DURING THE LAST few weeks, many people have raised concerns about The Crimson's coverage of minority issues. I do not write on behalf of the Crimson as a whole; but since The Crimson does not have an official ombudsperson, I would like to explain some of the paper's policies on the news coverage.
In a letter last week, a number of minority groups claimed that The Crimson does an inadequate job of covering the events that they sponsor.
It is true that we have missed important minority events in past, and that ultimately it is our responsibility to find out what's going on at Harvard. But increased communication between The Crimson and the groups organizing these would go long way toward correcting these problems.
For future reference, I offer the following guide to notifying The Crimson about an upcoming event:
1. One or, preferably, two days in advance, call The Crimson and ask to talk to a news editor or a news executive. Describe the event briefly, specifying its time and location. If anything especially photo-worthy will be taking place, you might mention that.
2. Call back the day of the event to doublecheck that the assignment editor has the event noted on his or her assignment sheet.
The Crimson cannot cover everything, but such increased communication would help us to avoid missing events like this spring's East Coast Asian Students Union conference. That happened when someone misplaced the first message and the next time we heard about the conference it had already happened.
Others have charged The Crimson with covering only controversial minority events. The nature of journalism, unfortunately, is that bad news is usually more interesting than good news, and that events involving conflict or controversy are usually more newsworthy, To be a newspaper and not a newsletter, we have to designate some stories as more important than others.
That is not to say that we don't attempt to cover a wide range of stories. It is worth pointing out that we are more likely to find out about events that are expected to be controversial. And because we designate some events "more newsworthy" than others, not every story can get onto the front page or be very long (i.e., when there is an plane crash, the annual city council banquet doesn't make the 11 o'clock news.)
We have one reporters specifically assigned to minority issues. Our 12 other college reporters also cover minority events, as do contributing reporters. These reporters are assigned by availability. Several people have suggested that The Crimson should not allow reporters from a particular racial or religious group to cover stories which in some way concern their group.
In fact, The Crimson has a clear-cut conflict of interest policy for news writers and editors. No one is allowed to work on a story about an organization with which he or she is affiliated or which involves people he or she knows personally.
This policy is designed both to ensure that our coverage is as fair as possible and to avoid placing reporters and editors in an awkward position with regard to the other organization in question.
However, we must work under the premise that any reporter can be assigned to any event regardless of race, religion or similar personal characteristics. To conclude that a reporter is automatically biased because of his or her race, religion or ethnic background veers dangerously close to racism.
While we acknowledge that there is no way for people to completely separate themselves from their personal perspectives, we do think it is possible to set these aside and report fairly. We are confident that our reporters have the ability and the training to do their jobs properly.
We teach our reporters the basics of news reporting--interviewing, researching, writing. We also hold seminars on journalistic ethics and hope instill in our reporters a sense of what news is and how it should be reported. All writes are under the supervision of students with several years' experience reporting and editing. Our executives are in close contact with professional journalists who offer us advice, and many have spent summers working for professional news organizations.
Speaking to the Community?
It seems ironic to us that The Crimson should under fire as being part of the Harvard establishment, since the paper's editors have long conceived of it as a gadfly buzzing around the University's administration.
The Crimson likes to think of itself as the voice of a large body of students consistently speaking out against the forces of injustice, ineptitude, hypocrisy and bureaucracy at Harvard and beyond. Increasingly, we have begun to realize that we cannot speak to the community as a whole as long as there are segments of the community that go virtually unrepresented on our staff and that do not trust us.
The Crimson's editors are working hard to respond to the concern that have been expressed by people both outside and inside the paper. Tonight, Crimson executives will meet with representatives of several campus minority groups.
A number of Harvard affiliates, including DuBois professor of the Humanities Henry Louis Gates Jr., have offered to help us in our efforts to recruit more minority students.
Among other plan, we would like to invite minority journalists to speak at The Crimson's training seminars for contributing reporters. We are also interested in putting together an Institute of Politics discussion on minorities in the media. And beginning next fall we intend to establish one Crimson executive as a sort of chief personnel officer. This person will coordinate recruiting efforts and will work to make sure that those who do come to The Crimson feel comfortable.
The Crimson has a great deal to offer Harvard students--it can provide them with a place to learn to report, write, edit, take photos, design or conduct business for a daily paper.
Perhaps even more importantly, it provides many students with a place to belong and to feel that they are making a difference on this campus. We would like it to do so for more.
Maggie S. Tucker '93 is co-managing editor of The Crimson. In 1990, she was The Crimson's minority issues beat reporter.