Published by the Students of Johns Hopkins since 1896
September 30, 2022

Dotto goes blotto while recalling times floating in News-Letter bravado

In memory of Kenneth Sokolow (1909-1972)✝︎

By DAVID WARREN | May 17, 2021

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COURTESY OF DAVID PORTER (A&S ’76)

A photo of Warren captured in 1976, during his time on the paper.

I’ve always fancied myself a writer. That’s why I responded when The News-Letter called for more voices, urging, “If you want to say something, write it down, and bring it in” (Friday, Oct. 4, 1974). Congenitally unable to pay careful attention to directions and details, I anonymously sent my article by campus mail and included my campus box address. Russ Smith (A&S ’78), one of the Features Editors, soon paid a visit to Hollander House.

Within the month, under the byline “D.H. Warren,” The News-Letter published my first article: a review of a concert by John McLaughlin and the reconstituted Mahavishnu Orchestra (Friday, Oct. 18, 1974). The music had been astonishing, but my review was awful, built with a scaffold of ignorance and dressed in self-indulgence.

Encouragement is something young people need, and Russ gave me all sorts. We quickly became friends. One press evening I wrote my byline by hand on the manuscript, making little circles for the periods; the typist transcribed “Dotto.” With Russ, the nickname stuck.

Russ dished up quite a role model, but I didn’t have the drive and the capacity to emulate him. Over time, my News-Letter writing improved more than my judgment, but not by much. Nevertheless, by the start of the second half of my sophomore year, when Russ had become one of two Editors-in-Chief, I was his Features Editor.

We regularly greeted the dawn in the chilly Gatehouse garret with a critique of the number that had just come back from the printer. We were looking at a News-Letter that featured a great outward turning to Charm City and beyond, and also a great inward turning to individual imaginations. The News-Letter was a newspaper, magazine, arts forum, satirical rag and voice for progressive groups and causes, on campus and off — sometimes all at the same time. 

When Hopkins decided to award an honorary degree to the twin sister of the Shah of Iran at its Centennial Convocation, The News-Letter not only covered the controversy; it gave voice to faculty, staff, students and community members who opposed the decision; editorialized against the award and in opposition to the Shah’s regime; and supported those arrested for disrupting the ceremony, but also published a savage satire with the byline “Mohammed R. Pahlavi” (Friday, March 5, 1976).

I groan now, 45 years later, when I read my one contribution on the subject of cooperating with the Shah, in which I come off as an apologist for Hopkins operating Iranian rural health clinics (Friday, April 16, 1976). There’s a fair amount of groaning — or at least wincing — when I read most of my News-Letter work. J.D. Considine (A&S ’79) — fearlessly knowledgeable but also a really sweet guy — was right to have immortalized me by adding “D.H. Warren” to the entry for “jejune” in one of the News-Letter dictionaries. But I happily paid my space-filling dues to be a member of that club. It was a privilege and a trip to be able to float in such a sea of real writers. 

And I’m not just talking about the now uber-famous ones. There were many, many real writers at The News-Letter during those years. Some were my Gonzo-infected and Dylan-inflected comrades armed with bravado; some were solid, more traditional journalists, whom I — someone taking a walk on the wild side — thought too straight to deserve my attention. Many in each camp went on to successful journalism careers.

As for me, I’ve long believed that I wrote at least one really fine News-Letter article: my disquisition on the significantly large cockroaches in New Orleans (Friday, Sept. 10, 1976). Peculiarly, that number of The News-Letter is missing from the Sheridan Libraries digital archive; and while it does exist in the archive resulting from my parents’ subscription to The News-Letter during my years on staff, the pages that would have included the article are gone. As far as I know, this notable essay on roaches in the Crescent City may be lost to history, its existence documented only by a later letter to the editor (Tuesday, Oct. 12, 1976). 

I have the consolation of being able to keep persuading myself that my article about the roaches was an exception to the sustained mediocrity of my News-Letter reporting and that I may continue to fancy myself a writer.

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