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‘The Observer is better for having Saint Mary’s in leadership’: Former Saint Mary’s Observer editors reflect on time at paper

| Wednesday, November 3, 2021

Today marks 55 years of The Observer uncovering the truth and reporting it accurately. To commemorate this anniversary, The Observer reached out to several former leaders from Saint Mary’s to discuss their journeys as student journalists and their aspirations for the years to come.

Maria Leontaras, Assistant Managing Editor (2019-2020), Editor-in-Chief (2020-2021)

Leontaras ’21, who worked with The Observer since her first year, said she knew before she got to Saint Mary’s that the paper would be an important part of her College career.

So, regardless of what I was doing, outside of extracurriculars, I knew that The Observer was going to be part of my college experience, Leontaras said. And that alone really set me up for becoming more and more involved in The Observer as my years at Saint Mary’s went on.

Reflecting on the people she met during her time at The Observer, Leontaras expressed gratitude for having experienced the tri-campus community in a unique way.

My favorite thing about The Observer is was that it had these events where you could go and meet people you probably wouldn’t have met outside of it, she said. You’re finding out more about your own campus, but you’re also finding out more about the other campuses and The Observer at its best encompasses what’s great about the tri-campus community.

Following the 1977-78 term of first Saint Mary’s Editor-in-Chief Marti Hogan, Leontaras noted she did not expect to be the second-ever Saint Mary’s student to hold the role.

I never thought that I would be Editor-in-Chief, she said. It didn’t seem like the paper was set up in a way that a Saint Mary’s student could do it … But I’m glad that I took the chance to apply and didn’t let the stereotypes about my campus stop me from trying new things and pursuing a position that I never thought I could.

Leontaras also discussed the Aug. 21, 2020 “Don’t make us write obituaries” print issue, which was produced from the Saint Mary’s library due to Notre Dame’s move to two weeks of online classes at the beginning of the fall 2020 semester.

We produced that four-page edition in the basement of the Saint Mary’s library, she said. It was me and [Assistant Managing Editors] Sara Schlecht and Maeve Filbin for a little bit working on this four-page edition — taking pictures of the front and sending it to the [Editorial] Board … Even though we weren’t all together in the South Dining Hall office, it still was a collaborative effort from anyone who responded to our messages.

Responding to the national attention the editorial received, Leontaras said it was gratifying to receive such profound feedback.

Sometimes it feels like you’re doing all this hard work and no one’s noticing, Leontaras said. But when we published that editorial and it really gained some traction online and major publications were writing about us … and all these places were talking about what we did, it really helped us put into perspective — for me at least — that your work is not for nothing, and that people do pay attention to what you’re doing and hopefully, it’ll have an impact on them in some way.

Leontaras closed by emphasizing that Saint Mary’s students can take on leadership positions within The Observer, despite negative stereotypes about students.

“I hope that seeing that I as a Saint Mary’s student could do that, every other Saint Mary’s student who is a part of The Observer can see that they can do that too, Leontaras said. They shouldn’t let the thought that they aren’t from one campus or another, hold them back from pursuing whatever they want to do on any campus.

Maeve Filbin, Saint Mary’s News Editor (2019-2020), Assistant Managing Editor (2020-2021)

Filbin ’21 had a background in journalism from writing for her high school newspaper and knew she wanted to continue at the Saint Mary’s News department when she met leadership during her first year.

When she herself was named Saint Mary’s News Editor for the 2019-2020 term, Filbin experienced the challenge of running her department while studying abroad.

When I became Saint Mary’s News Editor, I was actually studying abroad in Ireland and, at the time, a lot of the newly assigned General Board was also studying abroad, so we were really all over the world when we came together as a board, she said. I think that really defined my first couple of months as Saint Mary’s News Editor considering that I was trying to keep track of campus from miles across the ocean in an entirely different time zone.

Filbin also characterized her time with The Observer as one that gave students answers about the College’s changing leadership.

Really in all my time with The Observer, Saint Mary’s administration was just boiling with these new changes taking place and that left, I think, a lot of the student body with a lot of questions that then were our department’s responsibility to answer, Filbin said. I feel like that was really the theme of my time within the Saint Mary’s department, and later on, as assistant managing editor.

Thinking about her other contributions to news coverage, Filbin recalled many stories that highlighted the unique experiences of Saint Mary’s students.

I loved writing stories like that about Saint Mary’s students making a name for themselves in areas where Saint Mary’s names maybe had never been written before or if they had been, it was a long time ago, Filbin said.

Filbin said she believes The Observer presented her with a distinct community, as well as the skills to discover the truth.

I think my time at The Observer gave me a lot of things — the biggest probably being the group of people who became friends and really left a very lasting impact on my life, she said. The next being just a real appreciation for the type of work that goes into uncovering the truth, where I think it’s super important to hold the powerful to account especially on college campuses where it’s so important to allow students to have a voice. I would say that The Observer taught me to ask the important questions, even if you’re the only one asking them.

Mia Marroquin, Saint Mary’s News Editor (2020-2021)

Marroquin ’21 joined the Saint Mary’s news department her sophomore year after realizing she wanted to highlight Saint Mary’s in a tri-campus organization.

I’ve always enjoyed writing my whole life and I also really liked the idea of getting more involved in the tri-campus community, especially being able to represent Saint Mary’s and all the good stuff we’ve got going on here, Marroquin said.

During her term, Marroquin and her department were responsible for informing the student body about changing COVID-19 policies during the height of the pandemic.

We acted as a liaison for what was going on with University and College officials and administrators to students that read our tweets or our articles, she said. So, there was definitely a lot of pressure there, but it was also incredibly rewarding, especially as news was breaking every week when we were first online.

After seeing the power behind The Observer’s Aug. 2020 editorial and her own Inside Columns, Marroquin noted a realization she had about the impact of student journalism.

But I think that’s the beautiful thing about student journalism is that it just has this ricochet effect that you don’t know who’s going to read it next, Marroquin said. You don’t know the power that they have to make decisions.

Being at a women’s college inspired Marroquin’s resilience in her current career path, she said.

I think being at Saint Mary’s taught me so much about being confident in myself and being confident in what I’m capable of achieving, she said. Right now, I work in a pretty male-dominated industry and my experiences at Saint Mary’s and my leadership roles at Saint Mary’s made me feel like my voice is a value and that I have things to contribute to the conversation.

Sara Schlecht, Associate News Editor (2019-2020), Assistant Managing Editor (2020-2021)

Schlecht ’21 recalled her first Saint Mary’s news meeting during her first year as a pivotal part of her college experience.

It’s just one of my strongest college memories, she said. I met so many of the most influential and important people of my college experience, like, in one Observer meeting, and I just never looked back.

After writing articles for both the News and Scene departments, Schlecht noted her pride in being able to find spaces for writers outside of the Saint Mary’s News department.

Something that I really am proud of doing is opening myself up to the possibility of writing in more than one department, she said. It kind of showed me that there were possibilities beyond just Saint Mary’s News for Saint Mary’s students and while it wasn’t particularly groundbreaking at the time, I wasn’t seeing Saint Mary’s students at Scene meetings, or really, even outside of the Saint Mary’s News meetings at all.

One of the lessons that Schlecht took away from her time at The Observer is the importance of asking good questions, she said.

Journalism really forces you to get good at asking questions and thinking critically, like in an interview or just even in a conversation with another person, she said. And so it helped me just think faster and more deeply about the situations I was in to see how I could get the most or learn the most from situation I was involved in. I think it helps me as a writer for sure, but it’s also something I use every day now.

A memorable part of Schlecht’s term as Assistant Managing Editor is former Notre Dame law professor and Supreme Court Justice Amy Coney Barrett’s confirmation following the death of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg.

Something that really sticks out to me from my time as Assistant Managing Editor was Amy Coney Barrett, Schlecht said. From the speculation that she would be nominated to replace the late Justice Ginsburg, to the nomination, to the Rose Garden debacle: She was a constant presence in our news cycle for a month. She had a large presence in the forefront of the national mind, but also very narrowly on the mind of everyone in the office.

Schlecht said she believes The Observer needs to continue to uplift Saint Mary’s students in both leadership positions and news coverage.

I know that The Observer is better for having Saint Mary’s in leadership, Schlecht said. A continued presence there is wonderful to make sure that their stories continue to be in The Observer.

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About Genevieve Coleman

Genevieve Coleman is a graduating senior at Saint Mary's majoring in English literature, creative writing and secondary education. She was an Assistant Managing Editor for the 2022-23 term.

Contact Genevieve