The Indy converses with a past and present leader.
This paper, The Harvard Independent, has a storied mission. Since the founding in 1969, the Indy has attracted students of all variety to join in our ranks. The common thread that weaves them all together is that of passion – passion for the art of critical thinking in an independent nature. At Harvard and beyond, that passion becomes a driving force to excel.
Therefore it is not surprising to learn that Indy alumni become role models to whom we look for guidance and inspiration. Dr. David Finegold is one such man. Graduate of the 1985 class, Finegold served as President of the Independent in the ’83-’84 term. Call it fate or destiny but Finegold’s presidential capabilities are once again being called upon; this time, by Chatham University of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.
An academic with a collection of appointments at institutions such as University of Southern California and Rutgers, Finegold has continued writing since his Indy days and boasts a number of published books. From this perspective, Finegold holds interesting views on the nature of college journalism and the path the Indy has taken. According to Finegold, “There was a very obviously distinct point in time when the Indy was founded during the Vietnam War.” The tumultuous campus climate and the perception that “the Crimson seemed to be representing only one perspective on the issues” created a desperate need for an independent college press.
Harvard’s Independent student weekly thus became a publication that “could really focus on in-depth journalism…predominantly on the issues on the campus and directly relevant to the campus,” Finegold recalls. Their role then, as it is now, was as a weekly newspaper specifically for the Harvard community. Of course, the publication of such a paper is a communal effort. Finegold remembers peers of his who led the paper in the ‘80s and who excelled in journalism after Harvard as well. Bill O’Neill ’82, Charles Fishman ’83, and Arthur Kroeber ’84 – with Dr. Finegold at their side – took the paper to a great level.
Being a Harvard student is not always a walk in the park, and being one of Rhodes Scholar caliber takes discipline. Finegold states that he put his coursework first while at Harvard, but the community of friends and colleagues that was and is the Indy became just as important. Finegold points to role models on the paper who taught him great “writing, editing, and what doing really quality research was” in order to break a story. Since the Indy in the ‘80s did not have the endowment it does now, another discipline was needed to run the paper: that of a successful small business. “How many ads we could sell determined how many pages we could run,” Finegold states. Together, the business and the editorial disciplines that were required of Indy staff members are still invaluable. Finegold knows, “those are the aspects of building a really effective team.” And they are qualities that have assisted him throughout his career, “right up to becoming a university president.”
Chatham University is a unique institution that focuses on innovations in real world problems. Previously an all women’s college, the university now boasts 2,100 graduate and undergraduate students studying in over 60 programs in health sciences, sustainability, business, and the humanities. As President, Finegold believes there is a great “chance to position it as an innovative leader in tackling some of the worlds most pressing problems, not from doing cutting edge research, but in terms of actually creating a living learning environment.” One “where people can come together and deal with things like sustainable food and energy and clean water.”
As University President, it seems Dr. Finegold’s three passions of writing, teaching, and leading have come together. Finegold claims, “All of the aspects of the career have been very rewarding. I’ve always been drawn on research side and writing more towards things, a lot like the Indy, that I felt could have a direct impact on peoples’ lives.” Dr. Finegold also loves to teach both “traditional students and a lot of executive education.” The appeal of the leadership role is the ability to get new programs off the ground to interest people. As many of our own professors at Harvard have said, “Academia gives you a chance to do all of these things,” and to combine one’s talents. Dr. Finegold looks forward to a long and fulfilling time as University President, but intends to continue to write and teach even afterwards.
Gifting us with wise words, Finegold encourages readers and Indy staff members alike to search for careers that we are passionate about, regardless of whether they pay the best. He implores, “Don’t defer the things you’re really excited about assuming you’ll get back to them after making your money.”
Journalism is one of the more volatile careers today. Since the Indy’s founding, it has not been alone in experiencing dramatic changes. The world of journalists is a different one today than the one our parents knew. Finegold states that one of the biggest questions facing us today is “what is the role of independent journalism in the 21st century?” He remembers working for Time Magazine over several summers during college and leaning towards that path before accepting the Rhodes. But, “very few of the people on the paper now are doing it with an eye towards that as a career path.” It is true, the Indy staff today is comprised of brilliant and competent people pursuing a number of varied dreams, but journalism after college is not very common among them.
Perhaps this is because, as Finegold puts it, “anyone who has a thought has plenty of outlets to get it out there. So you don’t need a newspaper in the same way. And yet, I still think there is an important role for a weekly to play in the process.” The current dynamic in technology and business models is an influential factor. However, we find ourselves in a particular political atmosphere in which, “you could argue that we have more need for a strong independent press than ever.”
Therefore, college students and aspiring journalists are encouraged to think critically about the role of a college weekly in today’s environment. Both current Indy staff members and Dr. Finegold recognize that, “One of the best crosscutting skills you can have is to really write well and think critically about things.”
We of The Harvard Independent are continuing to explore this niche that we fill and wish to discover a purer standard of quality college journalism. While giving voice to a diverse range of concerns pressing Harvard students today, we look to our role models for enlightenment in our self-discovery.
Caroline Cronin ’18 (ccronin01[email protected]) longs for chances to proclaim ‘Eureka!’
Correction: An earlier edition of this article incorrectly printed that Dr. Finegold graduated in 1984. He is actually a graduate of the class of 1985.