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From the Archives: The Observer’s unusual origin story

, and | Wednesday, November 3, 2021

Diane Park | The Observer

Editor’s Note: This is the first story in a two-part From the Archives series celebrating The Observer’s 55th anniversary. The second part will be published Friday, Nov. 5. 

Today marks 55 years of The Observer, Notre Dame’s most prolific student-run newspaper. Founded in 1966 by a group of ambitious students dedicated to providing a reliable and relevant news service on campus, The Observer was the crowning achievement of a years-long effort to make a name for student journalism at Notre Dame.

In this first segment of a two-part edition, we will examine The Observer’s predecessor The Voice, and how it set up the groundwork for The Observer’s debut 55 years ago.  

The vestiges of The Voice

March 22, 1963 | The Voice Staff | Researched by Spencer Kelly

 Oct. 27, 1966 |  Stephen M. Feldhaus | Researched by Spencer Kelly

On Friday, March 22, 1963, a newspaper was born at Notre Dame — but it wasn’t The Observer. It was The Voice, a short-lived publication that immediately preceded its better-known relative.

The Voice archives, March 22, 1963

In their first-ever edition, The Voice ran a column titled “WE HAVE BEGUN” — a manifesto of sorts. The editors wrote that “The Voice arises from no one’s ashes,” pointing to the absence of a campus newspaper in 1963.

While Scholastic did exist at the time, magazines are essentially different publications than newspapers, with content being long in form and literary in style. Newspapers more often present direct representations of facts, absent of stylistic additions.

For this reason, they wrote that “Scholastic is not a newspaper, is not intended to be a newspaper, functionally can’t be a newspaper.”

As its name implied, The Voice would be “favoring a dialogue” among the student body, the student government and the administration. The new publication would eliminate the isolation between these groups by creating awareness of the diverse views.

“It is in this way that we can claim in some sense to be the voice of the University of Notre Dame,” they wrote.

The Voice recognized that these were “high aspirations,” and it would ultimately fall short of them. The paper was published sporadically over three-and-a-half years. On Thursday, Oct. 27, 1966, the front page declared its own downfall: “THE VOICE IS DEAD.”

The Voice archives, Oct. 27, 1966

Editor-in-chief Stephen M. Feldhaus (’67) cited numerous problems precipitating the paper’s demise. Insufficient funding prevented the paper from printing regularly, diminishing the relevancy of their stories. Staffing shortages further exacerbated production issues, and lack of support from the University impeded their legitimacy.

But Feldhaus was proud of their work, writing that “in spite of the magnitude of these obstacles, the VOICE has managed to exist.” 

Further, Feldhaus remained optimistic about the future of student journalism at Notre Dame. 

“There’s room for a newspaper at Notre Dame,” he wrote. “But not The Voice under the present circumstances.”

The newspaper-shaped gap in the Notre Dame community would be filled by a new publication, co-founded by Feldhaus, that launched just one week later: The Observer.

The Voice was effectively a trial run for its descendant — a prototype that allowed Feldhaus to learn from his mistakes. Though The Voice crashed, it was crucial to The Observer’s success.

The Voice rose “from no one’s ashes,” but The Observer rose out the ashes of The Voice. For that, it is forever indebted.

The beginning of an era: The Observer’s debut

Nov. 3, 1966 | Observer Staff | Researched by Christina Cefalu

The ending of The Voice left an opening for a contemporary change in Notre Dame’s student journalism. Just a week after The Voice was shut down, its former editor-in-chief Stephen M. Feldhaus banded together a creative and driven group of students, including Robert Anson (’67) and Pat Collins (’66), to begin a new era of the Notre Dame student newspaper with the founding of The Observer. Feldhaus’ vision for this new publication was a “journal of Notre Dame and its students,” which would be published regularly, starting at weekly editions in the first month and biweekly editions to follow.

Observer archives, Nov. 3, 1966

Infusing the vibrancy of student writing into its pages, the newly-founded Observer would “do just what its name proclaims: observe, remark, notice, comment and adhere.” The team proclaimed this was “not a rebirth” of The Voice, but a new beginning in Notre Dame’s history. 55 years later, The Observer still proudly reports and represents the thoughts and views of the tri-campus community.

The Observer greatly expanded the newspaper content, no longer limiting its scope to simple reports of campus events. This new approach included coverage on both global issues and student activities, opinion pieces and cheeky cartoons.

Observer archives, Nov. 3, 1966

The Observer’s first publication was saturated with character. The paper included a “Letters to the Observer” section, which functioned like its current Viewpoint section, giving all students a platform of expression. Norman Jeddeloh (’68) interviewed as the first weekly “Man in the News” article for his efforts to improve life for off-campus students. Interhall sports records stood alongside a passionate plea for athletes to receive compensation beyond scholarships in “The college football swindle.”

Within these works, The Observer’s new mission to pursue an “all-encompassing search for the truth” was woven in. This search for truth stands the test of time, as The Observer’s success and longevity is founded in its authentic take on the Notre Dame experience. 

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About Uyen Le

Uyen is a junior at Notre Dame, studying English and Gender Studies. She is currently serving as the Leader of the From the Archives Project.

Contact Uyen

About Spencer Kelly

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About Christina Cefalu

Contact Christina