When I first started writing for the student newspaper back in 2010, I was terrified of my editor, Barbara Beaser.
She had the unfiltered mouth of George Carlin, the forwardness of Howard Stern, and the coldness of Anna Wintour without the bob cut or the Oscar de la Renta. Her entire editorial team didn’t even think to smile on the first day either.
I managed to dodge interaction with her and her section editors the first time around by writing an opinion story – which, if you’re a nagging blogger, is no problem at all. But when I picked up an actual news story in which I needed some assistance from said intimidating editor, leave it to Beaser to put me at ease. Before I could even tap her on the shoulder, she had just started singing every country’s name to the tune of the Mexican Hat Dance.
Oh thank God, another weirdo like me.
Located on the second floor of the CC Building lies CC208 – a door that can easily be mistaken for a maintenance closet, but actually houses the Courier newsroom and the many interesting personalities that make up its staff. This is where students who are eager to get their feet wet in journalism on a very localized level get their start. It is also the place where journalism students who need shelter from the despicable Los Angeles air can kick their feet up and hang out. As cliché as it sounds, it’s the home away from home for the more dedicated students. For me, it was home for five semesters.
“Everyone was all in the same room,” said Beaser, who is now studying at California State University, Los Angeles. “It was where you could go to be with people who would understand trying to balance studying for your math test with finishing your portfolio, or the frustration of a crappy interview.”
There’s a camaraderie that’s formed by being in the newspaper, and that’s mainly because we’re bound by the same journo problems. Scheduling interviews and attending events can clash with class times and editorial meetings. A lack of content forces staff writers and photographers to stretch their talents and resources to take on more than one assignment. Sifting through interviews and extensive research can take days to turn into one coherent article, especially if there’s legal jargon involved.
Sometimes bridges are burned with close sources due to scathing pieces about their wrongdoings. Yet interestingly enough, student journalists spend a bulk of their finding ways to make their stories even just a little bit interesting for students to read. The cherry on top? We get excited for things ordinary students don’t typically care for.
“There was an ‘us versus them’ mentality that probably didn’t always get the results we wanted, but it made us feel like an elite group trying to get the truth out,” Beaser said. “Nobody appreciates how much time it takes to develop a story for a newspaper.”
And when it comes to the staff’s own writing or photography, the entire staff is critical of their craft. While we’re not bonded by blood, we’re definitely bonded by the red ink that just seeps through our first drafts.
“We were an eclectic bunch of people with, on the surface, not a lot in common other than the Courier and our dreams of becoming a journalist,” said Pia Orense, lead editor in 1996 and now a public relations associate for Mount Saint Mary’s University in Los Angeles. “If we were a family, then we were a very dysfunctional one. But the atmosphere was really awesome because even though we were all so different, every single person in the team was smart, witty, and creative.”
Student journalists need a crash landing site for the mere fact that working for the student newspaper is practically working a full-time job. Ask veteran reporters, editors, and even photographers about how much effort they put into the paper and you’ll get a resounding, “I’m only taking one other class other than this.”
“I really admired those students who were full-time or who even had a couple of classes on top of the newspaper class because a lot is expected of the journalism students who work on the Courier,” said PCC athletic clerk Sara Medina, also a former editor. “I can’t imagine how difficult it was for all those students who had multiple assignments on top of having to write news stories.”
But let’s get one thing straight: it isn’t purely a suit and tie affair in the newsroom. If there’s one thing to remember, we are all students, which means memes, cat videos, and other foolishness galore.
“The newsroom was like a home away from home,” said Janine Shimomura, a research and press aide for Attorney General Kamala D. Harris and the Courier’s editor-in-chief in 2011. “We’d eat lunch there, gather between classes, and hang out after lectures. There were so many afternoons filled with pure shenanigans and it was really one of the highlights of my PCC career.”
“It was fun and sometimes horrifying,” echoed Beaser. “People on deadline are either hilarious or awful. People shared food and watched dumb videos online, like that laughing shark or the rainbow toast cat.”
But when push comes to shove, and that breaking news article needs to hit the front page of the website, there definitely is that shift in attitude that pushes student journalists to excel… or ask for help. Case in point: I was assigned to cover the Kitty Litter Murder trial back in late 2011.
All those who know me know that I am a very shy person. Even opening a door scares me. But as punishment for not showing up to a meeting, Medina assigned me to cover a trial that had basically been delayed for three years. When I got to the Alhambra Courthouse, I quickly called Beaser, who had to calm me down.
“Everything will be fine. Nothing’s going to happen to you,” she told me. “Just walk in.”
What started as just a simple assignment write-up turned into a series of articles that I felt compelled to write. I showed up to that courthouse for weeks, and eventually my coverage of the murder trial got me an award at the Journalism Association of Community Colleges.
Shimomura’s editor reign, on the other hand, was filled with all sorts of controversy. The administration was attempting to retrofit the U Building while students were clashing with shared governance due to mysteriously increasing fees.
“It was really hard to filter through the noise and try to put out a compelling issue week after week,” she said.
When Shimomura first started as a reporter under Beaser, she described the Faculty Association beat – or, the area in which she was assigned to keep a close eye on – as “baptism by fire.” But in the end, it all came together to help her out in the long haul.
“You learn what issues matter to the students, the faculty, and the administration and you really get to see how all three interests come into conflict,” Shimomura said. “The newsroom was a great place to talk through whatever story you were working on with the editorial board. Sometimes your editors would provide fresh eyes to your story. It was an incredibly collaborative environment.
Medina had a similar experience. She had to take her eyes off the athletic department and look at the whole school in general.
“I have to say that I am a sports journalist first and foremost, so when I became the Editor-in-Chief and had to cover mostly breaking news stories, it was a bit of a challenge for me,” she said. “Luckily for me, some of my peers had a passion for news and were very helpful.”
Medina said she was older than most coming through the door of CC208 and had already graduated from a university in San Diego in English, so for her, entering the journalism program a more serious and goal oriented mindset than other students who were simply there for a grade. But it taught her to be patient.
“It was a frustrating time but something I definitely learned from,” she said. “I learned to be more patient and understanding, but many of my peers at the same time had taught me to relax and loosen up.”
On a more technical scale, problems can arise on production night when you have no idea where to paste stories and how to make a newspaper look like, well, a newspaper. Such was the case for Beaser.
“I’ve always needed help on headlines and layout,” Beaser said. “I don’t know what I would’ve done if Janine Shimomura, my managing editor and the girl who was editor after me, hadn’t been such a layout genius.”
Orense’s staff back in 1996 wasn’t afforded the digital luxuries we have now. The staff did their designs on PageMaker, but paste-ups were still required. Photos were processed in the dark room and the page designers would measure specs using the proportion wheel and pica pole. When the boards were finally ready, the adviser would take the whole thing to the printer.
“Mrs. Bolliger was a trooper,” Orense said of Mikki Bolliger, the long-time adviser to the Courier. “She stayed late waiting for us every Wednesday night. I don’t think we made deadline too often. Then Thursday morning was always an early one since we had to deliver the paper.”
The hard work we put into the paper is often not recognized by the student body. Most of the time, it is faculty and administration that acknowledge us. But as a student newspaper, we’ve received recognition from many organizations, most especially the Journalism Association of Community Colleges. Enter CC208 one day and take a look at our award wall, which is sprawled with plaques and scholarship winners.
But the prestige and glory take a back seat to a few things. The byline, for example, is probably one of the driving forces that see us through the finish line for a lot of our stories. But Christine Michaels, the chief editor who is known for exposing the Board of Trustees’ mishandling of 2014’s commencement speaker debacle, can sum up the number one reason as to why student journalists are so passionate.
“I think I overcame the stress when I finished a story and I could see why it was all worth it in the end,” Michaels said. “Being able to tell the people the truth about something they need to know is rewarding.”