Any student who volunteers and completes a series of requirements known as the "comp" is elected an editor of the newspaper. Thus, all staff members of The Crimson—including writers, business staff, photographers, and graphic designers—are technically "editors". (If an editor makes news, he or she is referred to in the paper's news article as a "Crimson editor", which, though important for transparency, also leads to characterizations such as "former President John F. Kennedy '40, who was also a Crimson editor, ended the Cuban Missile Crisis.") Editorial and financial decisions rest in a board of executives, collectively called a "guard", who are chosen for one-year terms each November by the outgoing guard. This process is referred to as the "turkey shoot" or the "shoot". The unsigned opinions of "The Crimson Staff" are decided at tri-weekly meetings that are open to any Crimson editor (except those editors who plan to write or edit a news story on the same topic in the future).
The Crimson is almost the only college newspaper in the U.S. that owns its own printing presses. At the beginning of 2004 The Crimson began publishing with a full-color front and back page, in conjunction with the launch of a major redesign. The Crimson also prints over fifteen other publications on its presses.
The Crimson has a rivalry with the Harvard Lampoon, which it refers to in print as a "semi-secret Sorrento Square social organization that used to occasionally publish a so-called humor magazine". "Young Rich pens book deal", is one example of this running joke: "Penning books in the humor category seems fitting because Rich, as the statement takes care to mention, is the president of the Harvard Lampoon, a semi-secret Sorrento Square social organization that used to occasionally publish a so-called humor magazine." The two organizations occupy buildings within less than one block of each other; interaction between their staff has included pranks, vandalism, and even romance.
Crimson alumni include Presidents John F. Kennedy of the Class of 1940 (who served as a business editor) and Franklin D. Roosevelt (who served as president of the newspaper), Class of 1904. Writer Cleveland Amory was president of The Crimson; when Katharine Hepburn's mother asked him what he planned to do after college, he says he replied teasingly that "once you had been president of The Harvard Crimson in your senior year at Harvard there was very little, in after life, for you."
Currently, The Crimson publishes two weekly pullout sections in addition to its regular daily paper: an Arts section on Tuesdays and a magazine called Fifteen Minutes on Thursdays.
The Crimson is a nonprofit organization that is independent of the university. All decisions on the content and day-to-day operations of the newspaper are made by undergraduates. The student leaders of the newspaper employ several non-student staff, many of whom have stayed on for many years and have come to be thought of as family members by the students who run the paper.
The Crimson is composed of 10 boards: Arts, Business, News, Sports, Editorial, Blog, Design, Fifteen Minutes, Multimedia, and Technology.
The Harvard Crimson was one of many college newspapers founded shortly after the Civil War and describes itself as "the nation's oldest continuously published daily college newspaper", although this description is contested by other college newspapers. The Yale Daily News, published daily since its 1878 founding except for breaks during World War I and II, calls itself the "Oldest College Daily". The Columbia Daily Spectator, founded in 1877, claims to be the second-oldest college daily. The Brown Daily Herald, established in 1866 and daily since 1891, claims to be the second-oldest college newspaper and fifth-oldest college daily. The Cornell Daily Sun, launched in 1880, claims to be the "oldest independent college newspaper". The Dartmouth of Dartmouth College, which opened in 1843 as a monthly, calls itself the oldest college newspaper, though not the oldest daily, and makes a claim to institutional continuity with a local eighteenth-century paper called the Dartmouth Gazette.
The Crimson traces its origin to the first issue of The Magenta, published January 24, 1873, despite strong discouragement from the Dean. The faculty of the College had suspended the existence of several previous student newspapers, including the Collegian, whose motto Dulce et Periculum ("sweet and dangerous") represented the precarious place of the student press at Harvard University in the late nineteenth century. The Magenta's editors declined Dean Burney's advice and moved forward with a biweekly paper, "a thin layer of editorial content surrounded by an even thinner wrapper of advertising".
The paper changed its name to The Crimson in 1875 when Harvard changed its official color by a vote of the student body—the announcement came with a full-page editorial announcing "magenta is not now, and ... never has been, the right color of Harvard." This particular issue, May 21, 1875, also included several reports on athletic events, a concert review, and a call for local shopkeepers to stock the exact shade of crimson ribbon, to avoid "startling variations in the colors worn by Harvard men at the races".
The Crimson included more substance in the 1880s, as the paper's editors were more eager to engage in a quality of journalism like that of muckraking big-city newspapers; it was at this time that the paper moved first from a biweekly to a weekly, and then to a daily in 1883.
In 1885, The Crimson switched from a fortnightly publication to a daily newspaper.
The paper flourished at the beginning of the twentieth century with the acquisition of its own and current building on Plympton Street in 1915, the purchase of Harvard Illustrated Magazine and the establishment of the editorial board in 1911. The Illustrated's editors became Crimson photographers, and thereby established the photographic board. The addition of this and the editorial board brought the paper to become, in essence, the modern Crimson. The newspaper's president no longer authored editorials single-handedly, and the paper took stronger editorial positions.
The 1930s and 1940s were dark years for The Crimson; reduced financial resources and competition from a publication established by ex-editors meant serious challenges to the paper's viability. In 1943, the banner on the paper read Harvard Service News and the stories focused almost exclusively on Harvard's contribution to the war effort. Under the authority of so-called wartime administrative necessity, alumni discouraged the Service News from editorializing. The paper was administered during the war by a board of University administrators, alumni, and students.
In 1934, The Crimson defended a proposal by Adolf Hitler's press secretary, Ernst F. Sedgwick Hanfstaengl, to donate to Harvard a prize scholarship to enable a Harvard student to attend a Nazi university. The Harvard Corporation voted unanimously to refuse the offer: "We are unwilling to accept a gift from one who has been so closely identified with the leadership of a political party which has inflicted damage on the universities of Germany through measures which have struck at principles we believe to be fundamental to universities throughout the world." The Crimson defended it, "That political theories should prevent a Harvard student from enjoying an opportunity for research in one of the world's greatest cultural centers is most unfortunate and scarcely in line with the liberal traditions of which Harvard is pardonably proud."
The paper went back to its civilian version in 1946, and as the Army and Navy moved out of Harvard, The Crimson grew larger, more financially secure, more diversified, and more aware of the world outside the campus during the early Cold War era than its pre-WWII predecessor had been.
The paper, although financially independent and independent of editorial control by the Harvard University administration, was under the University's administrative control insofar as it was composed of university students who were subject to the university's rules. Radcliffe women on staff were forced to follow curfews to which Harvard men were not subject, and that interfered greatly with the late hours required in producing a newspaper. Throughout the 1950s, The Crimson and various university officials exchanged letters debating these restrictions. Crimson editors pushed for later curfews for their female writers, who grew increasingly important in day-to-day operations. Under president Phillip Cronin '53, women became staff members rather than Radcliffe correspondents.
Crimson writers were involved in national issues, especially when anti-communist investigative committees came to Harvard. Future Pulitzer Prize–winning writer Anthony Lukas' stories (most notably, an interview with HUAC witness Wendell H. Furry) were sometimes picked up by the Associated Press. Not even a staff writer yet, Lukas had arrived at the university with Joseph McCarthy's home number in his pocket. His father was an opponent of McCarthy's and a member of the American Jewish Committee, the group that produced Commentary magazine.
The Harvard Crimson, Inc. was incorporated as a nonprofit Massachusetts corporation in 1966; the incorporation was involuntarily revoked, then revived, in 1986.
In 1991, student reporters for The Crimson were the first to break the news that Harvard had selected former Princeton Provost Neil Leon Rudenstine to succeed Derek Bok as President of the university. The reporters, who had learned of a secret meeting in New York, got their confirmation when they approached a surprised Rudenstine on his plane ride back to Boston. The story appeared in an extra bearing the dateline "Somewhere Over New England". Crimson editors repeated the scoop in 2001, beating out national media outlets to report that Lawrence Summers would succeed Rudenstine, and again in 2007, being the first to report Drew Gilpin Faust's ascension to the presidency.
Throughout the 1990s, there was a great deal of focus on making the staff of the paper more inclusive and diverse. Over time, a financial aid program was instituted to try to address the problem of a lack of socio-economic diversity. Today, some 90 editors participate in the financial aid program every semester.
On January 12, 2004, The Crimson printed its first color edition after obtaining and installing 4 new Goss Community color presses. The date also marked the unveiling of a major redesign of the paper itself.
In 2004, The Crimson filed a lawsuit against Harvard University to force the Harvard University Police Department to release more complete records to the public. The case was heard before the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court in November 2005. In January 2006, the court decided the case in favor of the University.
In November 2005, The Crimson had its records subpoenaed by ConnectU, a firm suing Facebook, its better-known competitor. The Crimson challenged the subpoena, and said that it would not comply with ConnectU's demands for documents.
On April 23, 2006, The Crimson was the first to allege that portions of Harvard student Kaavya Viswanathan's highly publicized debut young adult novel How Opal Mehta Got Kissed, Got Wild, and Got a Life had been plagiarized from two bestselling books by novelist Megan McCafferty. Further allegations were later made that Viswanathan's novel had drawn inappropriately from other novels as well.George Abrams, lawyer and businessman
Daniel Altman, author and journalist
Cleveland Amory, writer
Eli Attie, speechwriter and screenwriter
Steve Ballmer, former CEO of Microsoft
Stephen Barnett (1935–2009), legal scholar at University of California, Berkeley School of Law who opposed the Newspaper Preservation Act of 1970
Michael Barone, television commentator, senior writer for U.S. News & World Report, author
David Barron, circuit judge on the United States Court of Appeals for the First Circuit
Daniel J. Boorstin, American author and writer and Librarian of Congress
David Bruck, capital defense attorney
Sewell Chan, journalist for The New York Times
Susan Chira, author, foreign editor of The New York Times
Nicholas Ciarelli, founder and editor of Think Secret
Blair Clark, manager of Eugene McCarthy's 1968 presidential campaign
Adam Clymer, author, journalist for The New York Times
Jonathan Cohn, author, journalist for The New Republic
Richard Connell, author
Jim Cramer, host of CNBC's Mad Money
Michael Crichton, author
Robert Decherd, CEO of A. H. Belo Corporation
E.J. Dionne, Jr., columnist for The Washington Post
Esther Dyson, digital technology analyst, author
Daniel Ellsberg, author, released the Pentagon Papers
Garrett Epps, author and law school professor
James Fallows, journalist
Susan Faludi, author
David Frankel, filmmaker
V.V. Ganeshananthan, author and journalist
Mark Gearan, former Peace Corps director
James Glassman, journalist, diplomat, and director of the George W. Bush Institute
George Goodman, a.k.a. "Adam Smith," hosted the Emmy award-winning program Adam Smith's Money World on PBS
Donald E. Graham, CEO and chairman of The Washington Post Co.
C. Boyden Gray, Committee for Justice chairman and White House Counsel to President George H. W. Bush
Linda Greenhouse, journalist for The New York Times
David Halberstam, author
Hendrik Hertzberg, journalist for The New Yorker
David Ignatius, columnist for The Washington Post
Boisfeuillet Jones, Jr., publisher and CEO of The Washington Post
Peter Kaplan, former editor-in-chief of The New York Observer, current creative director of Condé Nast Traveler
Caroline Kennedy, U.S. ambassador to Japan and daughter of U.S. President John F. Kennedy
John F. Kennedy, 35th President of the United States
Mickey Kaus, journalist and political blogger
Michael Kinsley, journalist, founding editor of Slate magazine
Peter Kramer, psychiatrist, author
Nicholas D. Kristof, columnist for The New York Times
Thomas Samuel Kuhn, philosopher and historian of science
Charles Lane, former editor of The New Republic
Jennifer 8. Lee, journalist for The New York Times
Nicholas Lemann, dean of the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism
Anthony Lewis, author and former columnist for The New York Times
Arthur Lubow, journalist
J. Anthony Lukas, author and Pulitzer Prize–winning journalist
Michael Maccoby, New York Times best-selling author and psychoanalyst
Charles S. Maier, professor of history at Harvard
James S. Marcus, investment banker and philanthropist
Bill McKibben, environmentalist, authorh
Grover Norquist, president of Americans for Tax Reform
Mark Penn, chief political strategist for Hillary Clinton's 2008 presidential campaign
Frank Rich, columnist for The New York Times
Steven V. Roberts, former reporter for The New York Times, television journalist
Franklin D. Roosevelt, 32nd President of the United States
Scott Rosenberg, co-founder of Salon.com
Jack Rosenthal, journalist for The New York Times and president of The New York Times Company Foundation
David Sanger, journalist for The New York Times
Nell Scovell, creator of Sabrina, the Teenage Witch (TV series)
Robert Ellis Smith, noted journalist and creator of the Privacy Journal
Whit Stillman, filmmaker
Ira Stoll, New York Sun executive
Paul Sweezy, Marxist economist and funder of the Monthly Review
Katrina Szish, television personality
Evan Thomas, associate managing editor of Newsweek p
Jeffrey Toobin, senior legal analyst for CNN
Craig Unger, author and journalist
Andrew Weil, alternative medicine advocate
George Weller, novelist, playwright, Pulitzer Prize–winning journalist for The New York Times and The Chicago Daily News
Caspar Weinberger, United States Secretary of Defense under President Ronald Reagan
Mark Whitaker, Senior Vice President of NBC News, former editor of Newsweek
Elizabeth Wurtzel, author
Jeff Zucker, former president and CEO of NBC Universal Now head of CNN.
Derek K. Choi '18: 144th Guard (Spring and Fall 2017)
Mariel A. Klein '17: 143rd Guard (Spring and Fall 2016)
Steven S. Lee '16: 142nd Guard (Spring and Fall 2015)
Samuel Y. Weinstock '15: 141st Guard (Spring and Fall 2014)
Robert S. Samuels '14: 140th Guard (Spring and Fall 2013)
E. Benjamin Samuels '13: 139th Guard (Spring and Fall 2012)
Naveen N. Srivatsa '12: 138th Guard (Spring and Fall 2011)
Peter F. Zhu '11: 137th Guard (Spring and Fall 2010)
Maxwell L. Child '10: 136th Guard (Spring and Fall 2009)
Malcom A. Glenn '09: 135th Guard (Spring and Fall 2008)
Kristina M. Moore '08: 134th Guard (Spring and Fall 2007)
William C. Marra '07: 133rd Guard (Spring and Fall 2006)
Lauren A. E. Schuker '06: 132nd Guard (Spring and Fall 2005)
Erica K. Jalli '05: 131st Guard (Spring and Fall 2004)
Amit R. Paley '04: 130th Guard (Spring and Fall 2003)
Imtiyaz H. Delawala '03: 129th Guard (Spring and Fall 2002)
C. Matthew MacInnis '02: 128th Guard (Spring and Fall 2001)
Alan E. Wirzbicki '01: 127th Guard (Spring and Fall 2000)
Joshua H. Simon '00: 126th Guard (Spring and Fall 1999)
Matthew W. Granade '99: 125th Guard (Spring and Fall 1998)
Joshua J. Schanker '98: 124th Guard (Spring and Fall 1997)
Todd F. Braunstein '97: 123rd Guard (Spring and Fall 1996)
Andrew L. Wright '96: 122nd Guard (Spring and Fall 1995)
Marion B. Gammill '95: 121st Guard (Spring and Fall 1994)
Ira E. Stoll '94: 120th Guard (Spring and Fall 1993)
Julian E. Barnes '93: 119th Guard (Spring and Fall 1992)
Rebecca L. Walkowitz '92: 118th Guard (Spring and Fall 1991)
Jonathan S. Cohn '91: 117th Guard (Spring and Fall 1990)
Andrew M. Duehren '18: 144th Guard (Spring and Fall 2017)
Meg P. Bernhard '17: 143rd Guard (Spring and Fall 2016)
Madeline R. Conway '16: 142nd Guard (Spring and Fall 2015)
Nicholas P. Fandos '15: 141st Guard (Spring and Fall 2014)
Rebecca D. Robbins '14: 140th Guard (Spring and Fall 2013)
Julie M. Zauzmer '13: 139th Guard (Spring and Fall 2012)
Elias J. Groll '12: 138th Guard (Spring and Fall 2011)
Esther I. Yi '11: 137th Guard (Spring and Fall 2010)
Clifford M. Marks '10: 136th Guard (Spring and Fall 2009)
Paras D. Bhayani '09: 135th Guard (Spring and Fall 2008)
Javier C. Hernandez '08: 134th Guard (Spring and Fall 2007)
Daniel J. Hemel '07: 133rd Guard (Spring and Fall 2006)
Zachary M. Seward '07-'09: 133rd Guard (January 2006)
Stephen M. Marks '06: 132nd Guard (Spring and Fall 2005)
Elisabeth S. Theodore '05: 131st Guard (Spring and Fall 2004)
David H. Gellis '04: 130th Guard (Spring and Fall 2003)
Daniela J. Lamas '03: 129th Guard (Spring and Fall 2002)
Vasugi V. Ganeshananthan '02: 128th Guard (Fall 2001)
Parker R. Conrad '02: 128th Guard (Spring 2001)
Rosalind S. Helderman '01: 127th Guard (Spring and Fall 2000)
Georgia N. Alexakis '00: 126th Guard (Spring and Fall 1999)
Andrew S. Chang '99: 125th Guard (Spring and Fall 1998)
Valerie J. MacMillan '98 and Andrew A. Green '98: 124th Guard (Spring and Fall 1997)
55 Successful Harvard Law School Application Essays, Second Edition: What Worked for Them Can Help You Get Into the Law School of Your Choice, by The Staff of the Harvard Crimson, St. Martin's Griffin, 2014.
50 Successful Harvard Application Essays, Third Edition: What Worked for Them Can Help You Get into the College of Your Choice, by The Staff of the Harvard Crimson, St. Martin's Griffin, 2010.
How They Got into Harvard: 50 Successful Applicants Share 8 Key Strategies for Getting into the College of Your Choice, by The Staff of the Harvard Crimson, St. Martin's Press, 2005.