When Crimson reporters venture outside the walls of Harvard, a reader can never tell what will result. Sometimes the coverage is insightful and timely; sometimes it is random; and sometimes it is downright hilarious.
Take the case of "Wittey" Bulger. This character made an appearance in a story on March 17 about the South Boston St. Patrick's Day Breakfast. The annual breakfast is hosted by the state senator from South Boston. Until this year, that senator was Massacusetts Senate President William M. Bulger, who left elected office last year to become the president of the University of Massachusetts (UMass). This year, current State Sen. Stephen F. Lynch hosted the event, and The Crimson sent a reporter to cover it. The carefully-reported depiction of the event was an example of solid, timely coverage of local issues. The reporter, Richard M. Burnes '99, detailed the event's history and even provided background for the many jokes which he quoted in the piece. It clearly took a thorough knowledge of Boston politics to cover that event, which included many subtle comic references to recent local events. Burnes, who is from the local area, obviously knows his stuff. As the Reader Representative, I am happy to see that this event was covered by someone with such knowledge.
When I originally read this article, I was impressed by its thoroughness. Being from Boston, I expected the Crimson's coverage to be superficial at best, and I was proved wrong. However, I got a good chuckle when I read the last sentence. According to The Crimson, "Wittey" is the brother of the former UMass President and is currently wanted by federal authorities. To set the record straight: reputed mobster James "Whitey" Bulger, the brother of the current UMass President William Bulger, is currently in hiding. And, to top it all off, anyone will tell you that the former Senate President is the "Wittey"-er of the two, famous for his St. Patrick's Day comedy routine.
Coverage of local issues in a newspaper that serves the Harvard community is inherently difficult. Many Harvard students, it appears, think that nothing goes on outside the boundaries of the Yard. Occasionally, The Crimson admits otherwise, and covers news from Cambridge, Boston and surrounding areas. The "City and Region" section, which last appeared on Wednesday, is a good example. Often the site of mildly amusing and very lengthy feature stories about the joys of Harvard Square business ownership, the section nevertheless attempts to cover such diverse issues as Boston news analysis and Cambridge city politics.
The article in Wednesday's paper entitled "School Diversity Plans Leave Boston Divided" is a prime example of The Crimson's difficulty in providing timely coverage of local events. Because Harvard students understandably have very little background into local goings-on, it becomes necessary for The Crimson to engage in very thorough explanations of Boston and Cambridge news events. However, this particular article was all background and no news. The article described the case in which a white student, Julia McLaughlin, challenged the existing quota system at the exams school and won her case, prompting a change in the admissions process. The Boston Latin admissions case was settled a year ago, and there have been no new developments for at least a few months. To an unsuspecting Harvard reader, the coverage of this event that happened a year ago as a news story was extremely misleading. The author writes, "The McLaughlin case has spawned renewed debate over affirmative action." To my knowledge, the McLaughlin case has not been a topic of conversation or large-scale media coverage for more than a year.
The Crimson clearly has a difficult mandate in covering local news. I think it has a responsibility to cover regional issues, as Harvard students should pay attention to what's going on in a place they will have lived for four years. It must cover these issues in a way which is both timely and understandable to the general Harvard audience. To do this, Crimson reporters who cover local issues must make an effort to understand the background which so many Harvard students lack. Clearly, the reporter who covered the St. Patrick's Day breakfast has his background; however, as the appearance of "Wittey" shows, there is still work to be done for all at The Crimson. Who knows--maybe it will be a Crimson reporter who finally tracks him down (Whitey, that is).
The Reader Representative, who is not a Crimson editor, may be reached by e-mail (email@example.com) or by leaving a telephone message at The Crimson (495-9666).