How the Harvard Crimson Blossomed Into a Real Newspaper

Editors of The Harvard Crimson, take a bow. You are now, finally, a place for truth—and not bullshit.

For years, the Crimson has been kowtowing to university administrators, allowing the president, provost, and other top officials to view, approve, and even rewrite or eliminate quotes attributed to them prior to publication. But no more. The paper’s president, E. Benjamin Samuels, and managing editor, Julie M. Zauzmer, have said they’ve had enough, firmly pressing a boot on the throat of unethical and crooked journalistic practices and deciding to print what is actually said, not what administration officials wished they had said.

According to a recently published letter to Crimson readers:

The Crimson has had a years-long agreement with [Harvard Public Affairs and Communications] 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.

Zauzmer tells me that she reached out to the university brass after publishing the letter on Tuesday but has not received any official response to the student paper’s new policy. Harvard has not yet responded to my request for comment, either.

The policy of allowing quote review was never formalized, says Zauzmer, who is a senior, but has been around since she joined the paper two years ago. She and her colleagues are trying to figure out when the deal began, saying “it was most likely five to 10 years ago and probably closer to 10.”

The Crimson announcement comes a little more than a month after the New York Times published a front-page story revealing that many papers, including the Times, have allowed the Obama and Romney presidential camps to review, approve and sometimes redact quotes. In an opinion piece for CNN, Dan Rather called the practice “a jaw-dropping turn in journalism.” Since then, the Times, which owns the Globe, said it is reviewing its policy.

As for the new course set by the editors of the Crimson, Zauzmer says she has no regrets and hopes it will not prevent the paper from scoring interviews with administrators. “I’m definitely proud we made [the decision],” she says. “It was definitely the right choice for us.” She also told me that she hopes to see some of the bigger papers take the same hard stand against quote review.