The FM Way: Fifteen Steps to Self-Improvement

One hundred years ago last month, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, Class of 1904, was picked to be president of the 30th
By David C. Newman

One hundred years ago last month, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, Class of 1904, was picked to be president of the 30th Guard of The Harvard Crimson. FDR was probably chosen for the Crimson presidency (after getting turned down by the Porcellian Club, by the way) in a smoke-filled room where a half-dozen prematurely crusty white men named Lowell, Cabot and Adams (and maybe one named Goldberg) drank sherry and flipped a silver dollar to pick the next leader of their getting-to-be-venerable organization before heading home to be “sucked foolish” (to quote the Secret Court scrutiny) by various members of the Lampoon.

While Roosevelt was probably one of The Crimson’s best presidents ever, having created the Tennessee Valley Authority and all, it’s nice to know that The Crimson has changed considerably in the past 100 years (for one thing, there’s no smoking during presidential deliberations), and continues to change at what seems like an accelerating rate. Technology guru Matt MacInnis ’02 was our first (extremely) openly gay president in 128 years. Hatchet-man extraordinaire Imtiyaz H. “Don’t tell anyone my middle name is Hussain!” Delawala ’03 is about to finish his tenure as our first-ever non-white president. And three weeks ago, I and the other outgoing 129th executives had the honor of selecting Amit Paley ’04 as the very first president to come from the staff of our beloved weekend magazine.

Through change, there is continuity. From patrician New Yorker and future U.S. president to Chinese-speaking gay redneck Canadian computer geek to Indian-Muslim-Texan football player dating a Korean to Israeli resident of Newton concentrating in East Asian studies, one thing thankfully remains constant: the Asian fetish.

But there will be changes under an FM president—or at least there should be. True, Amit was originally elected to The Crimson’s news board, but he has been with FM for the past year, and as such he will bring a distinct FM culture to the Crimson presidency. Having proofed FM for the past year may well have made me, in the words of FM Chair Ben Mathis-Lilley ’03, “a broken and bitter man,” but I do actually look forward each week to my not-so-brief respite from the dry world of news comp seminars and speech stories—to Tuesday, when I am invested with the sober responsibility of deciding whether it is okay to use the word “douche-cock” to refer to an FAS administrator, or whether calling Missy Elliott “a super-lesbian” is more sensitive and less homophobic than calling her “a big lesbian.” (It is.) So speaking as a Crimson news executive, FM proofer and guy who got an easy A-minus in Gov 1540, “The American Presidency,” I would like to offer Amit some suggestions—15, to be exact—on how to bring the FM spirit to the Crimson presidency in 2003.

1. Instead of starting fundraising letters with the boring opening “Dear Crimed,” lead off with the attention-grabbing “What’s up sluts?” We assume our alums are stodgy, out-of-touch bankers and corporate lawyers who care only about the bottom line and don’t understand what it takes to run a student group at Harvard in the 21st century. Well…maybe they are.

2. When you have an important meeting scheduled with your business manager, and he postpones the meeting a couple of hours, don’t fret about your wasted time. This is a perfect opportunity for you to drink whiskey. Seriously. This is how FM works.

3. Introduce the entire building to Brian Byrne, The Crimson’s press operator, and his assistant George. As it is, with George coming in to the building to start burning plates at about 4 a.m., and Brian firing up the presses at 6, few people besides FM (where closing out at dawn is the actually the goal) get to interact with these very nice men and skilled professionals. All Crimson editors should have the chance to marvel at the sight of a human being smoking an entire pack of Basic cigarettes at 5 a.m. while simultaneously handling corrosive chemicals.

4. Integrate drugs and alcohol back into the culture of the newsroom. We have come a long way since the teetotaling days of the 126th Guard, and it is true that the last managing editor to advocate increased alcoholism failed out of Harvard. But there is nothing wrong with keeping the conference room fridge stocked with Pabst Blue Ribbon so compers can relax in front of the TV with a cold one while waiting for an edit.

5. Always check your facts, especially when dealing with Harvard’s illustrious faculty. This is something FM is very good at. If you don’t remember whether or not you’ve had sex with Marc Hauser’s wife, make sure our editorial staff position on grade inflation only refers to fornication with the wives of various unnamed members of the psychology department.

6. Respond to all requests for photographs from professional media outlets with a complimentary “As It Were” picture from Sinthrop.

7. Change The Crimson’s voicemail greeting (“You’ve reached The Harvard Crimson, Harvard University’s daily newspaper since 1873. If you know your party’s extension number, dial it now, or if you’re a user of the system, press 8”) to something more relevant to our present-day operations. Such as: “You’ve reached The Harvard Crimson, Harvard University’s daily newspaper since 1873. If you have information about how I can enlarge my penis up to three inches without any painful surgeries, e-mail If you have a really unoriginal opinion on the Middle East peace process, e-mail And as always, e-mail to let us know about your company’s low, low mortgage rates.”

8. Keep the Buddhist monks and disabled Cambodians who recently completed our digital archiving project on The Crimson’s payroll. Bring them to Cambridge to proofread Gossip Guy for class year and middle initial accuracy and to ensure that periods are only followed by a single space throughout the magazine.

9. Officially change business hours. Sure, longtime Crimson accountant Liz Woodley may have a hard time adjusting to a 9 p.m. to 5 a.m. schedule, but if we want a more cooperative relationship between our business staff and the content side of the paper, everyone needs to be in the building at the same time.

10. Move Drinky Drink to the menu on Page 4 of the daily. Monday: Grapefruit juice and French Vanilla coffee in Quincy House. Score!

11. Change The Crimson’s volume and issue number haphazardly and for no reason. Or better yet, mess with the guard numbers. Make next year the 214th Guard, followed by the 15th Guard.

12. Have a stack of Saltines and cheddar cheese on hand to offer to the representatives of student groups who will inevitably invade your office pissed off about something or other. Everyone knows that the leaders of BSA, BGLTSA, BOND, AAA, CI, HRCF, AACF, HSI, HIS, SAS, SSA, CASV, RUS, BMF, ABHW, CSA, IOP, HRC, HPR, HIPJ, PSLM and HASA love cheddar cheese.

13. Make sure the news execs finally get around to updating the form bible. “Boo-ya” is spelled with a hyphen and no “h” at the end. “Hos” (the plural of “ho”) has no “e.” Get it right, people!

14. In addition to seminars on libel and Crimson history, add one more mandatory meeting for compers where they learn to play Boggle.

15. Remember the folks who put out the daily paper. We do almost the same exact thing every day, 150 times in a year. Almost all of us either are drawn to this vocation by some sort of serious personality defect or else become progressively crazier as we clock more and more hours at 14 Plympton. It’s easy for the president of The Crimson, whose job is to think about things much bigger and more far-reaching than the daily operations of the paper, to take for granted that the next morning there will be six news stories on the front page, sports on the back and some editorial crap somewhere inside the paper. But doing what we do is hard work, and it wears you down.

Moonlighting for FM (I’ve written a scrutiny, an ITM, two FTMs, and now three endpapers) and proofing the magazine for a year have been my way to keep my love for news burning despite the daily grind. Time and again I’ve entered the FM office for a breath of relatively fresh air, and I’ve been welcomed—despite my “news mentality” and other more substantial faults. For that I am eternally grateful to you, Angie, Rachel, Liz, Ben, Ben, Kenyon, Vicky, Frances and James.

So try to bring some of the FM spirit to the rest of the building, especially to the folks who come in nearly every day. Work to make the president’s office more like the FM office, but to more people—with a smile and some gossip and maybe some whiskey and Saltines. And dammit, Amit, keep pushing for those big stories.

I know you’ll make FM—and FDR—very proud. Good luck.

David C. Newman ’03 is a government concentrator in Quincy House. He has proofred FM for the last year.