Why Not Do It Yourself?


JUDY GARLAND would have understood; so would Mickey Rooney. In the warm Weather, after all, a college person's fancy turns to thoughts of do-it-yourself--that's why we had all those nauseating college films of the late '30s. "My dad's got a barn," Mickey would volunteer, and My Mom's got a sewing machine for making costumes," Judy would chime in, and before the audience had time to groan at the sheer corniness of it all, they would have A SHOW. Well, it's 40 years later now and the lure of Ziegfeld has given way to the raw animal appeal of Woodward and Bernstein; and so now the do-it-yourselfers have decided to give the world of publishing a whirl.

Late last night the first few copies of the Summer School's experimental newspaper, rolled off the press in the basement of the Crimson building at building at 14 Plympton St. Strike one blow for the do-it-yourselfers, and strike another for the love of free discussion, which along with a few proffered dollars convinced us at The Crimson to print a newspaper that is being billed as the Summer School's alternative to this paper. But even as the clatter of the press was subsiding at the end of the inaugural run, the sight of the newly printed journal was enough to inspire just a trace of uneasiness in many of the Crimson editors present.

That faint nervousness stems not from any uncertainty about whether we should have consented to print the new paper on our press. For years, our corporate policy has been clearly stated: we will print any material that is not unlawful, pornographic, racist or grossly at odds with our stated editorial positions. That the new publication will not be morally repugnant should be clear to anyone who has watched the pleasantly inane goings-on in the Yard this summer, and to say that we at The Crimson do not consider the paper as serious competition would be to argue the obvious with a positively British flair for understatement. Still, the circumstances surrounding the new paper's origins deserve a bit of scrutiny.

The Summer School administration decided to fund the new venture after receiving complaints from some students that The Crimson was not covering as much Summer School-oriented material as it should, and that it was not providing sufficient opportunities for Summer School students to work on the paper. Many students, and a handful of administrators, complained to Crimson executives that the paper, which receives a certain amount of money for advertisements from the Summer School each year, was not fulfilling its part of the bargain by providing summer students with spots on the staff; others argued for more administration input into the selection of the stories we cover. The first of these arguments is just inanely misinformed, while the other is dangerous.

For 105 years, The Crimson has been a financially independent paper, exercising complete editorial control over its staff and story selection. For many years, however, The Harvard Crimson did not officially publish during the summer session, but instead printed The Harvard Summer News (later The Summer Crimson), which was essentially a Summer School-funded paper printed by The Crimson as a money-making venture. In 1971, Summer School officials, in an attempt to intimidate Crimson editors who had been engaged in vehement criticism of the University administration, withdrew that funding. Since that day, the summer issues of The Crimson have been totally without debt to the Summer School administration.


AT THIS POINT, any money The Crimson receives from the Summer School is in the form of fees paid for services such as advertising or subscriptions. To infer from this relationship that The Crimson is obliged to provide students with staff positions for reasons other than perceived ability--as some low-level administrators in the school have maintained in the past--is a truly puzzling exercise in deduction.

More troubling have been the calls for more administration input into story selection. Many of the stories in The Crimson, it has been rightly pointed out, do not deal directly with "the Summer School experience"; we have attempted to cover, as we would in the winter months, events of interest to the full-time Harvard and Cambridge community. For that reason, we would of course give much space to the story that a key former Harvard administrator, now holding a key job in educational policy formation and also involved in a federal audit of Harvard's finances during the time when he was in office here, might be switched to another post in the government, even though such a story does not relate to the Summer School or its students. Although such stories may be of less interest to the Summer School community than news of the latest water-fight between Thayer and Weld, they are, in our eyes, somewhat more important.

There are, of course, those who believe otherwise, those who believe a newspaper should tailor itself to its audience, that it should strive for popularity and audience satisfaction above all else. Those people would say that the Summer School audience is different from the "year-round" Crimson readership, and that the paper should adjust accordingly. Those people are, unfortunately, destined to be unsatisfied not only with The Crimson, but with almost any other reputable newspaper.

The doctrine of playing to one's audience overlooks the fact that a newspaper's primary function is to present the news. "News" is of course distinct from "truth," in that no reporter or editor can be totally objective; he or she can present only a personalized account, a "story" in the true sense of the word, about some event. Still, the good paper strives to be as objective as possible, realizing that its editorial integrity depends on its ability to stay dispassionate. The paper that abandons this course--the one that adopts a "please the reader" philosophy in relation to its news policy, instead of leaving it on the feature page where it belongs--the one that subscribes to the Rupert Murdoch school, is the one that merits contempt. The paper that realizes that it may actually serve the reader best by running an unpopular story is the one that deserves high praise.

THERE ARE TIMES, of course, when story selection does not involve such clear-cut moral issues. Then the paper must often choose between stories of approximately equal "newsworthiness," weighing in such factors as audience appeal. In our case, we take into consideration the fact that the Summer School does not comprise our entire audience, although it does make up a considerable portion of the readership. For that reason we attempt to balance our news coverage between several areas of interest. And, it would appear, it is for this reason that today marks the debut of Summer Times.

One of the biggest bones sticking in the craw of the Harvard administration is that The Crimson has always been able to decide for itself exactly how to vary that mix of stories. Once upon a time--in 1969, when the tear gas was billowing and the Cambridge police were storming across the Yard--the powers-that-were tried to get the paper to alter its pro-strike editorial policy. When that attempt failed, certain alumni and faculty helped endow The Harvard Independent, the College's weekly, as a "conservative" alternative. The Independent has long since evolved into a middle-of-the-road journal, while The Crimson itself has drifted closer to the center of the political spectrum; nonetheless, the memory of the administration's heavy-handed attempt lingers, called forth by the clattering of the press last night.

Right now, it is too early to tell if the new Summer School paper is being set up as a "politics-free" alternative to The Crimson, or simply another in a long series of Garland-Rooney frolics. Jonathan J. Ledecky '79, moderator of the newspaper, maintains that the paper "is not going to be in anywhere the same league as The Crimson"; Marshall R. Pihl '55, associate director of the Summer School, allows that the new venture is not an attempt to interfere with this paper's editorial policy. Both are honorable men, and we trust their word. But we are just not sure; some memories die hard.