Student Voices

Maria Leontaras ’21 Reflects On the Unforgettable Fall 2020 Semester

Posted: Nov. 30, 2020

Leontaras PortraitMaria Leontaras (Class of '21), editor in chief of The Observer, led the newspaper through a semester transformed by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Notre Dame has been making headlines for months.

First came University President Fr. John Jenkins’ Op-Ed announcing Notre Dame’s intent to reopen for the fall semester. Then, the immediate spike in cases and a two-week shut down. There was the maskless Rose Garden event and the mostly masked storming of the football field.

National attention comes and goes, but The Observer has been there through it all.

The independent, student-run newspaper serving Notre Dame, Saint Mary’s and Holy Cross, The Observer strives to keep all members of the tri-campus community up-to-date with campus happenings. We also work to hold the community accountable. That’s when we made headlines.

In mid-August, the University announced it was moving to remote instruction for two weeks to curb the spread of COVID-19. As the editor-in-chief of the paper, I immediately began thinking of ways that we could continue our coverage. Students wouldn’t be able to travel between campuses. Observer staffers wouldn’t have access to our offices in the basement of South Dining Hall. Editors wouldn’t be able to hold socially distant department meetings. What were we going to do?

That evening, the Editorial Board had a virtual meeting. We made new plans for production — and for ourselves. Pivoting from our planned editorial, the board moved toward making a meaningful statement on the rising coronavirus cases in our community. There could only be one headline: Don’t make us write obituaries.

There could only be one headline: Don’t make us write obituaries.

The piece commented on the impact everyone’s decisions have on the community, not just the administration or students alone. We called for surveillance testing and compassion. We asked the community to be smart and for everyone to do their part to make sure people didn’t get sick or, even worse, die. We knew the message was received after the piece went viral on Twitter, leading to national recognition both in newspapers and on T.V.

My goal is to write headlines, not be the subject of them. But this situation reaffirmed one thing I’ve known all along: Student journalism can make a difference. It is with this mindset that The Observer carried on with the semester, pursuing further COVID-19 coverage and working to not only inform our community but to make it safer, too.

Being a student and a journalist is tough at any time, and it only seems to be getting harder as time goes by. But just as the news never stops, neither do we. Every day I find a new reason to be proud of my colleagues and the work we do.

It was a hell of a semester. Here’s to uncovering the truth and reporting it accurately in the winter, spring and beyond.

Maria Leontaras, a student at Saint Mary's College, is the editor-in-chief of The Observer.

Mary Bernard ’20 Attends the Online News Association Convention

Posted: Sept. 29, 2019

Ona Convention PhotoGallivan student Mary Bernard (Class of '20), Prof. Victoria St. Martin and American Studies alum Tessa Bangs (Class of '18), now of The Los Angeles Times, at the Online News Association Convention in September.

When I was preparing for the Online News Association Conference in New Orleans, I kept hearing the same piece of advice — at conferences, the time spent outside of sessions is often just as useful as the time in them.

Looking at the extensive, exciting list of sessions available at ONA, I found that hard to believe. I also found building my ideal schedule close to impossible. I couldn’t be two places at once, but I didn’t know how to choose between a practical session on monetizing newsletters and a panel on innovation in the newsroom. And I ran into that same issue with every time slot I tried to fill.

Thanks to the generosity of the Gallivan Program in Journalism, Ethics and Democracy, the Anthropology department and the Glynn Family Honors Program, ONA became the first conference I’ve had the pleasure to attend. It couldn’t have been more well-suited to my interests, which became obvious as every panel and speech felt like one I couldn’t miss.

As a senior majoring in Anthropology and minoring in Journalism, going into a career in news has always my goal, and I always thought that would look like traditional reporting. Over the summer, however, I discovered a new passion: audience engagement and social media.

I first did an internship in social media at the Brookings Institution in D.C. This past summer, I was able to put my learning to work at the Los Angeles Times. Just days into the internship, I knew it was the perfect role for me. Audience engagement places me right where I want to be in the newsroom — informed about every section of the paper and focused on delivering it to readers and listeners in the best way possible.

At the Online News Association convention in New Orleans, “every panel and speech felt like one I couldn’t miss.”

At ONA, it was incredible to see so many like-minded and similarly interested people come together, sharing ideas, failures and successes. To my surprise, the advice I received did ring true. Connecting in person with the people whom I admire in news and on social media helped me to generate just as many ideas as the sessions did. By the end of the week, my notebook was full of plans, Twitter handles and new questions to take with me back to Notre Dame.

As much as my to-do list grew at ONA, I was also left with a lot to ponder. At the conference, the changing dynamics of journalism was more evident than ever. I was surrounded by change-makers who were working to usher in new norms for publishing online, but many conversations didn’t have simple answers.

Strategies for dealing with disinformation and deep fakes abounded, but work is clearly ongoing in this realm. Newsroom leadership discussed revenue building with a majority-online audience, but there was no clear consensus. 

What remained obvious to me, however, was how important ONA to create a space for these conversations. As far as I could tell, there was no competitive animosity between anyone, just the shared goal of serving the audience in the best way possible. And that, more than anything, filled me with pride as I hope to enter this field after graduation, and renewed my hope that, with such communal partnership among organizations, we will be able to respond to whatever the future of news and media brings. 

Mary Bernard is the social media editor at The Observer.