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EDITOR'S NOTE: The Crimson Editorial Board aims to provide a platform for a wide range of perspectives, publishing pieces that critically engage with various aspects of campus life. As such, we have chosen to publish the piece below, which critiques The Crimson’s own reporting and leadership practices. Just as we believe in the ability of opinion writing to improve our university, we value opinion writing that is critical of our newspaper and welcome dialogue about our ongoing efforts to improve as an organization.
— Hana M. Kiros ’22, Editorial Chair
— Chloe A. Shawah ’22, Editorial Chair
— Amanda Y. Su ’22, President
On September 13, 2019, The Harvard Crimson’s News Board published ten articles. Most were standard: one covered the Harvard Votes Challenge, another the renovation of a Harvard Divinity School building — but one, in particular, was most memorable. It was a piece covering an anti-Immigration and Customs Enforcement protest hosted by Act on a Dream, a student organization that advocates for fairer and reformed United States immigration policies. The article began like any other — reporting Crimson-style on the who, what, when, where, and why. However, there existed one line in this seemingly ordinary article that would come to spark controversy at 14 Plympton Street (The Crimson’s home) edged inconspicuously in the middle of the article. It read: “ICE did not immediately respond to a request for comment Thursday night.”
This 12-word, stand-alone sentence exposed a well-hidden flaw within The Crimson: As a newspaper, we value objectivity more than community.
A month after the controversial article, The Crimson’s leadership at the time released a joint statement maintaining that the newspaper abided by standard journalistic practices. When a party is publicly criticized, The Crimson is obligated to contact them for their side of the story — that’s the “best way to ensure the integrity, fairness, and accuracy of our reporting.” However, this frigid statement gave little consideration towards the protection of our undocumented peers, as well as those close to them, who were experiencing a justified fear of ICE’s dangerous and oppresive power.
The Crimson has sworn by this defense — our unwavering allegiance to “standard journalistic practices” — in order to absolve ourselves of blame for far too long. We can no longer burrow our heads beneath this excuse when our standard practices have hurt the people whom we call our peers, with whom we share a community.
And although we are almost two years removed from this incident, and The Crimson is no longer being boycotted by Act on a Dream, we cannot treat this as an isolated event — mostly, because it isn’t.
In April of 2018, an intoxicated, unarmed Black undergraduate student was arrested after being beaten by Cambridge Police right outside of campus. As usual, The Crimson was quick to report on this incident, but haphazardly included Twitter links that exposed the student’s identity. While The Crimson later removed these links “out of concern for the privacy of the student involved”, the damage had been done, and we again jeopardized the safety of our peers in the name of standard journalism.
I have loved my time at The Crimson, and I do hold the opinion that we are improving at sensitive reporting — but at a snail’s pace. There are people who still will not interact with The Crimson due to our past reporting. We, as a newspaper, have much work to be done in mending the wounds we have inflicted upon vulnerable groups at Harvard.
To the members of Act on a Dream, and all other Harvard affiliates hurt by The Crimson’s insensitive reporting — you deserve an apology. Full stop. And I know that I cannot speak on behalf of this entire organization, but I am truly sorry that The Crimson has so severely eroded the trust that is foundational to a healthy relationship between students and their school newspaper — because that’s what we are. A school newspaper.
No matter how many donors back us or irrelevant advertisements sandwich themselves between our words — at the end of the day, we are a school newspaper composed of undergraduates. Irrespective of our potential futures in journalism (which I worry about), we are students today. And the community we report on, the people we interview and photograph, they are our peers — we owe them ethical reporting of their stories with grace and decency.
To hide behind the excuse of following standard journalistic practices is cowardly. Many “practices” across disciplines that were seen as standard not so long ago are abhorred today. This is not to suggest that Crimson News should end its impartial reporting — of course not, because that’s why we have an Editorial Board and a clear wall that separates them. But The Crimson does not have to be the apprentice of major news publications — we can be different and we can be better. We have the power to be more ethical, more sensible, more understanding. We can protect our own community because I like to think that we care about each other and that our classmates are not just footholds we may step on towards our future careers.
We don’t have to swear by the Washington Post or the New York Times — and we don’t have to ever, ever contact ICE.
And to the Crimson editors reading this who advocate tirelessly for change within your boards and beyond, thank you. I know it’s hard to push and be halted at every turn. I know change comes too slow and frustrations pile up too fast. But I see you, and I appreciate you.
However, the question becomes, how can we bring about change at 14 Plympton Street? For starters, I know some editors believe that elections for executive status should be democratic. At present, the process of becoming an executive — or the “Turkey Shoot” as we call it — is a reductive turnover of power. It generally ends up being the current executives who vote to decide who the incoming ones will be. This conservative practice is the reason why it is so difficult to enact policy change within The Crimson. All editors, regardless of executive status, should have a vote in choosing who represents them. This is the only way our voices can make a real impact.
So, my fellow Crimson editors, what now? How do we move forward and become better? The answer is not yet clear, but I am definitely sure of one thing: to hell with “keep the old sheet flying.”
Jasmine M. Green ’24, a Crimson Editorial editor, lives in Lowell House.
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