Students in Service and Leadership at Harvard

Student-run Magazine: A Collective Endeavor

“Working with the writers is probably my favorite part. [The HPR] keeps me involved in something that feels somewhat service-oriented…I like being able to provide not necessarily a ‘service’ but an experience they can look back on, such as having the opportunity to speak with somebody that [writers] never thought they’d get in contact with…I’d like to think of [the HPR] as tangentially a campus service.” - Marty Berger’19

“I came into college thinking politics was cool, but not knowing much about it. But the HPR has defined my trajectory to a certain extent, of being really interested in journalism. That was not a thing I would have ever thought of before college, but I did a journalism internship last summer. While I’m a computer science major, what I do long-term I want to go into journalism and media..That was because of [the HPR].” - Sam Kessler’19

“I think the HPR surprisingly changed what I planned on focusing on in college. I didn’t really think about journalism before joining, but it’s definitely something I tried out that I wasn’t expecting to spend so much time on. I can probably see it changing what career path I end up deciding.” - Alicia Zhang’21


HPR is more than just politics because…

It’s also people.

All the sections write about such different stuff, covering diverse topics.

   You make friends.

Many important stories, especially personal narratives, are not political.

Those who have little interest in politics can meaningfully contribute.

Interviews with Masthead members and staff writers revealed a range of opinion on what the HPR has allowed or motivated people to do, its role on shaping campus thought versus its influence on members, and suggestions for change. For instance, some stated that the HPR makes them stay on top of current events, allowed them to have intellectually rigorous discussions about key issues, or provided the platform for perspectives on those central issues. What many pointed out as the hallmark of the HPR’s relationship to the individuals in it was that writing for the magazine instills a sense of confidence and agency. Publishing one’s written work in a relatively well-known undergraduate publication rewards the hard work they put into the piece. We do not mistake ourselves as The New York Times, but take pride in our widespread readership; Alicia Zhang even mentioned in her interview that she had known about the HPR because she used to quote from it during her high school debates. The prospect of having one’s work publically featured and displayed incentivizes us to produce good-quality writing. 

Marty Berger offered an interesting perspective on the topic of the HPR’s role on its members’ experiences at Harvard. He mentioned that although the HPR is different from “service” in the conventional sense, HPR serves students in that it trains students to write commentary on issues they are passionate about in an analytical, empirically sound manner. They also receive a lot of support of editors and co-writers, some even developing aspirations to go into journalism. Moreover, the HPR name, or the Harvard name, makes interviewees more willing to talk to students who reach out to them. Recognizing that our name value is not always warranted, we try to live up to that prestige by staying enthusiastic and humble about opportunities to interview incredible individuals. 

The insights on what the HPR does for those who contribute to it helped me address one of my main quandaries about the purpose of the magazine. As the editor for the Campus section, I was most curious about whether the HPR has a significant impact on campus culture and opinion, or even shape decisions regarding the university. Frankly, I already knew that the HPR does not have a significant effect on student views and actions (although this is difficult to measure) or administrative policy, given that our readership predominantly comes from outside of campus and The Crimson serves as the primary source of campus news. However, the interviews affirmed the value of the magazine for its effect on individual writers in terms of their professional and personal development. Furthermore, I realized that participating in the operation of a publication, from generating pitches and designing the magazine cover to contacting publishing companies and updating the website, is incredibly meaningful in itself. I have learned so much from peers whose work for the magazine is very different from mine, such as high-end data analytics or contacting our publisher. I came to see that a publication, at least on the undergraduate level, does not have to have tidal wave consequences on the Harvard status quo or the rest of society in order to be considered important.  

On a separate note, I noticed that for the most part my interviewees had similar views about areas of improvement for the magazine. I want to acknowledge, though, that I sometimes asked for their perspectives on things I assumed would be controversial (ex: the comp), so technically I cannot ascertain that they had already considered those areas to be problematic. Nonetheless, my interviewees commonly talked about the need to bring staff writers, not just Masthead, into the HPR community. Currently, the HPR’s weekly general and section meetings fall short of fostering a sense of belonging to the same organization, because staff writers end up not getting know each other or the Masthead very well. Many also noted the issue of lacking political diversity in the magazine, although its liberal leaning is mostly due to the political homogeneity of Harvard at large. Most respondents also called for reducing the workload and ensuring that the comp fulfills a worthy goal. 


Other’s narratives: mini-ethnographies within my auto-ethnography

Interviewee 1- Sam Kessler

“In addition to informing campus discourse about politics and controversial campus issues, I think the role that the HPR has is people know that it is a place if you are into politics and and writing about politics, that it is the go-to place, I hope.” - Sam Kessler’19

Starting with his personal development and newfound professional aspirations, Sam talked about the positive effects of being involved with the HPR including knowledge acquisition, which leads to more interesting conversations with other people, and meeting many fascinating individuals in the IOP. When asked about the influence of HPR on campus thought, he highlighted that the better metric of the magazine’s importance to campus is whether it provides a forum for expressing opinionsrather than the impact of HPR articles on the public opinion of Harvard-related issues. This question segued into his suggestions for making the HPR better, since one of his ideas was to expand room for opinions in exchange for lessening focus on analytical writing.


Interviewee 2- Drew Pendergrass


Interviewee 3 - Alicia Zhang  

Alica spoke about how the HPR became a much more important extracurricular commitment than she had expected when she joined. Like Sam, she highlighted that she was initially drawn more towards the politics and discussion aspects of the magazine, then came to take on journalistic responsibilities of writing and editing. This may seems like an obvious realization. However, many people do not fully grasp the meaning of being a student journalist coming into the HPR, eager to delve into discussion about politics or more generally, to be a part of something exciting and well-known on campus. She also expressed the hopes that the HPR would foster a greater sense of community and bridge the gulf between the Masthead and the staff writers. At the same time, she qualified her support for events to foster community with the inevitable reality that it is very difficult to motivate people to attend social events for organizations that are not primarily social. Moreover, she offered frank commentary on the common confusion among students (not involved in the HPR) about the focus of the HPR. I had thought that we had the opposite problem of branding ourselves too narrowlyand thus, the emphasis of our slogan that we are “more than just politics”but she highlighted that HPR's perceived identity by outsiders is much less distinct than the Crimson, the school newspaper, or the Harvard International Review, which people directly associate with international relations issues. Perhaps the broad concept of politics plays a part in obscuring what some people think is the HPR’s purpose.


Interviewee 4 - Marty Berger

“I do feel that our campus section is particularly valuable, because i see that more than any other section, people are bringing their own voice and their own experiences. You are putting out work that reflects real student opinion.” - Marty Berger’19


Interviewee 5-  Will Imbrie-Moore  

Will pointed to greater confidence as a key outcome of writing for the HPR, largely due to the prestige attached to the magazine and the IOP at large. In fact, he stated that students who are unfamiliar with the HPR primarily base their perception of it by association with the IOP, which is arguably one of the most respected bodies on campus. This observation echoed Sam’s understanding that the HPR is widely known to students as the organization they should turn to if they are interested in politics and in writing about it. On a different note, Will emphasized that writing, not meetings or other aspects, are the heart of the HPR; this is not to say that meetings do not serve a purpose, but that being part of HPR primarily means writing for it. And since writing is not usually a collaborative act, he noted that the HPR may be more limited in fostering community in comparison to other student groups. While his comments were unique in their emphasis on producing high-quality writing as the most important part of one’s involvement with the HPR, his critiques overlapped with what the others mentioned. For instance, he talked about how staff writers usually have no idea what the Masthead is up to, although there is not necessarily a power dynamic between the two groups. He had more positive thoughts on the comp than others, however, highlighting that as a comper, one is more focused on his/her HPR tasks and more likely to prioritize them. He stated that most compers do not end up being less involved once they finish the comp, and instead appreciate their newfound flexibility as staff writers.

Interviewee 6-  Beverly Brown (not in-person; email correspondence below)  

Having been a diligent staff writer, Bev shared that her primary involvement with the HPR is to write for it, although she also enjoys the current events discussions at weekly meetings. Her view aligned with Will’s in that the centerpiece of staff writer input to the HPR is writing, rather than contributing to the discussions. Thus, she found the HPR meaningful as a publication but not really as anything beyond that, which is a very reasonable view of an undergraduate publication. Her perception reiterated the idea that the HPR fosters growth in political knowledge and analytical writing, doing a service to its members in that sense. What complemented her viewpoint was her experience with submitting covers pitches and presenting them, which can be exciting and at the same time nerve-racking. You are talking amidst peers, but they tend to be incisive critics and politics gurus who are ready to weigh the pros and cons of each covers topic according to multiple criteria!

Here’s a link to her full email responses to my interview questions.

Interview responses in a nutshell  


Some shoutouts from the interview:

Some interview questions asked:

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