Almost every month, a pair of students has the privilege of walking into Massachusetts Hall and University Hall, the two stateliest and most secretive buildings in Harvard Yard. They tote laptops or notepads and recording devices. Their mission is to enter the spaces where Harvard’s leaders work and pose the questions that ordinary students—and concerned individuals worldwide—might want to ask, about safety on campus in light of two recent rapes or just about what President Drew G. Faust thought of The Social Network. Whatever the burning question of the day might be, they aim to walk out of those buildings with the answers.
But after the conversation ends, those two Crimson reporters who have just conversed with President Faust or Provost Alan M. Garber ’76 or Dean of the College Evelynn M. Hammonds or another administrator do not step back into the Yard with a notebook full of quotes to share with the waiting world. In fact, when they leave, they cannot tell anyone a single word that those administrators said.
They are constrained by an anti-journalistic practice known as quote review. In order to print the quotations from those interviews, they must first gain the approval of the administrator who said the words or a spokesperson at Harvard Public Affairs and Communications. Sometimes nothing is changed. But often, the quotations come back revised, to make the wording more erudite, the phrasing more direct, or the message more pointed. Sometimes the quotations are rejected outright or are rewritten to mean just the opposite of what the administrator said in the recorded interview.
The Crimson has had a years-long agreement with HPAC that allowed interviews only on the condition of quote review with several administrators, and of late, more and more Harvard leaders have only agreed to speak to Crimson reporters if they could approve their quotes prior to publication. As a result, their quotations have become less candid, less telling, and less meaningful. These interviews are ceasing to fulfill their purpose—to capture and channel the forthright, honest words of Harvard’s decision-makers to all those who might be affected by the decisions. It is time for these constrained interviews to come to an end.
In August, we enacted a new policy at The Crimson forbidding our reporters from agreeing to interviews on the condition of quote review without the express prior permission of the President or the Managing Editor. Given our belief that quote review runs counter to the most important principles of openness and truth on which journalism is grounded, we do not foresee that we will be willing to grant such permission to our reporters this semester.
We share this internal decision with you, our readers, because you have put your trust in us to bring you fair, unbiased, rigorously reported news, and we are grateful every day for that faith. As custodians of your trust, we feel bound to tell you about the ways in which we strive to live up to our responsibility—to answer the questions so important to us all as members of the Harvard community.
E. Benjamin Samuels ’13 and Julie M. Zauzmer ’13 are the President and Managing Editor of the 139th Guard of The Harvard Crimson.