Before The Scarlet was The Scarlet
By Ashley Klann
We’ve been stickin’ it to the man since 1927, but over the decades, The Scarlet has changed in many ways since it was first published. But then again, some things never change. “From the Archives” will be a semester-long look at when things were different and how The Scarlet became what it is today. Clarkies of the past have Spreed like the best of us, enjoyed nice weather on the Green, and sweated to death in the JC, and although we are all intrinsically linked by our alma mater, Clark and its students have changed over the years. And The Scarlet has served both as a record and a changing entity of its own.
As we saw, the student newspaper has always been concerned with feedback and making sure it stays true to its audience. The Scarlet has always encouraged students to participate and believed in upholding the founding reasoning behind journalism: to inform, to be a watchdog, to give people a voice, and to encourage engagement with the community.
Even in the first issue: “Remember, this is your paper!”
In an article titled “Retrospection” (yes, we were already looking back) in the last issue of the old style of printing in 1931, The Clark News called a student newspaper something “of vital importance to an ambitious and aggressive institution…”
“…there is no conceivable reason why the News should not play the role that weekly papers play in other small colleges: that of advertiser, informer, and commenter.”
In a later issue, an editor discusses the freedom found on college campuses for newspaper; they don’t need advertising revenue, are free of big business, and cater to a small, local demographic.
These statements of purpose and justifications continue to pop up frequently throughout The Scarlet’s history, and we still have a practice of this, often found in our “Editor’s Corner” and “The Scarlet Letter” sections, written by the editors.
This was one of the most fascinating finds in my archival work – the newspaper addressing its audience and stating its purpose. It’s a very open thing for a publication to do.
At times of change in The Scarlet, particularly name changes, and the beginning and end of the year, editors frequently revisit these topics, asking themselves and the reader if the newspaper is still filling its proper role.
In the first issue with their new name, the anonymous section akin to today’s Editor’s Corner titled “Transmutation” addressed their new form and the last Clark News.
“For the last time the News has been rushed up from the printers, been crammed into mailboxes.
“The News has come a long way since Volume 1, Number 1 rolled off thirteen years ago. And it is not without an editorial tear that we observe Volume XIV, Number 6 roll off the presses.”
The editor recounts memories and nostalgic sorrows, stating that “Next week… it will not signify a termination and re-commencement. Rather, it will mark a continuance; a fertilization of latent ideas that have lain in more than on editorial mind. For several years News editors have thought of name changing…
“So, sometime next week, a printer’s truck will roll up to the Main Building and deposit a new and larger paper at the door… And next week a new brainchild will squall from its mailbox cradle.”
Next week’s address from the editor touches on the benefits of having a college paper void of financial ties to big business; if only they knew.
In the “Communications” section, readers wrote congratulatory notes and best wishes for the new paper, that Nathan Shapiro ’39 stated “is in keeping with the change in spirit clearly evident in the paper.”
But of course this change was not all easy. An interview with The Scarlet’s managing editor from 1941 gives us a better idea of what was going on when The Clark News had an identity crisis.
“President Atwood was a stark conservative,” said Al Southwick, 91. “He didn’t like the red idea.” Southwick was the Managing Editor of the newspaper in 1941 when the name change took place.
“[Ben] Bagdikian was the editor at the time. He said, ‘Call up The Crimson!’” Al recounted. Atwood was worried about the communist implications of the name, but Southwick and Bagdikian figured their neighboring student paper was a good argument in their favor.
“It was all done. He woke up and there was The Scarlet,” Southwick said matter-of-factly.
“He was really sensitive. He called me before him and said that it implied communism.
[We did it because] we perceived college newspapers were changing. Dozens of other colleges had a paper called the News,” Bagdikian said. “I thought, ‘Ours should be different. Change it to the Clark colors. That would make it unique among the others.’”
Bagdikian and Southwick’s new direction is evident in the older issues. Under their leadership, it was more serious and developed new ideas.
“It was unique in other ways as well,” he said. “It was unique in the sense that one of the editors was a poet and he was writing poetry of his own and reviews of visiting artists. We covered important lecturers including outstanding faculty members.”
While Southwick and Bagdikian had to fight to make The Scarlet what they thought it should be during their time, the students supported it, and the personality of the newspaper shone through. And while The Scarlet would become an entirely different publication in the coming decades, the changes they saw affected the paper forever, marking it as something belonging to the students.
As I finish this, a student behind me is dilligently flipping through The Communist Manifesto. Ah, the issues Atwood would have today.