens formed the core of on group and were opposed by a caucus headed by Rosalyn Braeman and Joe Pugliese. Both groups worked hard for the HarBus in the months before the proprietorship decision. Both groups added members with more regard for impressive backgrounds than for ability to work with others in the group. And both groups spent many man-hours laboring over impressive proposals stating why they were especially well suited to take over the HurBus.
The Publications Board, responsible for delegating about 10 different proprietorships, decided in favor of Chokel, instead of Miss Braeman. Chokel's group did have the stronger case, partly because all five men had written stories for the HarBus as early as October of their first year. Their backgrounds and journalistic experience were extensive. Chokel, for example, was the Princeton stringer for the New York Times.
Winston Duke originally wanted to be editor and publisher, he said, "to mobilize a true libertarian atmosphere. Politically, that became impossible for me. I saw Jeff's group needed a business guy and I bargained for a column." Duke has in fact done a competent job as advertising manager, in exchange for his page-three column "Proselytyzer for Capitalism: The Libertarian Viewpoint" where he promotes the ideas of Ayn Rand at least every other week. Duke said that the only two faculty letters to the HarBus this year have both been in response to his column. Loftin was taken on as business manager, through Duke's influence.
Publications editor Sean Withro, who had expressed interest in overseeing the lucrative Careers franchise, was the third man to join the group and, next to Stevens, became the most controversial. Loftin, the least caustic of the five men, said, "If anybody's independent, Sean's super independent. In our situation he's not the easiest guy to work with."
According to most accounts, Stevens was given the number-one position by process of elimination. The other editors say he was not well qualified technically for a business position and, because he had very little journalistic experience, was not qualified to take charge of Careers or to be editor of the HarBus. So the only thing left was the position of publisher. It is no secret that the Publications Board decision was deadlocked for a long time and that Stevens's being a black student was ultimately a deciding plus for the group.
SOON after Chokel's group was designated as the next proprietors, a new Publications Board was chosen by the old Pub Board people. Oddly enough, Rosalyn Braeman and Joseph Publicse, who lost out to Chokel in the HarBus competition, were selected for the new Pub Board. The Pub Board sets up advertising ratios, advertising rates, and the minimum number of issues of the HarBus. The Board has complete control over the newspaper and can keep the HarBus proprietors in line by a variety of sanctions: from fining them to taking away the proprietorship. The usual practice is for the Pub Board and HarBus to sign a contract after the first weeks of the New Regime. This year, however, 29 issues of the HarBus were published and with only 7 issues to go, a contract was finally agreed upon.
The first major quarrels within Chokel's group resulted from Sean Withro's work on franchised publications during the summer. He subfranchised the Ski Guide, which brought in about $4000, under an arrangement where the HarBus would get only 30 per cent of the money. After making the deal, Withro wrote to the other proprietors and let them know what he had done. "The whole roof came down over the Ski Guide," Withro said, "with Jeff [Chokel] phoning from Chicago and insisting on changing my decision." In September, Withro's decision remained basically unaltered and he agreed to do the billing for Careers, almost $20,000 worth of billing, without hiring part-time help and thus not cutting away even further from the overall profit shares.
Withro's other blunder over the summer was the poor production of the HarBus franchise of the Student Handbook put out for first-year students. Besides being three weeks late and thereby antagonizing advertisers, the Handbook was printed up very sloppily. The most apparent error is a hole punched on the front cover which no one has been able to explain, not to mention the pages which were photographed lopsided and the smeared and misshapen corners of the photographic plates. To make matters worse for Withro, he had billed the HarBus for the number of hours he worked on the Handbook during the summer, and charged them overtime for the one week he recorded a 45-hour total.
With Withro in almost universal disfavor, Wil Stevens was the second man to be turned against, although it took almost the whole first semester for the four other proprietors to harden themselves enough to ask him to resign. Stevens had become only a figurehead for the HarBus.
The next topic of contention was the HarBus contract with the Publications Board. One Pub Board member wanted to fine the HarBus for dragging its feet in the negotiations; he resigned when the Pub Board decided simply to continue negotiations. This controversy included questions such as whether the Pub Board could sponsor prospective-proprietorship cocktail parties with the $500 assessed against the HarBus for use of Business School facilities.
Now, with only five issues to go, the logical question arises of how, if at all, the HarBus can be improved under the next regime. Unfortunately, the three best first-year reporters are each heading separate proprietorship groups. There will also be a fourth group which has had no experience with the newspaper.
Chokel's group assumed that personal friendships would be able to solve all problems. Wil Stevens and Sean Withro, who had been in the same first-year section, however, became arch enemies.
Perhaps most of the newspaper's problems cannot be solved. Business School students are never likely to have much spare time. There is absolutely no continuity between one proprietorship group and its successor. And finally, how much background understanding can proprietors gain of the Business School and the overall Harvard community, when they assume leadership of the HarBus after only one and one-half semesters of school?
The current publisher and general manager, Wil Stevens, offered the following comments on the HarBus: "I can't find my total universe in the HarBus at all. I don't think it serves any major function for me. I've never thought about how it could be improved because it's not an ongoing thing for me. That's a waste of time to think about."