Reminiscing on The Observer
Letter to the Editor | Friday, April 21, 2017
My name is Pat Collins; I was The Observer editor from 1967–1968. I was a part of a team that engineered and executed a sort of journalistic coupe that led to the formation of The Observer. As most of you know, there was a time when the newspaper at Notre Dame was called The Voice. It came out every now and again. It was funded by the University and it was a journalistic afterthought to Scholastic, a slick, weekly, Time-like magazine. But it wasn’t edgy, it wasn’t challenging and it wasn’t a newspaper.
In a scheme that we thought to be creative, some members of the Scholastic staff joined The Voice with a plan to kill it.
Our philosophy was a simple one: Whoever controls the funding controls what you print.
Since the University controlled The Voice funding, it could never be independent until it could be self-sufficient.
So we arranged for a subscription fee from the Student Union, started selling advertising and used students to perform most of the pre-production work.
Using IBM Selectric composers, light tables and sometimes even borrowed wax from the Grotto, we managed to get the paper out and even make enough money to pay salaries to some of the students. Not big money, but enough for beer, and pizza, and cigarettes and maybe a little something else.
I begin by talking about the business side, because if we didn’t cover our costs, The Observer would have tanked. Every editor who followed me can probably relate to that.
I had a great business manager, Bill Kelly. He was my everyday reality check: “you can’t do this … we can’t afford that.” Then he would go and find a way to do it.
I had Bill Knapp; he was the father of the Green Rabbit classified ads. Bill could sell Head and Shoulders to a hairless man. We even did football Saturday editions, selling names and numbers a lot cheaper than the University-sponsored programs.
Now onto the editorial side. On and about campus there was a lot to talk about: the Vietnam War, “Get Clean for Gene,” “Don’t trust anyone over 30,” the Pentecostals, ARA and on and on and on.
We had a stable of writers, the best on campus: Dennis Gallagher, Tom Condon, Tim Figel, Bob Brady and so many others. I could fill the page. When there was the march on Washington, we sent Dennis Gallagher. He rode the bus and dictated wonderful stories from bus stop to bus stop.
There were some sad times as well, none sadder than the night we lost our managing editor, Mike Smith. He was found dead; the death was ruled a suicide. We met in South Dining Hall. We had to decide how to handle it — what should we do? Put out the paper, we decided. Put out the damn paper.
It didn’t take long before The Observer was the must-read at Notre Dame. The Observer, sharp and sassy. Scholastic, though shiny and slick, seemed old and irrelevant.
I am very proud of the people I worked with during the early years at The Observer and very proud of what The Observer has done over the years. I wish I could be there to celebrate with everyone. Remember we worship at the altar of the truth. Report like a champion … and put out the damn paper.
class of ’68
The views expressed in this Letter to the Editor are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.