Biographical / Historical
The News-Letter, one of the oldest and most successful student organizations at Johns Hopkins, began in the Spring of 1897 with the reluctant consent of the administration. Students had sought permission for a newspaper since at least 1889, but the Board of Trustees was not enthusiastic, in part because they feared the undergraduate student body was too small to make the project a success and because they feared that the style or editorial policy of such a newspaper would be embarrassing to the University. Finally, under increasing pressure, the administration granted permission for an undergraduate publication, with future support dependent upon the success of the first year. In its first years, the News-Letter was more a literary magazine than a newspaper. Its initial aims were to provide information about current events at the University and to provide a forum for students wishing to publish literary material. Individual issues contained essays, short stories, poetry and letters, as well as short news articles, sports news, campus notes and advertisements. In its earliest years, the News-Letter never seemed to lack volunteers to work on its staff. As the News-Letter grew, it came to resemble a newspaper more and more. It lost its literary tone and emphasized news. Its new aims were to provide news and information concerning the University and to exercise the journalistic skills of the students. In 1910, the News-Letter switched from booklet form to newspaper format, changed from a bi-weekly to weekly periodical, and reduced its price from ten cents to five cents, resulting in increased circulation (since 1950, the News-Letter has been distributed free of charge). Since 1910, it has alternated between weekly and bi-weekly publication, and some editors have toyed with the idea of making it a daily. By the 1930s, it contained virtually no literary material and concentrated on news, sports and advertisements. Due to a lack of staff members, the News-Letter had to shut down briefly during the First and Second World Wars. Since its founding, the News-Letter has occupied space in Levering Hall, the Barn, and its current location, the Gatehouse. The editorial policies of the News-Letter have generated some conflict with the administration, but the editors have usually been free to print what they wished. The paper has always been independent of Student Council or faculty control. The editorial policy of the News-Letter has usually been liberal, but has rarely gone to extremes. In its early years, conflict was rare and the only attempt at control was an occasional rebuke from a faculty member. As the paper expanded, the students sought to avoid outside influence by imposing self-control, and by 1930, a student Editorial Board approved all material printed in the News-Letter. Since the paper is a university organization, the administration does retain ultimate control; while there has never been a regular review process, they have at times called the editors in for discussions and imposed mild constraints, which in a few cases prompted editors to resign their positions. In the 1970s and 1980s, the News-Letter has, while retaining an emphasis on news, included theater, art, book and music reviews as well as features and fiction. The News-Letter is still one of the largest and most influential student organizations on campus, and in 1988 had a circulation of 5500.