Alumni Corner: The Harvard Crimson’s new managing editor, James Bikales

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Courtesy of James Bikales

Lincoln alum James Bikales poses at Harvard University. Bikales was recently named the new managing editor of The Harvard Crimson, which is the nation’s oldest continuously published daily college newspaper.

Claire Yoo

When Lincoln alumnus James Bikales started high school he had no idea about what the future would bring. Now he is the managing editor of The Harvard Crimson. Bikales, who was editor-in-chief of The Cardinal Times, went through many stages of his high school and college years to shape who he is today.

Although Bikales first joined The Cardinal Times after taking Mass Communications as a freshman with no previous experience in journalism, he was determined to branch out and try new things. Needless to say, the decision has made a substantial impact on his life.

The Cardinal Times (CT) was definitely a huge part of my high school experience and I wouldn’t have joined The Crimson without it, so I am definitely [not]  where I am without that,” said Bikales. “In fact, I don’t know if I would’ve gotten into Harvard without that because a lot of my college applications were on [the CT], so [it] was a huge part of my high school experience and definitely shaped my college one.”

One of the biggest influencers of growth for Bikales during his years on The Cardinal Times staff were his advisers– especially David Bailey.

“I didn’t have any journalism experience and I didn’t really know much about it besides reading the news, but Mr. Bailey helped me and I will always remember his philosophy of finding the ‘unicorn in the garden,’ which basically meant you have to find the hidden stories,” said Bikales. “That really helped me over time as a reporter when I started. At first, I was picking up the story ideas that other people suggested, but over time, I started coming up with my own, and I think that was what helped me become the editor.” 

After his time on the CT, Bikales was accepted into Harvard University. While double-majoring in government and East Asian studies, Bikales stuck with journalism by joining The Harvard Crimson, not knowing the opportunity that this experience would present to him.

“The people there are incredibly motivated so it was really inspiring for me because I wasn’t sure if I wanted to go [on in]journalism but now after working on The Crimson, it made me sure that that’s what I want to pursue in the future,” said Bikales. 

Like many newspapers, The Crimson gives their reporters one topic to write about for the entire year, called a “beat.” For Bikales, his beat for his first year on staff was about labor– more specifically, labor unions created by Harvard employees.

Since these were topics he hadn’t known much about previously, Bikales learned a lot covering labor and really enjoyed it.

“This year, I am covering the faculty administration at Harvard which is essentially sort of like controversies involving the faculty and how the faculty government is run,” said Bikales.

From Bikales’ experience, being willing to put in time and effort while taking initiative has helped him progress at The Crimson. The paper has a national reach, and Bikales appreciates his colleague’s professionalism.

“We’re definitely respected by the Harvard administration and the staff because we always treat things and handle ourselves professionally, so that was definitely a jump [in terms of] understanding that there’s higher standards because we do have a national audience,” said Bikales. “There was definitely a lot to learn, but having all those very motivated people around me was very inspiring and made me want to continue my work.”

As a Lincoln student, Bikales’ overall experience was enjoyable and a time of personal growth. 

“I did the IB program and I think that prepared me very well for the classes at Harvard. I know that some people feel like the IB program doesn’t prepare you that well, but that wasn’t my experience. I felt that coming into freshman year, it was definitely a big jump, but the workload wasn’t impossible, the assignments weren’t impossible, so I felt very well prepared,” said Bikales.

Aside from The Cardinal Times, he also credited his other extracurriculars, like Constitution team and Speech and Debate. 

“I ended up majoring in government and East Asian Studies, both of which were because of Lincoln experiences– government mainly because of Constitution Team and East Asian Studies mainly because of studying Chinese at Lincoln for all four years,” Bikales said.

One article Bikales wrote at Lincoln in particular, he thinks, helped prepare him well for a journalism career. 

“I had the opportunity at The Cardinal Times to write my first investigative reporting piece,” said Bikales. “It was called ‘Abused and Afraid’ and it was about some instances of sexual misconduct [at Lincoln] in the previous decade or so. That was an incredibly formative experience. I worked for six months on the story and that sort of made me interested in investigative reporting and I’ve been able to continue that at The Crimson.”

His experience on this topic carried onto The Crimson when he wrote a five-month-long piece about sexual misconduct concerning  Harvard staff.

“That was really impactful and showed me the real value in journalism, but I was able to start seeing that at The Cardinal Times because of some of the articles we did,” said Bikales.

Bikales’ biggest piece of advice for a journalism career is always pushing and pursuing stories relentlessly. He believes that journalism is really all about hearing about an issue and being able to expand on the whole context of the issue while putting it into words. 

“Always keep pushing on stories, always keep looking for the new story, and even beyond your reporting, you can make a big impact if you take initiative in your newsroom,” said Bikales. “Don’t just go with the requirements but have a natural curiosity to look into issues more deeply or think about an issue in a different way.”

Bikales also recommended that no matter what you want to pursue, it is best to always take your chances and apply to anything you’re interested in, even if it seems unlikely.

“If you don’t apply to something, you won’t even have a shot at it,” he said.

Bikales offered some words of encouragement for current students.

“I definitely hope that people are doing OK at Lincoln, but even in normal times you are going to run into a lot of stress at Lincoln. A lot of stress in college as well, but I think that you always have to find the things that bring you joy,” said Bikales. “So if you are struggling in a year and you can’t find your direction, I’d say to join a new club that you might be remotely interested in, or take a class that is outside the box a little bit.

“Just because school is really stressful doesn’t mean you have to get rid of all the fun stuff in your life but in fact, I found that figuring out the fun things in your life is actually helpful to the school experience,” he said.

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