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Former Observer student journalists reminisce on unique career paths

and | Wednesday, November 3, 2021

In honor of the 55th anniversary of the student newspaper’s first issue, The Observer interviewed five former student journalists who work in the industry to talk about their experiences working as writers and editors in college and beyond.

Pete Loftus, Class of 1992

Pete Loftus always loved to write. He became a writer for The Observer his first year of college.

“I think my freshman year, I may have only written one or two stories, and would just take whatever assignments kind of came my way, and then just the more I got into it, the more I liked it,” Loftus said.

He then became an assistant news editor his sophomore year and maintained this position through his senior year. 

“I just liked the idea of being the one to go out and find a story and do all the reporting and interviewing for it and then to try to distill all that information to something that people might want to read,” Loftus said. 

While an undergraduate, Loftus recalled covering the sexual assault case made against Fr. James Burtchaell, who was a professor at the time of the allegations. In addition, he wrote stories covering LGBTQ+ students working to gain recognition for a student group at the University.

“I don’t think any big changes happened while I was covering that issue, but it was some of the early efforts to try to change the situation,” Loftus said. 

After graduating from Notre Dame in 1992, Loftus went straight into the journalism field and began working at community papers in Philadelphia, focusing mainly on courts and murder trials. Then, he decided to move to New York City, accepting a job at Dow Jones. Now, he has found his groove covering the health and the pharmaceutical industry for the Wall Street Journal.

“There’s been a lot to write about, and I just found it really, really interesting,” Loftus said.

When reflecting on his years with The Observer, Loftus credits much of his journalistic formation at Notre Dame to the paper.

“I felt that that was a huge part of my education at Notre Dame, in addition to the courses I took,” Loftus said. 

Madeline Buckley, Class of 2011

When Madeline Buckley wrote her first story for The Observer News department her first year, the editors working that night tore it to shreds.

Buckley, now a general assignment reporter for the Chicago Tribune, said she was slow to catch on to the style of journalistic writing. 

“When I wrote my first story, I covered a lecture and I didn’t go great; I didn’t really know what I was doing and didn’t really know how to do newspaper style. The editor that night made a lot of changes,” she said. 

Although she got off to a rocky start, Buckley said she kept at it and news writing eventually clicked, especially during her first internship in a professional newsroom. 

Buckley interned for the South Bend Tribune, the Concord Monitor and the Pittsburgh Post Gazette. She has also worked for The Brownsville Herald and The Indianapolis Star before starting her current stint at the Chicago Tribune.

Her time at The Observer was critical in her growth as a reporter, Buckley said. 

“To some extent, nothing can really prepare you [for being a journalist]. You just have to jump in and it’s a rough time for the industry and it’s hard to truly prepare people for that,” she said. “I think, definitely, my experience at The Observer taught me how to write stories on short deadlines while you’re juggling all sorts of other things.”

One time, Buckley said, she had to learn a hard lesson about working with sources.

“I was interviewing somebody and they asked if they could see a draft of my story before it was published … and I sent it to her and she sent me back a super heavily edited piece,” she said. “So, I had to awkwardly go back and just say, ‘Sorry, it was a mistake to send this to you. I can’t make these changes.’”

Buckley said her favorite news to cover during her time at Notre Dame was when former President Barack Obama visited campus for the Class of 2009 commencement ceremony.

“It was a huge deal,” Buckley said. “There were lots of people protesting that decision, lots of anti-abortion advocates that were protesting the decision, and it was just nonstop news. That was really memorable.”

Now, Buckley said she cherishes the relationships she made at The Observer. 

“I think one of the biggest things I take forward from The Observer now is just the relationships,” she said. “There’s a few close friends from that time in my life that are still close friends to this day. Some of them are still in journalism, some of them who I still will ask for advice and exchange stories about working at newspapers and get support from even to this day.”

Sarah Mervosh, Class of 2012

Sarah Mervosh remembers eagerly emailing an editor at The Observer at the very beginning of her first year. 

“I signed up right away, and I started writing just basic stories as a freshman and eventually started laying out pages and became the news editor and then eventually the managing editor,” Mervosh said. 

Now, Mervosh is a reporter for the New York Times covering PreK-12 education.

In her time at the student paper, she vividly remembers covering the memorial mass of Declan Sullivan, a student videographer for the football team who died after a scissor lift fell during football practice.

“I remember sitting in the back of the Basilica with my colleague … covering his funeral mass and sitting amid other media from, like, the Chicago Tribune and other press, and it was just sort of a surreal moment because to me, as a student, it felt so deeply personal, and it was interesting to observe the press from elsewhere come in,” Mervosh said.

Like Loftus, Mervosh also covered the long-standing struggle for LGBTQ+ students to gain acceptance from University administration.

Memories of The Observer for Mervosh include a strong recollection of herself and the “news girls,” a name she gave some of her closest colleagues. 

“We had a very strong identity as news writers, and we had a big rivalry with the sports department,” Mervosh said.

Mervosh said working for The Observer taught her to not view herself as a powerless student but to to hold institutions accountable.

“To be able to ask the University questions and challenge was empowering, and it sort of taught me the power that simply calling attention to something or asking questions about something can be even if it’s not some immediate change,” she said.

Katie Galioto, Class of 2018

Former Observer staffer Katie Galioto grew up in Minnesota and is currently a reporter for the state’s Star Tribune; however, she did not get there without a stop in Notre Dame, Indiana.

Galioto said she stumbled across The Observer her first year of college at the activities fair. 

“Most of [the clubs] didn’t stick, but one that did was The Observer,” Galioto said. 

She worked as a staff writer her first two years and later became news editor and managing editor during her junior and senior years, respectively. 

“I probably wrote a story within the first few weeks of being on campus and just kind of kept going and slowly got more and more involved,” she said. 

During her time at the paper, the 2016 election sticks out in Galioto’s mind — specifically the moment the graphics designer switched from making a Hillary Clinton victory graphic to a Donald Trump one. 

“Newsrooms, in general, are just such interesting places to be on election night like they’re so crazy and chaotic,” Galioto said. “But that election especially, I think, for the first time in a while, really surprised people.”

Galioto said she had no idea what she wanted to do for a career heading into college. She switched her major multiple times, but journalism was always in the back of her mind.

She held an internship at the Star Tribune for a few months after her senior year of college. Afterward, she hopped around a couple of newsrooms and then called the Star Tribune one last time before accepting an entry-level job at another organization.

“I reached out one more time to one of my old editors [at the Star Tribune] and was like, ‘Hey, just so you know, I’m going to take this, but still want to keep in touch,’ and she was like, ‘Wait a second, give me a call,’ and they just kind of happened to have an opening come up,” she said.

Galioto said what she will always remember are the “weird people” she would have never met if not for The Observer.

“I feel like the basement of South Dining Hall is just forever ingrained in my mind as this special place that meant so much to me,” Galioto said.

Marek Mazurek, Class of 2018 

Now a news writer for the South Bend Tribune, Marek Mazurek was a sports writer during his entire career at The Observer. 

Mazurek, who majored in history with minors in medieval studies and in the Journalism, Ethics and Democracy program, said he planned on becoming a sports journalist before coming to Notre Dame.

“Coming into college, I wanted to be a sports writer,” Mazurek said. “I just signed up for the Sports department, and it kind of just stuck. I loved it.”

Mazurek worked as a sports writer for his first two years. He became the sports editor his junior year and an assistant managing editor during his senior year. 

He said he valued the teamwork that went into everything at The Observer. 

“Teamwork was what made it enjoyable,” Mazurek said. “There’s always times when you don’t want to come into the office, but once you get into the office and you see those people you’re working with and your friends there, it really turns you around.” 

During his time in the sports department, Mazurek covered a wide range of teams including swimming, cross country, basketball and football. Now, Mazurek is the cops, courts and public safety reporter for the South Bend Tribune. 

Although Mazurek did not have any news experience, he said he learned a lot by just being a part of the process. 

“I was a sports writer for years, but I now write for news,” he said. “And so, I definitely would say I learned some good things by watching them, rather than actively participating in the news coverage during my time there.”

He said one of his favorite experiences during his time was the sports department’s annual turkey bowl — a game of two-hand touch football played around Thanksgiving every year. Mazurek boasted a 27-touchdown career, which he acknowledged cannot be fact-checked. 

Overall, Mazurek said he was very thankful for the home he found at The Observer. 

“[The Observer] is the place at Notre Dame where I found my niche, my community, my family,” he said. “I was happy to have contributed to it and that it still continues to this day — it’s independent reporting on issues that matter to the campus community, and that’s not something that every college has by any means.”

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About Alysa Guffey

Alysa is a junior pursuing a major in history with minors in digital marketing and journalism, ethics and democracy. While she calls Breen-Phillips her home on campus, she is originally from Indianapolis. She currently serves as the Notre Dame News Editor.

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About Bella Laufenberg

Bella Laufenberg is a sophomore biological sciences major, who likes news much more than organic chemistry. She has a supplementary major in classics and is in the journalism, ethics and democracy minor. At The Observer, she is the New Writer Editor and works production.

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