Introducing Gazette 2.0

The Harvard Gazette, under several names, has been published for 132 years — or, for perspective on just how long, since James A. Garfield was president.

Once strictly a print product, the Gazette now is an online engine, and an increasingly modern one.

The Gazette website was redesigned this summer to be crisply readable on a range of digital platforms, from desktops and laptops to the latest mobile devices and smartphones.  The Gazette updated its weekday morning news email highlighting top stories and scheduled events in the Harvard community. That free daily email now reaches 100,000 subscribers, and the site garners more than 6 million page views per year.

Along with the technological refresh is a deepening commitment to innovation in storytelling, layering the audience’s experience with high-quality writing, multimedia, and photo journalism, along with timely and relevant reporting on everything from Syria to science and a new focus on global storytelling, reaching beyond campus to visit and report on Harvard in the world.

The story of the Gazette is, in sum, the modern story of the American media at large: a journey from stately ink on paper to the feverish and fast Internet. Foldable printed sheets, a medium of news since the 17th century, have morphed into the multifaceted platforms of today’s news outlets.

Looking backward

It’s been a long journey. The Gazette’s progenitor debuted as the Harvard University Weekly Calendar on March 19, 1881. It was two pages long, and the annual subscription rate was $1. (Until then, Harvard announcements came chiefly in what were called “tabular views,” grid-like printed lists of exam schedules, chapel services, and the like.)

Looking back, the calendar supplies a vivid snapshot of Gilded Age Harvard. The first listing advertised a Sunday sermon in Appleton Chapel, fitting for a College where religious observation was still required. The first “evening reading,” or public lecture, reflected a College whose curriculum was still based on the classics and humanities. The reading was on two Chaucer tales, delivered by folklorist Francis James Child (1825-1896), Harvard’s first professor of English.

The first exam listed was another sign of times gone by — Italian composition, on March 22, in Sever 37. A travel lecture was listed for that evening, a tour of England “illustrated by stereoscopic views.” It sold out, with “Tickets all distributed.”

In that first year, a calendar reader could have attended lectures on the history of writing, Vedic nature religion, contemporary German philosophers, Greek costumes, Indian burial mounds, and digestion, offered by groundbreaking philosopher and psychologist William James. (In May, James advertised what might have been Harvard’s first outreach for a medical experiment, a plea for undergraduates to appear at Hemenway Gymnasium to spend five minutes on a rotary swing. He needed a control group to test a hypothesis “that deaf mutes never feel dizzy.”)

The University calendar was in part a community service, intended, the first issues said, to “embrace such lectures and other exercises as are open to the public.”

By 1882, the publication was renamed the Harvard University Calendar, and in 1906 it became the Harvard University Gazette. (That is still the publication’s full legal name, but starting in September 2009 its issues were titled “Harvard Gazette.”) The last calendar-style Gazette appeared on Sept. 20, 1969. The final listing itemized the Extension School courses being televised that semester.

Enter the broadsheet newspaper

Six days later, on Sept. 26, the calendar gave way to a broadsheet newspaper, with photos (a first) and separate reported stories set in columns (another first). It was distributed free or mailed to subscribers for $4 a year.

For the first issue, which was eight pages, the staff jumped in and wrote articles that today seem emblematic of the era. Front-page stories reported the launch of a Department of Afro-American Studies and an attack the day before by Vietnam War protesters on the International Affairs Center. One picture showed an administrator, right ear bandaged, who had been struck. Other staffers and students, the story noted, “were shoved, slugged, and kicked.”

It was an eventful first year for a newspaper. The Gazette reported on new College Dean Ernest R. May (September), a faculty vote for the “prompt, rapid, and complete withdrawal” from Vietnam (October), the death of architect Walter Gropius (October), a proposed design for Gund Hall (November), Harvard’s decision to let Radcliffe women join Commencement exercises (January), the pending retirement of Nathan M. Pusey as University president (February), a tuition increase to $2,600 a year (February), the first co-ed Houses (March), protests in Harvard Square and the first Earth Day (April), and the continuing phase-out of on-campus ROTC (May).

In that first September issue, the calendar shrank to a single back page. The first listing advertised a screening of the 1940 comedy “My Little Chickadee.” The admission was $1.

Over the years, the Gazette added bylines to its stories, along with color photos. Except for the Commencement issue, the print editions ceased in May 2012. The future would be on the Web.

Today, the Gazette operation occupies a wing of 114 Mt. Auburn Street’s 6th floor and runs like a mini-newsroom, with the Harvard campus as its pulsating heartbeat.