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Alumni Corner – Gavan Reilly: Scars from the Frontline

Gavan Reilly, Deputy Editor Vol. XVI, and now political corespondent with Virgin Media News, recalls his time at the University Observer.

The funny thing is that I never actually joined the University Observer with the intention of becoming a journalist – at least not a ‘proper’ journalist anyway. I originally got involved because it was a way of getting hold of some free CDs (ask your parents) if you volunteered to write a review of a new album for these pages.

 

Pretty quickly one thing led to another: having started doing album reviews I graduated to doing music features, then to Features in the paper itself, and eventually to the News pages. A year on Erasmus in Germany threw a spanner in the works from getting even more involved, though the editors at the time kindly gave me a column in Otwo to let me stay around in some way. When I came home, I set up the paper’s website (the same one that’s still active to this day, with nearly ten years of content on it, which I’m still pretty proud about), and eventually became Deputy Editor for 2009–2010.


There are three things that come to mind when people mention my time in the Observer and on Otwo. The first is the memory of walking around campus and seeing people reading the paper, with the pages open on something you’ve written yourself. It probably sounds egomaniacal but in journalism there’s little that compares to watching someone notice your work. In a world before retweets and Instagram likes, seeing people read your newspaper was the greatest instant fulfillment you could get. What’s more, writing news pieces of real value, pointing out real flaws in how fellow students were treated, was very fulfilling.
The second thing I remember is the sheer exhaustion. Production weekends on the Observer basically involved showing up on Friday morning, and leaving (sometimes) only to go home for four or five hours’ sleep. True story: one time the bags under my eyes became so profound, I developed a small scar from it.


The third thing is the friendship. Like everything in UCD, you get out what you put in. The Observer was not only a great place to learn the trade of journalism (I got head-hunted from there to become the first ever employee at TheJournal.ie, from there to Today FM, and from there to TV3/Virgin Media) but also to meet like-minded people and spend full weekends doing meaningful work I still love. The scar was totally worth it.