BEYOND | In Search of a Voice


Screenshot of Conor Kelly’s byline

I have never considered myself a writer, much less a commentator. I never imagined writing anything beyond a few pages for my classes, and even when I could write extensively, I never enjoyed it. It was always something that I had to do, not something I wanted to learn or improve upon for myself. So it is rather odd to think how quickly my perspective changed, especially when that change led me into entirely different mediums that I never considered. If anything, my career in writing.

Conor Kelly, UIS Observer Staff Contributor. | Photo courtesy of Conor Kelly

My first experience with writing came during my time at Loras College. The local paper, the Lorian, had been the campus’ paper since 1922. It was the historic voice of the campus and its students, something that made it all the more enticing to me. They happily paid for new pieces, particularly in the opinion and news sections. The idea of being able to express myself politically and develop my beliefs as I went along was a blessing that I reveled in.

My first article, A Case for Medical Marijuana, was my first foray into writing any policy position, much less any sort of argument against an established legal system, and though it would be the only time I would write on the issue of medical cannabis, I was hooked. I made sure to write at least one article a week for that paper from then on. I tirelessly read through the paper and occasionally assist the archives in preserving each week’s issue in the Center for Dubuque History.

Over the next four years, I continued reading and contributing to the Lorian, occasionally winning awards for my pieces, even commenting on the controversial revelation that Loras’ founder was an enslaver who rented out a woman to avoid Iowa’s prohibition on slavery.

Hoffman Hall, Lorian Office by Carla Schmidt, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

But as time went on, I began to realize that as much as my work had an online presence, it was almost entirely tied to the Lorian and the print medium that made the Lorian a staple of the Loras community, but it also made it difficult to establish myself as a writer in my own right. I always wanted my work to be educational, not merely argumentative. But with the limited platform that came with print writing, I found myself increasingly frustrated. This limitation meant that my work could never reach the level of attention that I wanted, but it also meant that I could not distinguish my work from that of the litany of other bloggers online. So, for the first time, I wrote on my own.

I established a medium account, began republishing my work from the Lorian to my page, and produced my own articles. In a way, it was my first step into a more multimedia environment that I continue updating to this day. For several years, I balanced helping establish the opinion section into a section of diverse, political, and well-reasoned positions, with my desire to gain a following that could grow with me. By the time I left my position as the opinion editor of the Lorian, my online and print experience had established a strong need to continue working with newspapers and writing about politics and issues that affect the public. More than that, however, I wanted to establish myself as a critic who could carefully craft a message that no political party or faction could control. Above all else, I wanted my voice to remain in my hands.

And it was that need that would eventually lead me to join the Observer (then the Journal) in October of 2021. Though my work remains strong in the written word, a lot has changed since then. Since my departure from the Lorian, I established a podcast that the Observer has kindly agreed to post on its website. I expanded beyond opinion and began writing news with guests whom I interviewed as a matter of professional inquiry. All the while, I maintained my ability to establish a brand of my own on my website, where I established a newsletter and promoted my videos. In a way, the Observer is where all my skills can be freely expressed while also boosting their profile. There are many more issues to tackle and plenty of positions to take, but I can safely say that I will look forward to every moment of it.