Published by the Students of Johns Hopkins since 1896
August 11, 2022

A conversation with Richard Waring, Editor-in-Chief '74

By MICHELLE LIMPE | May 17, 2021

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COURTESY OF THE UNIVERSITY ARCHIVES — SHERIDAN LIBRARIES 

Community members attend Spring Fair ‘72, which occurred during Waring’s time at Hopkins.

Known as “Mr. News-Letter” on campus, Richard Waring was a valued member of the paper throughout his Hopkins career, from 1970 to 1974. He rose through the ranks, occupying positions of staff reporter, Managing Editor and Executive Editor. During his senior year, he was the sole Editor-in-Chief of the paper. After graduating, he worked as a reporter for two newspapers in Massachusetts and then attended law school. He continued to work in private law practice until 1986, which is when he joined the Massachusetts Board of Registration in Medicine. Since 2000, he has worked as an attorney for the National Association of Government Employees, a union that represents Massachusetts state employees.

The News-Letter: Why did you decide to join The News-Letter when you were at Hopkins?

Richard Waring: I was interested in journalism and was involved in my high school newspaper, so this seemed to be the natural progression. I remember going to the Gatehouse and enjoying the work there. It was a very interesting ride, believe me. We did all sorts of things. I don’t want to get ahead of you, but one of the things that was very interesting was that during the spring of my freshman year, then-President Lincoln Gordon retired unexpectedly. The trustees decided to find an interim president, and they got Milton Eisenhower to come. As you know since his name is on the library, he was a legendary president for good reason and a very impressive man. His brother was Dwight D. Eisenhower. It was interesting to see that whole event roll out. 

N-L: Were you part of that coverage when it happened? 

RW: Not directly. I still have a pile of old News-Letters from that period. I actually went through them this morning before our call, and I found an article that was published literally 50 years ago today on April 20, 1971. I wrote about the selection process for our new president. I completely forgot about it, but my name was on it, so obviously I must have written it. 

N-L: That’s really cool! Was The News-Letter able to interview Eisenhower during that transition? 

RW: When he was the president of the University, what was interesting was that he didn’t want to have any reporter coming in to interview him. He was only willing to take interviews from the Editor-in-Chief of the newspaper, which I was not at that time. He was very selective about that.

N-L: Were there any other articles or bizarre topics you remember covering? 

RW: One thing that is extremely interesting and had an effect for many years was the University’s policy of covered grades, that all your first-semester freshman grades would be pass/fail. The policy came into effect in the fall of 1971, the year after I was a freshman. What happened was early in my senior year, a couple years later, there was a new dean of undergraduate studies who decided that he didn’t think it was a good idea to keep freshman year grades covered. Supposedly, this may have caused people trouble in getting into graduate or medical schools. But what he wanted to do was rescind the policy retroactively. 

It would have been okay if he decided that for freshmen starting in ‘73 or ‘74, their grades would not be covered. But he wanted to do it retroactively where folks who were freshmen in ‘71 and ‘72, who thought that their first semester grades were going to be covered, all of a sudden would have uncovered grades. Obviously, that created a big issue among students to whom the policy would have applied. I ended up calling members of the faculty on the academic council to ask their opinions about it. I remember one professor said that it would be breaking faith with the students. So I published that story and a few days later, the dean decided not to institute the policy. 

N-L: That’s incredible to hear! And your work lasted for a long time, too, because the University ended its covered grade policy in 2017. But an extra 40 years of freshmen were able to have covered grades. On behalf of them, I thank you for that.

RW: Of course! That was one of the few times where I felt I was able to really accomplish something just by having that position on the newspaper. 

N-L: How would you describe the culture and community of The News-Letter during that time? What was your vision as Editor-in-Chief?

RW: What happened was that in March of ‘72, I became Executive Editor. I don’t think the role still exists, but that person had the most responsibility of physically assembling the newspaper in the basement of the Gatehouse. But over the summer, one of the incoming Editors-in-Chief had to drop out, so I moved up to be a Co-Editor-in-Chief. In March of ‘73, I became the Editor-in-Chief by myself. It was a funny situation because when I started out as Editor-in-Chief, I was filling out somebody else’s term. And then when I was elected to a full term, I was really just succeeding myself.

Coming in at the position, I wanted to make sure that we had a thorough coverage of things that were going on at campus and make sure that students had a voice. 

N-L: Were there any traditions you remember having at the Gatehouse?

RW: What I remember was that the Editors-in-Chief always wore a black cowboy hat around campus. Whenever you were working at the Gatehouse or walking around campus, you had to wear the hat. I remember a couple of other Chiefs did too, but I’m not a hat guy, so I didn’t when I was Chief. Since I was in the position of Editor-in-Chief for a year and a half, I was known as the “Mr. News-Letter” guy on campus. I remember the president of the University actually saw me on campus one time and asked me, “Where’s the hat?” when I was Chief! That was several years ago, and I know the Chief after me continued the tradition. But you haven’t mentioned it so maybe they’re no longer doing it. But that was a News-Letter tradition for a while.

N-L: Since graduating, have you kept in touch with your co-workers?

RW: Yes, I’ve kept in touch with the guy who was the Co-Editor-in-Chief with me in ‘72. He lives in Houston but is not working right now. There are some extremely talented people who've worked at The News-Letter. There are actually three Pulitzer Prize winners. One guy I know is Richard Kramer, who passed away. He wrote a book about the 1988 presidential campaigns, and one of the candidates he followed was now-President Joe Biden. In fact, Kramer and Biden got really close. When Kramer passed away, Biden was one of the people to speak at his funeral. So, just to give you an indication of how impressive some of these folks are.

N-L: And what advice do you have for the rest of The News-Letter staff? 

RW: What is really important is knowing the challenges of the writers working for you. Some people may be better at covering certain stories over another, so it’s important to be aware of that. And be realistic in your demands. If somebody only wants to write a story every two weeks, then take that contribution because it will still be helpful. Make sure you’re not posting so many demands because that can deter people from getting involved.

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