Interviewing Michael O’Brien ‘23 On His O’Hare Fellowship at America Magazine

By: Ashwin Prabaharan, Peer Career Assistant
November 29th, 2023

On November 20th, Holy Cross had the opportunity to interview alum Michael O’Brien. Michael recently graduated in the spring of 2023, receiving a Bachelor of Arts in English. He served on the Spire as a writer and ultimately became Editor-in-Chief. He now serves as an O’Hare Fellow at America Magazine. Michael walked me through the application process, his research on the Fellowship, and his experience thus far at the Magazine. 

While attending the Silent Retreat at the Joyce Contemplative Center, Michael remarked that he came upon a magazine placed for reading, which coincidentally was a copy of America Magazine. “At that point, I didn’t have a job lined up for post-grad life as I went into the second semester. I had just worked at NBC the summer before so I was considering returning there. But I remember picking up a copy of the magazine, figuring that it was Jesuit-based since it was at the JCC. But as I flipped through it, I was really inspired by the work the magazine covered.” As a fellow, Michael takes part in a daily morning prayer held in the office that seeks to represent marginalized people who do not have a voice. While NBC will always be an opportunity for corporate journalism to turn to, the mission of America Magazine spoke volumes to Michael’s personal ambition to give back to the Jesuit community while working within his professional goals. 

When discussing the application process, he noted that the application for the Fellowship required 4 writing samples, in which he used two articles he had written for the Spire articles. He then used two articles he had written for the Staten Island Advance newspaper while an intern in their office. The application also asked for two recommendation letters and two rounds of interviews. Additionally, Michael was asked to pitch three potential story ideas that he could begin working on if he were selected for the position. 

On a day-to-day basis, Michael discussed how he and other fellows are placed on three cohorts or working teams. Michael has been assigned to work with the Dispatch, Video, and Social Media groups. The Dispatch team works on hard news stories, covering editorials and current events that come into the Magazine’s coverage. The Video and Social Media teams work on creating and managing the Magazine’s external content, using social media accounts on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, and other platforms. “It’s been giving me a very well-rounded approach to journalism especially today when the main focus of many journals and publications is on digital content. Writing is important and a crucial part of journalism but it is a multi-faceted field, and I’ve seen a great deal of it as I help produce video content for YouTube or for our podcast. It’s been giving me a great background and foundational experience before I venture into my next career.”

Entering the Fellowship program, Michael expected his work to mainly pertain to writing and following relevant news stories. “But it’s been great to dip into the many different pools of work we have here and branch out into things I may not have considered before. This type of work can give me that professional leg up during the application process for future positions in the field too.” Michael remarked that his favorite part of his work so far has been the unfettered scope of the Magazine’s work into every sector of society, not just limited to the Church but rather into many different fields that we would not consider to be in the purview of the Catholic world. “We just covered a story on a pop music video that was filmed in a church here in Brooklyn, while writing on the progress of sports in Catholic colleges around the country. The thing that surprised me the most about the fellowship has been the opportunity to work with so many things I’m passionate about and how they interact with the Church and the faith.” 

Giving advice to Holy Cross students on similar career opportunities, Michael emphasized the Spire in developing his writing and journalistic skills. “When I wrote my first article for the paper in my freshman year, I never envisioned myself being the Editor-in-Chief, but it’s all about taking that first step with anything you’re passionate about. If you’re at Holy 

Cross and you’re passionate about sports media, go start a podcast talking about the field. If you’re interested in politics, start a blog talking about it. Doing something is the first step in achieving your goal in the field of journalism.” Given that Holy Cross does not offer a journalism major, Michael notes that the Spire is something to practice writing for while working under the campus umbrella. As Chief, he was able to track the work of his writers and see their writing abilities improve as the year progressed. Michael also notes that Holy Cross would be the perfect place to begin a career in Catholic media where groups like Campus Ministry can help make those crucial connections in the industry. 

We would like to thank Michael for speaking with us as he embarks on this wonderful opportunity with American Magazine. We are very confident his insights into the field of journalism will prove invaluable for Holy Cross students considering a career in it. Everyone here on Mt. St. James wishes Michael the very best in his new position and in his future professional endeavors!