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On stepping down

| Friday, February 28, 2020

When I was elected Editor-in-Chief of The Observer one year ago, I was absolutely terrified.

I was studying in Jerusalem at the time and many of us wondered if leading the paper from abroad would be possible. To be honest, I didn’t know if it was. All I knew was I’d have to communicate with my staff through a computer screen and hope for the best until I was back on campus.

I wrote my first column as Editor-in-Chief at the time, and in it I noted my appreciation for the team effort producing the paper behind the scenes. What I didn’t realize then, however, was just how true that sentiment would remain throughout the next 12 months.

It’s undoubtedly a scary time to be a journalist. The amount of times we had to stand up for ourselves seemed to only grow month after month. From the Main Building to Le Mans Hall, we encountered hostility to a degree we never could’ve predicted.

We will always welcome feedback. Feedback is what helps us grow and understand what we’re doing right or wrong in serving the tri-campus community.

But we will not be bullied into compromising our principles as an organization or as independent journalists doing our best to cover this community.

A few weeks ago, an Observer alumna asked me how we manage the criticism or pressures of being a student journalist in today’s world. I thought for a while, then realized the answer is a relatively simple one.

It’s looking at those around me and knowing the late nights and headaches are worth it for them.

Thank you to Charlotte Edmonds, Natalie Weber, Mary Bernard, Mary Steurer, Maria Leontaras, Tom Naatz, Connor Mulvena, Michael Donovan, Maeve Filbin, Evy Stein, Allison Thornton, Nola Wallace and Diane Park for the best Editorial Board I could’ve possibly imagined. It has been an absolute privilege to lead this paper alongside all of you.

Through every challenge, this team kept me faithful in our work and this organization. It wasn’t always easy. In fact, it hardly ever was. Every week brought an onslaught of new pressures, complaints or veiled threats.

But it also brought on new relationships, stories and dedication — because we trusted in our mission, our community and each other.

It’s hard to sum up the year in a column numbering a few hundred words. How can I put into words the passion and drive that incentivizes students with full class loads to stay up until the earliest hours of the morning five nights a week in the basement of South Dining Hall?

The answer is that I can’t — because it’s best shown through the work so many students put aside countless hours and class assignments to complete.

It’s seeing my incredible co-workers trailblazing a path for new social media, investigative, audio, archives and visual initiatives to better reach and engage our audience.

It’s the Viewpoint section handling an unprecedented number of responses when a letter about leggings went viral across the world during our first week as a new staff.

It’s the Sports department putting together a 28-page Irish Insider in one night with no complaints.

It’s the Scene and Graphics departments coming together every night to produce compelling, multimedia content — even when we had to rush to fill extra space at the last minute.

It’s asking our Editorial Board members if they’d come with me to testify to the student senate and getting a resounding yes from every single one of our department heads.

It’s understanding that I can’t take credit for a single one of our accomplishments because every step we’ve taken wouldn’t have happened without so many others putting in the time and late nights to make it possible.

Thank you to the more than 100 students who contribute to this paper week after week and to the faculty who understand our commitment to this job and the community members who engaged with us and trusted us with their stories.

We couldn’t do any of this without you.

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.

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About Kelli Smith

Kelli Smith is a senior at the University of Notre Dame. Originally from El Paso, Texas, she served as Editor-in-Chief at The Observer for the 2019-20 term. She is pursuing majors in political science and television with a minor in journalism. // Twitter: @KelliSmithNews

Contact Kelli