Contributing to a legacy
Courtney Becker | Friday, March 1, 2019
Every new Editor-in-Chief of The Observer inherits one heck of a legacy.
That’s the nature of taking on the mantle of running a 52-year-old daily newspaper. Legends have come before you, and maybe even gone on to win a Pulitzer Prize or two.
To me, the biggest legend to come before me was the Editor-in-Chief of The Observer from 1987 to 1988, the paper’s 21st leader: Kevin Becker.
Not only did my father hold this position 31 years before me, he also met my mother, Mary Heilmann Becker, in The Observer’s office, then located in LaFortune Student Center rather than the basement of South Dining Hall.
So when I took over the role of Editor-in-Chief a year ago, I was not just The Observer’s next “fearless leader.” I was also “The Observer Baby.”
I’ll admit that spending the first 20 years of my life hearing stories from my parents about their experiences with this paper gave me a distorted view of the impact a single Editor-in-Chief has on The Observer: I thought I needed to be perfect. I needed to push us to make huge strides in our work. I needed to live up to the legacy of the 52 years of editors before me.
I was most certainly not perfect. I most certainly did not single-handedly move The Observer forward by leaps and bounds. And I most certainly didn’t live up to the legacy of 52 past Editors-in-Chief.
But somewhere along the way, I realized I was thinking of the job incorrectly. Running The Observer isn’t about leaving your own legacy. It’s about contributing to one.
Every Editor-in-Chief is another brick in this institution’s legacy. It’s our job to shepherd The Observer through a year of ups and downs, to serve Notre Dame and Saint Mary’s — and now Holy Cross — and hopefully to leave it just a little bit better than we found it, in one way or another.
And we have a lot of help along the way.
Thank you to those editors who came before me, from the ones who trained me to the ones who reached out to me to the ones who set an example 52 years ago that I continue to admire. Above all of them, though, I am particularly grateful to 51 — who has been my best friend through all of this, who has listened to me work through almost every challenge I encountered and who answered the phone at ungodly hours to talk me through simple technical questions — and to 21, to whom words will not do justice, but who taught me more than he knows as I attempted to fill his shoes. Thank you both for being my inspirations.
To my family and friends, thank you for being patient with me when I was in a bad mood after a late shift, understanding when I had to abruptly change plans and cut conversations short and encouraging me every step of the way. Arguably, no one did this more so than Deb, whom I now consider family and for whom I will be eternally grateful.
Finally, to the entire staff of The Observer this year: thank you. Thank you for sticking with it through the good and the bad, teaching me more than I could’ve possibly taught you and constantly striving to reach new heights.
People often ask me what I feel is the best part of being Editor-in-Chief of The Observer. For me, it’s been seeing so much growth from the people with whom I’ve served over the past year, longer for some.
It’s texting my News and Saint Mary’s Editors to make sure they know about a piece of breaking news, and realizing they’re more on top of it than I am.
It’s challenging the Scene department to become more multimedia-minded and watching it happen without a second reminder.
It’s seeing the Viewpoint Editor gracefully navigate situations I’m not sure I would’ve been able to handle on my own.
It’s reading an exclusive interview with the head football coach and senior quarterback in the pages of our Sports section.
It’s looking back on The Observer’s coverage of three championship appearances (and two wins) in three weeks and knowing the tremendous amount of work that went into those special issues, not just from the writers and editors, but from the Photo department and Graphics Editor as well.
It’s looking at the next generation of Observer leaders and knowing that this paper will be better next year than it was this year.
I can only hope I left it just a little bit better than I found it and that I played a small role in its future success.