Here’s a look back at The Razor’s past, from its start at the boys-only Hopkins Grammar School to the publication we all know today. Vol. I, Issue No. 1.
The first issue of The Razor was published on November 6, 1945. Three students, Editor-in-Chief James Munson and Editors Terry Hopkins and Philip Bastian, decided that a school the size of Hopkins Grammar School (HGS) deserved a school newspaper. The staff of three was intentionally small: “The staff is made up of 100% interested workers and there is no chance of any dropping by the wayside as it has passed the baptism of fire in sweating out this first edition.”
At first, the paper consisted of a few recurring columns: “The Razor’s Edge” (which headed the editorials); “Gay Blade” (spotlighting the “affairs of a social nature around town, and good movies and plays); “The Mug” (which featured “capsule dissections of people around the school”); and “The Strop” (an opportunity for readers to opine).
At its start, The Razor’s need for subscribers’ financial support was real. With a subscription fee of $0.10 per issue, the staff depended on loyal readers and advertisers to afford the price of printing (In 2021, the school covers these costs through tuition, but we still depend on our loyal readers for moral support).
The founding staff members established a mission that continues to drive The Razor today: “Noting the dislike of cheap, sensational journalism featured in other school newspapers, we hereby promise to work with the faculty and for the student body in giving all good school news coverage and outstanding current events when the school is concerned.” They were ambitious, too, aiming to create a weekly newspaper. “After carefully consulting the calendar” they found that they could “put out no more than 25 issues without endangering the life, liberty, or pursuit of tests of the staff.” But why The Razor?
The Razor co-founder James Munson ’46 discovered a report of a publication from the early 1900s called the Razor in Thomas Davis’ book of Hopkins history; he, thus, adopted the title into his new paper. Fifty years later, he admitted, “[Terry Hopkins ’47 and I] thought we were so clever because we came up with puns on ‘razor’ for different sections of the paper-like ‘The Lather’ and ‘The Razor’s Edge.’” The Early Years
The Razor’s first major exposé–published in the tenth issue on June 7, 1946–was on “ringers,” athletically talented public school students whose parents sent them to Hopkins in the latter part of their high school careers, with the hope that it may increase the likelihood of acceptance to Yale University; many Hopkins students felt this practice was unfair.
Lauren Pistell ’97 later interviewed Hopkins and Munson about their experience reporting on such a contentious topic and found that “[w]hen the school got wind of the exposé, the Hopkins community began to stir;” Munson described the Director of Athletics as “enraged” and the Headmaster (George Lovell) as “nervous.” Munson told Pistell: “He called Terry and [me] into his office and told us he thought the article was ‘ill-advised’ and that it sent the wrong message to parents and prospective students. He told us that the Board of Trustees was also ‘troubled’ by the potential publication of the article.” The meeting made Munson and (Terry) Hopkins anxious; Munson said that they “were dead sure that if [they] published the article, [they] had reached the end of [their] lives at Hopkins.” An “almost in tears” Munson found support from faculty advisor Ed DeNoyon; eventually, Lovell allowed the piece to run provided that DeNoyon closely oversaw their work. Instead of publishing the exposé alongside the regular columns, Munson and Terry printed it on another piece of paper that was tucked into the regular print copy. Munson recalls that “the other students hailed [them] as heroes” and credits the exposé for giving the newspaper an honorable reputation: “We were no longer reporting on wishy-washy events but on real issues.” The Girls Who Came Before Us
Prospect Hill School (PHS; 1932-1960) ran multiple journalism publications throughout its time, including The Imprint, The News, Student Typists as Reporters, Papyrus, and The Prospect Hillian. No one publication was particularly enduring, but they were all similar in their approach and format: pages of simply formatted articles on a wide range of topics, from regular school events to alumni news to editorials like “Have We Lost the Power of Emotional Expression?”
Day Prospect Hill School (DPH;1960-1972), the result of a merger between The Day School and Prospect Hill School, was the source of many strong newspaper endeavors, including Apropos (written in French) and News, Stories and More News and Weekly Scroll (both written by Grade 6 students). Perhaps the school’s most robust publication was The Crescent. That The Crescent was a source of honest student discussion is evident in its June 1968 Statement of Purpose, released in the Vol. VI, No. VII issue: “The newspaper should be an open platform for the current opinions, and events that are circulating within the student body. As soon as their newspaper becomes out of date, the students have no place to voice their say.” Staff members were ambitious in their approach in creating a paper representative of the student body; the statement continues, “News in the CRESCENT should not consist of the weekly happenings that occur in DPH; news goes deeper than that. It should have a much broader range of topics, encompassing not only concrete occurrences [sic], but the feelings, viewpoints, and trends of the student body and the communities it lives in.”
The Crescent’s staff did not shy away from serious journalism. Following the assassination of Civil Rights leader Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., reporters reflected on the need for change in DPH in the May 21, 1968 issue. The front-page headline reads, “Controversy Over Admitting Black Students Awakens DPH To Racial Crisis” and reflects on “the prospect of increasing the number of black students at DPH.” Another blurb addresses the need for racial reform: “DPH is actually ‘the school on the hill’ far removed from the problems of the community and the world.” It continues, “the racial situation is not only dinner table conversation but an immediate problem which can no longer be stifled, threatening the lives and values of each student.” Staff editors also assessed the disconnect of the DPH community by distributing a questionnaire on race relations and finding that students failed to answer 55% of the questions. Finally, editors highlighted a faculty curriculum discussion on “how Day Prospect Hill can become more involved in and informed about current problems.” Topics included “[b]roader history curriculum including non-Western cultures, and minority group cultures” and “[g]reater emphasis in curriculum on study of contemporary literature, art, music and problems.” The 90’s
The tone of The Razor in the 1990’s varied greatly, from traditional campus news to critical exposés, shock value journalism, and humorous rants and satire.
Staffers regularly reported Hopkins admissions and college acceptance news, with varying degrees of seriousness. The front cover of the September 1, 1994 issue reads, “Record Breaking [sic] Admissions: Total of 600 Students Possible for ’94-’95.” On December 19, 1990, the paper published, “The Razor E-Z Method College Application Guide.” A series of columns surrounded by a border reading “STRESS,” the source begins, “Every year around this time, Seniors find themselves enjoying a veritable fiesta of college application-related activities. In recognition of their trauma, The Razor has decided to make this year’s tortuous process a little easier by including a special Application Guide designed to render hilariously easy the most obscenely complex or (gasp) introspective questions.” The column provides a recipe for “Early Acceptance Cookies” only “for those lucky enough to be accepted early to the college of their choice; otherwise, they will not have time to bake anything.”
Students’ mockery extended beyond the Hopkins campus. To recruit new staff members, the September 1, 1994 issue contained a full-page advertisement with a satirical headline reading, “Rush Limbaugh Meets with Space Aliens!: Historic rendezvous takes place at secret New Orleans estate!”
Letters to the editor by students and other community members alike were common. After Dinesh D’Souza challenged multiculturalism during his visit to Hopkins, student Peter Whitney ’94 was just one of many community members to express his disappointment, concluding, “Maybe it’s that I’m enrolled in a high school with an extraordinary curriculum, but I think it’s more likely that Mr. D’Souza is overreacting to a problem that doesn’t really exist.” In the December 19, 1990 issue, Hopkins parent, Board of Trustees member Timothy H. Goldsmith, a Professor of Biology at Yale University, published “The Problems of Teaching Science.” He outlines the issues of “proposals for educational reform” that “exhibit a disturbing tendency to focus on solutions that are largely managerial or administrative in nature” adding that “curricula and textbooks are typically exercises in memorization rather than an intellectual voyage of exploration.” Goldsmith declares that the “unproductive system is reinforced by efforts to measure success and accountability by pedantic standardized tests.”
Beyond serious discussions on science pedagogy and multiculturalism, students also voiced their grievances about classes–particularly English classes. In May 1990, “The Razor’s Edge” includes a student’s frustration that “The Writing Semester’s curriculum does not seem to have been standardized” and that “no two sections of The Writing Semester are even the same course, though they are both listed in the course catalog under the same title.” Five years later, the front page read, “The trials of English 11.” The heavily- researched exposé consisted of a survey indicating that the amount of homework varied greatly by teacher and of student reports in regards to class pace and preparation. Some teachers pushed back and held firm, with Heidi Dawidoff stating, “Freedom is essential for excellence in teaching.” The article also tracked the course’s evolution since its start in 1980; both 1994 and 2021 students may find comfort in knowing that the original course of 21 texts has been significantly condensed. Who We Are Now
The Razor, currently published every 1-2 months, comprises five major sections: News, Features, Arts, Op-Ed, and Sports. Our publishing schedule consists of a few days to pitch article ideas, a couple of weeks for writing and investigating, half a week of intense editing, and Sunday productions—an occasion of massive amounts of bagel consumption as editors tirelessly fight the perils of InDesign layout technology. Only on the absolutely rarest of occasions do we use our publishing space to pursue topics we wish to vent about, or to relentlessly chase down the people we wish to interview. We do all this under the guidance of three faculty advisors who, among other things, enduringly correct repeated usage of the passive voice.