Editor’s Note: Introducing The Case Western Reserve Observer


Shreyas Banerjee, Executive Editor

You might have noticed that a couple of things are different around here. For the first time in 10 years, we have a new logo, color scheme and overall design. Beyond that, we also have a new name.

This has been a long time coming. Change is in the DNA of all universities as student bodies constantly turnover, but it is especially true at Case Western Reserve University. There are no long-standing traditions at this university because we are always trying something new in our search for our own identity. The Case Institute of Technology and Western Reserve University federation was only 56 years ago—28% of our 197-year history. As we have continued to deal with the aftereffects of the federation, our university has been markedly different each decade. This is not necessarily a bad thing. 

In the very first Observer editorial (published on Sept. 5, 1969), we stated that “universities should be the last of the institutions in society to resist change.” We still hold that belief to our very core, and as the student body has changed, we—the student newspaper at CWRU—have changed along with it. The type of content we cover and how we cover it is constantly being revised as time continues. Meaning every 10 years or so, we try to rethink how we present our journalism to the CWRU student body to remain relevant. Even though the paper has dramatically expanded our digital offerings over the past few years—especially since being forced to shift to complete online publication during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic—, our print product hasn’t changed much. We’ve made small adjustments here and there, but our overall design language dates back to 2013. While that design has served us well in the 2010s, it does not fit the sensibilities of the 2020s. For instance, in 2013, iOS 7 launched with Windows 8, introducing flat visual design to the masses through digital software. There was a turn towards simplicity, minimalism and modernity in most designs—including ours. While we don’t reject those shifts, the new decade gives us an opportunity to reflect on what worked about flat design and what did not. Furthermore, it allows us to reevaluate whether we can take design cues from the past that we had previously discarded.

To do so, we held a campus-wide design logo contest, enlisting the best student graphic designers CWRU has to offer. This will always be the newspaper of and for the students, and we wanted to ensure that CWRU students had a voice in this process. We had many great submissions but ultimately went with a design submission from fourth-year computer science student John Mays. In his submission, Mays described his inspiration from software logos of the 1990s and older magazine designs while maintaining a modern simplicity. Mays wanted to create a design “reminiscent of older design attitudes, but original enough to be serviceable and ‘new’ feeling for at least a decade in the future.” We have a long legacy here at CWRU and The Observer—therefore, this marriage of the old and the new fit great with what we were searching for.

As for our legacy, we thought it was time for an even bigger shift: changing our name. For 54 years, we have served the CWRU campus community as “The Observer.” The name harkens back to the 1830s Hudson abolitionist newspaper, The Observer and Telegraph, which students of Western Reserve University widely read. Before the federation of the university, our predecessor papers went by “The Case Tech” and “The Reserve Tribune”—embracing their university’s names as part of their masthead. Other college-student newspapers—such as The Harvard Crimson and The Stanford Daily—typically do the same. While I cannot say for sure, part of me believes that we here at The Observer never integrated anything from “Case Western Reserve University” into our own name because, at the time, we did not have an attachment to our new institution. There was much tension as to what elements to take from Case and what elements to take from Reserve—our identity as a whole institution was very much an open question. My personal theory is that perhaps to remain neutral, the newspaper chose to discard both names and simply be “The Observer” for all—whether they came from Case or Reserve.

While that may have been the right choice at the time, I personally believe that our institutions have spent enough years married together for us to embrace both our Case and Reserve heritages. 

Observer founder Paul Kerson once told me, “Case Western Reserve University is decidedly not a long, unwieldy name. It is a name steeped in American history and the ongoing solutions to its challenges. We should be justly proud of the entire name. Western Reserve means Connecticut’s effort to keep slavery out of Ohio at a time when Virginia wanted to bring that defective, cruel economic system into a then brand-new territory. Case means society’s effort to improve itself through new technology. Western Reserve’s historic effort to establish a just economy is needed to govern Case’s effort to bring us new machines. There is no other university which institutionally understands the necessary interrelationship between the two goals and to keep them in harmony for the betterment of society.”

I couldn’t agree more. It is time to embrace our whole name and the legacy that comes with it across CWRU—including our student newspaper. Henceforth, we shall be known as “The Case Western Reserve Observer.” While we will continue referring to ourselves as “The Observer” in shorthand, our new name sets us up for the next 50 years. 

Hopefully, this paper will be around for decades to come and will change accordingly with the times. I believe our new logo, design and name are the right decisions for this time. I hope you think so too, and continue to patronize us with your readership as we continue documenting the story of CWRU.