stage manager signals everyone to be quiet, and onto the set of
The Mike Peterson Show walks the star himself.
Mike Peterson is lanky sophomore with a youthful, eager face.
Wearing a dark suit, white dress shirt and a blue-and-gold Notre
Dame tie, he looks more like the bride's kid brother than the
host of a late-night talk show. But this isn't the NBC Studios
in Burbank. It's the studio, singular, of Notre Dame Television,
and that means a former storage room in Washington Hall about
the size of a bedroom.
A step or two past two small video cameras on tripods, the star
stops in front of his "interview desk," an unpainted plywood contraption,
and turns to face one of the cameras. As part of a rehearsed maneuver,
the camera is trained at about the level of his chest. So he bends
down slightly and tilts his head to the side, bringing his face
into the frame horizontally.
"Hey, everyone," he says. "Welcome to the first episode of The
Mike Peterson Show."
"Cut!" calls the floor director. "Mike, do you have a mike on?"
The Mike Peterson Show has many things -- a dedicated
crew, jazzy title graphics, a rockin' original theme song -- but
no wireless microphones. As a result, when the host returns for
a second try, a heavy cable extends out from the back of his suit
coat. The addition of a long black tail makes him look a little
like the GEICO gecko off to a business lunch.
NDTV began three years ago as seven students using borrowed
cameras. They put together a half-hour show with features on campus
life and some comedy bits. It aired on the local public-access
cable channel about twice a month.
Today, nearly 70 students operate what they grandiosely refer
to as the campus TV "station." This semester they're producing
two half-hour programs seen weekly (and repeatedly) on a cable
channel limited to campus. One is a news program, the other is
Peterson's talk show, which, in its premiere at least, emphasized
humor over couch gab. One guest, a writer on the show, was challenged
to break a record supposedly chosen at random from the Guinness
Book of World Records. His task: Produce, by the end of the
show, the highest-grossing motion picture of all time. He could
be seen outside later in the show calling out to passersby like
a carnival barker: "Highest-grossing movie of all time, $250,000
a ticket, right here."
NDTV's development from infancy to toddlerhood has been part
of a broader expansion of student media the past few years. For
Last fall marked the fifth anniversary of the unofficial student
website of Notre Dame, NDToday.com. Popular features at the site
include searchable evaluations of faculty written by former students,
and a do-it-yourself survey page. (One recent poll asked, "Would
you pay money for sex?" No, 72 percent.). NDToday.com averages
11,000 to 12,000 registered users a month, according to Scott
Palko '03, owner and president of CCI Studios, operator of the
Two new independent student newspapers have debuted in the past
Three years ago The Juggler, the long-running
annual magazine showcasing student literary works and artwork,
expanded to two issues a year. The change didn't increase total
pages all that much, but literary submissions have doubled, according
to editor Liz Melly '05.
At WVFI, the former AM student radio station that switched to
webcasting in 1999 because of a deteriorating signal, so many
students want to be deejays they're having to double- or triple-team
on the station's 91 weekly shows, says senior Dan McSwain, station
"This is the first year we've ever had to potentially worry
about not giving people a show," McSwain says. "In past when you
came in to interview, as long as you could speak your name you'd
be given one."
The student media have grown not only in number and participation,
but in quality, according to many observers. Matt Cashore '94,
a freelance photographer who has shot extensively on campus the
past 10 years (often for this magazine), says he's seen the quality
of photography in The Observer improve greatly.
"Before, if it was even in focus it was a good day," says the
alum, who was photo editor of the Dome in 1993-94 but
never worked for The Observer. "Now, they're as well
equipped as a typical newspaper their size, and they have some
people who take it seriously."
Some of that improvement can probably be attributed to technological
advances, which have made it faster and easier for students to
create everything from photos to TV shows to the yearbook. Digital
photography has turned darkrooms into closets. Senior Nicole Philips,
editor of the Dome yearbook, which turns 100 years old
in 2006, says senior pictures now arrive from the local photographer
on a CD with names attached to each photo. All she and her staff
have to do is place them into a layout on a computer screen.
Some of the media have also benefitted from professional assistance.
In 2000 the University hired a pair of experienced professional
journalists to serve as advisers and coordinators for the electronic
media, Dome, Juggler and Scholastic magazine.
Previously, an assistant in Student Activities served as a coordinator
but didn't offer any advice on media craft.
For the most part, the relationship between the University's
administration and student media has been quiet in recent years.
Matt Storin, a former editor of the Boston Globe who
became the University's chief spokesperson in 2002, says he doesn't
hear many negative comments from administrators. He says many
recognize the learning opportunities student media provide and
how the media reinforce a sense of community, especially among
the student body. Some say they don't pay any attention to the
He isn't one of them.
"I understand that a story in The Observer today could
be in the South Bend Tribune tomorrow and be on the AP
the day after tomorrow. So anyone who ignores the student media
does it at their peril."
Instead of an adviser, an assistant to the president, Chandra
Johnson '96, serves as "liaison" between the administration and
The Observer. Each spring when the coming year's editorial
staff takes over, she, Father Malloy and one other administrator
have sat down with the new editors and talked about what they
perceive to be the role of the paper.
"For the most part," she says, "they have been very respectful
of their role."
The partisan press
Published virtually every weekday when classes are in session,
The Observer remains the dominant news medium on campus.
Its staff of 150 (including advertising) is five times larger
than that of the biweekly Scholastic. The paper generates
$700,000 a year in advertising revenue, according to editor Matt
Lozar, a senior.
Students, faculty, administrators -- everyone picks up The
Observer. The best-read section is probably the Viewpoint
spread with its letters, columns and the occasional editorial.
Chandra Johnson says the paper has "no competition" as a news
source for the student body.
The Observer bills itself as independent from the University,
and it sometimes writes critically about the administration. But
in some ways it's very much part of the establishment. The paper
pays rent of only $1 a year to operate out of the basement of
South Dining Hall (across the hall from offices of the Dome
and Scholastic), and the administration collects a $12
subscription fee annually from undergraduates on the paper's behalf.
For most of its existence The Observer has been the
only newspaper on campus, but not always. In1987 a liberal-minded,
tabloid-size paper called Common Sense appeared.
Common Sense continues to be published three times a semester
with an editorial board made up mostly of students, grad students
and faculty. The paper publishes mostly opinion pieces, some of
them locally generated, some reprinted from such Catholic and
secular publications as America, the National Catholic
Reporter, The American Prospect and The Nation.
Longtime editorial board member Peter Walshe, a political science
professor, says Common Sense was launched because people
thought The Observer was too conservative. They wanted
a publication that focused attention on social justice issues
like whether the University should divest itself from corporations
doing business in then-segregated South Africa.
Eighteen years later, the opposite has happened. Some on campus
think The Observer is too liberal. They've begun publishing
One of them is The Irish Rover, launched by
a group of students in December 2003. The paper describes itself
as a conservative voice concerned with keeping the University
true to its Roman Catholic roots. "Standing in the way, and asking
for the old past, the good way," declared a quotation appearing
under the Rover's nameplate for several issues. Published
once every two weeks, the free paper is independent of University
oversight and receives much of its financial support from a national
conservative educational group, the Intercollegiate Studies Institute,
say the paper's editors.
The other newcomer is Advocata Nostra, Latin for "Our
Advocate." Editor Chris Brophy, a junior, says the name refers
to Mary and comes from the prayer "Hail, Holy Queen." Launched
last fall, the free monthly paper is technically the newsletter
of the fledgling Orestes Brownson Council. That's a student group
dedicated to studying classic texts of the Catholic tradition
and how Catholic teaching applies to American politics, Brophy
"We adhere to everything the Church teaches,." Brophy says.
In practice that means advocating some positions thought of as
politically conservative (pro-life on abortion) and some liberal
(pro-peace and social justice). Brophy had been publisher of the
Irish Rover but split away because he wanted a publication
that "builds bridges and promotes dialogue," he says.
In its first year of existence, The Irish Rover
has specialized in exposing what it perceives to be a liberal
bias in many areas of campus life. One article looked at alleged
disrespect for the Catholic faith in the English department. Another
reported that students in a First Year Composition class were
required to attend a showing of Fahrenheit 911, director
Michael Moore's film ridiculing President Bush, as part of a homework
"Notre Dame is not as bad as many top schools in [in terms of
liberal bias in the classroom]," says Rover Editor Joe
Lindsley '05, "but we don't want it to get to that."
Another frequent target of the paper has been The Observer.
The Rover think it favors liberal causes.
"What they select to cover, that's where the bias is," says
Lindsley, noting the extensive coverage the paper devoted to the
orange T-shirt campaign. An unofficial student group last year
sold bright orange T-shirts reading "Gay? Fine by Me." Purchasers
were encouraged to wear them on designated days to combat what
some see as hostility toward non-heterosexuals on campus. Hundreds
of people participated.
Rover editors also have taken issue with The Observer's
advertising policies. Last fall the daily paper refused to run
two ads from the Notre Dame/Saint Mary's Right to Life group.
One expressed opposition to stem-cell research. In recent years
Observer editors have declined ads containing editorial
content. They suggest that groups express their opinions in letters
to the Viewpoint page.
That explanation hasn't satisfied the Rover. Senior
Chris Hammer, the paper's associate editor, points out that the
University's official Standing Committee on Gay and Lesbian Student
Needs was able to place an ad in The Observer mentioning
National Coming Out Day the same day The Observer rejected
an ad from Right to Life.
Lindsley argues that because every undergraduate pays a subscription
fee to The Observer, the daily paper has an obligation
to be "more fair." He says he wants to let students know how they
can get out of paying the fee.
The Observer's editor, senior Matt Lozar,
has this response to the bias charge: "I haven't heard from students
that The Observer should change." He says it has been
his impression that the Rover was created as a counterbalance
to Common Sense, not The Observer.
"Our goal is to be balanced," he says.
He notes that in the runup to last fall's presidential election,
the paper's 10 editors discussed which candidate to endorse. "They
were split down the middle," Lozar says. In the end The Observer
simply encouraged people to vote.
Improbably fertile ground
Begun in 1867, Scholastic claims to be the oldest continuously
published student magazine in the United States. The publication
looked more like a church bulletin than a magazine in its early
years. It has come a long way, especially of late.
Recent years have seen Scholastic publish a number
of ambitious investigative pieces, including one in which students
talked about their use of illegal drugs. (Drug use is believed
to be rare at Notre Dame compared with drinking.) Another story
explored the situation faced by students who had become single
mothers. A special edition after September 11 included first-person
accounts from one alumnus who worked at the World Trade Center
and another who was among the firefighters who participated in
Similarly ambitious, The Observer in February 2004
published a memorable series of more than 30 profiles of students,
faculty and alumni. The group was said to represent diversity
at Notre Dame, past and present and future. The articles appeared
in three special pull-outs published on consecutive Fridays.
Such enterprising work has not gone unnoticed beyond campus.
In 2001 The Observer was named national Newspaper of
the Year by the Associated Collegiate Press after finishing second
in 1999. In 2003 the same organization named it Best of the Midwest
among daily or weekly tabloids at four-year colleges. The
Observer won Newspaper of the Year from the Indiana Collegiate
Press Association from 1998 through 2000. Scholastic
has been Indiana Collegiate Press Association Magazine of the
Year three of the past four years.
What's surprising about this success is that Notre Dame hasn't
had a journalism department for almost half a century. The closest
approximation is the Department of American Studies, which succeeded
the Department of Communication Arts in the early 1970s. The closest
thing Notre Dame has to a journalism major is the John W. Gallivan
Program in Journalism, Ethics & Democracy, an interdisciplinary
minor launched in 1997. The Gallivan program enrolls about 35
students a year.
That's puny compared to the schools in Indiana with which Notre
Dame's student media compete. Ball State University says it has
about 800 journalism majors among its undergraduate enrollment
of about 18,000. At Indiana University Bloomington the figures
are about 30,000 undergrads and 722 journalism majors. (Notre
Dame has about 8,000 undergraduates). Also, many universities
with journalism programs offer course credit for working in the
student media. Not at Notre Dame.
Over the years the University has produced many accomplished
media professionals, including the legendary New York Times
sports columnist Red Smith '27 (a list of some current Domer journalists
appears on page XX). But only a small number of those staffing
today's student publications plan to pursue journalism careers.
Observer editor Lozar puts the figure at 10 to 20 percent
of his staff. He himself is a management information systems major
and hopes to get into sports administration.
At Scholastic, "few to very few" staffers are considering
journalism, laments one of those who is, senior Annie Robinson.
Standing in the Scholastic's office in the basement of
the South Dining Hall, the magazine co-editor says, "I knew the
first time I walked in here as a lowly freshman that someday I
wanted to run this magazine." But she's not like everyone. "There
aren't people banging on the door to work here or on any student
[print] media. You really have to recruit."
The fact that these recruits perform so well attests to the
admissions profile at Notre Dame. Students don't get in here unless
they can write.
Bob Franken '69, print media coordinator for Student Activities,
served as news director at WSND when he was a student. He went
on to a career in journalism that included 20 years as a newspaper
editor. As part of his job he reads every Scholastic
cover to cover to provide the staff a critique. "It's harder and
harder for me to find grammar and typographical errors," he says.
"These kids know what they're doing."
He judges today's students journalists to be more professional
than those from his days on campus. "But not just more professional.
They're covering more sophisticated topics and doing so with more
As on most college campuses, members of student media make up
a close-knit fraternity. They've spent a lot of long nights together
scrambling to meet deadlines. At Notre Dame it's a smaller fraternity
than at large public institutions, but the same pride is evident.
The Scholastic's Robinson recalls two favorite memories:
One was attending an Indiana Collegiate Press Association meeting
at Ball State. It was held in the university's journalism building.
"I saw rooms labeled just for magazine journalism, and here
we ended up winning for best news magazine and a lot of other
awards. I mean, [journalism] had its own building."
Her other favorite memory is of the first time she saw a person
pick up a copy of Scholastic at an off-campus location
and begin reading it. It was a young woman in a coffee shop.
"She looked like she didn't even go to Notre Dame. That was
the best feeling."
Ed Cohen is an associate editor of this magazine.