Alumni Corner - Daniel McConnell

Daniel McConnell, now Editor of the Business Post, reminisces of his tenure as Editor for Volumes VII and VIII at the turn of the Century.

I can still remember it.

Walking into a smoke-filled Arts Block to see bundles of University Observers on the ground with people flocking to pick one up.

I had just submitted my first piece for the paper and hoped beyond hope that it might make it.

Once in my hand, there it was. On the front page. My byline. Ok, it was an additional reporting credit, but it was page one nonetheless. I was hooked.

Any notions of student politics immediately went out the window and for my entire time in UCD, being a newshound was what I wanted to be. With some gentle encouragement from the likes of Alan Torney, Sinead Ingoldsby and later Richie Oakley, breaking news stories became my thing.

My copy was ropey, barely accurate and never filed on time, but I was hungry and I got better.

A stint in the College Tribune as News editor further honed my chops and some amazing stories came our way that year. 

But it was the editor’s seat in the Observer where I was headed and after a major row with the Students’ Union, I found myself post J-1 in New Orleans being urged to take up the gig by my great friend and comrade in arms Enda Curran (now Washington DC reporter for Bloomberg).

As we took over mid-way through the year, job one was to revive a mothballed entity which had one barely working computer and no staff.

We were soon joined by Steve Cummins and Matt McConnell (yes my little brother) and we did our best to steady the ship. By the end of the academic year, we had revived the paper but got to implement very little of what we wanted to do. I decided I would do the gig for a proper year and give it my all. Enda, Steve, Matt and I were joined by Colm Maguire as Deputy Editor and the superb Ros Mac Thoim as our design editor.

We also were joined by then cub reporter Samantha Libreri and Eve Rowan who led our crack news team. After a couple of dodgy enough editions, we hit our stride.

In competition with a strong College Tribune (led by Eoghan Rice and Fergus O’Shea) we went to war with the SU president (whose team threatened to stop distribution of the paper once or twice), we caused the college no end of grief and we broke some amazing stories.

Ros’ high design and photographic standards meant the paper looked great.

Ours was the first year of having a digital camera in the office and a working website for the newspaper, but copies still came in on floppy disks, which still haunt me to this day.

It was also the year the paper’s office moved from the library corridor to the New Student Centre, which had a 24-hour key. This was revolutionary and allowed no end of madness to ensue. 

But it was September 11 which was the defining moment of our year. In the office at the time of the first plane hitting, we all decamped to the Forum Bar to watch events unfold before our eyes.

It changed what we reported on, what we analysed and it spurred the rise of a powerful and noisy student anti-war movement in UCD. It also forced us to confront Irish attitudes towards those of the Muslim faith. It was a rollercoaster of a year and we ended on a high with eight Smedia awards and a Guardian prize for best newspaper. 

I left UCD for DCU, but twenty-plus years on, the experience of being Observer editor has stood to me every day of my career.