On April 4, 2018, the Editorial Board of Southern Methodist University’s student newspaper, The Daily Campus, wrote an opinion piece titled “The kids aren’t all right: Who really killed the student free press of SMU.” “It’s not often that a newspaper has the self-indulgency to be able to write about itself, but this anomaly isn’t one to celebrate,” the piece said. Due to financial and leadership problems, The Daily Campus’ Editorial Board announced that the independent student media company of SMU will officially dissolve in May, forcing its student newspaper under the control of the school’s journalism department. The Daily Campus had been an independent news source since 1930, but come May, that independence will be gone. “Change is fine and growth is good, but not at the expense of our creative voices,” the Daily Campus Editorial Board said in the editorial. Sadly, The Daily Campus is only one of many student-run newspapers to become trapped under the thumb of its university. In response to this, Melissa Gomez, Editor-in-Chief at The Independent Florida Alligator, the student-run newspaper at the University of Florida, along with Managing Editors Caitlin Ostroff and Jimena Tavel, have organized a day of action to educate the public on the wide variety of issues student-run newspapers are facing. The official day of awareness is April 25th. The Observer’s Editorial Board supports this movement. The Observer is the student-run, daily print and online newspaper serving Notre Dame and Saint Mary’s. It was founded by Notre Dame students in 1966 and is independent from the administrations of Notre Dame and Saint Mary’s, both editorially and as a business. The Observer’s first issue was printed Nov. 3, 1966. On that day, the paper’s first editorial ran under the headline, “A Promise, A Purpose, A Newspaper is Born.” Since that promise was made, The Observer has continued to be a leading student publication on campus, through over 50 years of tireless work by thousands of students.
In our office in the basement of South Dining Hall, we house the archives of every single print edition, which are also available online. One can turn to a paper from any day over the last 50-plus years and learn exactly what was happening at Notre Dame and Saint Mary’s at that time. As a whole, the paper represents one of the most complete sources of preserved memory found on campus since The Observer’s founding, and it is an integral part of our history as a University.However, print journalism’s decline in recent years is old news. College campuses are especially susceptible to this trend. Although The Observer is — and will continue to be — a daily paper, many student publications across the country, such as the Indiana Daily Student at Indiana University, have cut back to just two or three editions per week. In fact, Notre Dame is among the smallest universities in the country with an independent, daily student paper. We also cover Saint Mary’s, a college with a student body of 1,602 students. Normally, a school of that size would not be able to sustain a daily paper, but due to the partnership between Notre Dame and Saint Mary’s students, The Observer provides the Saint Mary’s community with coverage on issues and events central to campus life that would not otherwise be publicized.
We have the unique opportunity to cover things that aren’t covered outside of the Notre Dame community. For example, it isn’t too difficult to find extensive coverage of Notre Dame’s football program or its national-championship-winning women’s basketball program. But unlike any other publication, we provide thorough coverage of those programs throughout the year, as well as ones which perhaps do not get the attention they deserve — whether it be season-long coverage of our national-championship-winning fencing team or the same for similarly less-heralded sports such as rowing, soccer, golf, tennis or volleyball.The Scene department has a special section called “Scene in South Bend” which highlights the cultural happenings in the South Bend community, as well as showcasing the unique student artists and performers on campus.
In our Viewpoint section, we are able to publish a diverse range of opinions, regardless of alignment with the Catholic faith, and therefore represent a greater cross-section of student, faculty and alumni opinions in a respectful and public way. Viewpoint columnists get to decide what they want to write about, and without our editorial independence, these writers would not have that ability.
In addition to all of this, The Observer also contributes to conversations about important campus issues. In the past, these have included issues such as sexual assault, resources for disabled students on campus and resources for students with mental health challenges. In February of 2015, The Observer was the first source to break the news of University President Emeritus Fr. Theodore Hesburgh’s death, and it was the primary source of coverage for the following week, when thousands of people flooded the campus to honor his memory and attend the funeral. There is no other publication as actively involved in uncovering and reporting happenings at Notre Dame on a daily basis.
This experience as staff members of a daily newspaper prepares student journalists at Notre Dame and Saint Mary’s in an invaluable way. Several Observer alumni have gone on to be Pulitzer Prize winners, while others find that their college newspaper experience contributes to their work in a different field in unexpected ways.
The world, especially the online world, is flooded with information. However, the majority of this information is not news. The Observer does more than provide an outlet for discussion or adding one’s voice to the conversation. We have a responsibility to improve the quality of the debate by providing verified facts and work to inspire constructive public discourse.