el Don newspaper enjoys award-winning reputation
The revolution underway in journalism is putting more pressure than ever on those teaching journalism and producing newspapers like el Don not just to keep pace, but to excel, both in print and digital formats.
But el Don and its team of students, faculty and staff are proving equal to the task: “We compete with all the major universities in the U.S., and generally we are the only paper that comes out on top. We consistently beat the big boys,” says Professor Charles (“Bud”) Little, who estimates the newspaper has won approximately 5,000 state, local and national awards since he became chair of the Journalism Department in 1986.
In 2008, el Don was inducted into the Associated Collegiate Press Hall of Fame at the National College Media Convention. The honor was bestowed upon the publication after winning 14 National Pacemaker Awards, considered the Pulitzer Prize of College journalism.
Former el Don News Editor Martin Syjuco, now a student at Chapman University, won “Reporter of the Year,” an award based on a writer’s three best single news or feature stories published in a college newspaper during the competition year.
The California Newspaper Publishers Association also named el Don as its First Place General Excellence Winner in the Two-Year College category at its annual Better Newspapers Contest in November. It was el Don’s sixth consecutive first place honor.
Interviews with Little and Editor-in-Chief Ray Pascual, a sophomore at SAC who plans to transfer to California State University, Fullerton, reveal both the passion and the pressure that consistently puts the paper in first place.
How often is the paper published?
“Every other week, or 14 to 16 times a year,” Little says. “Each issue has about 16 pages, and we try to maintain a ratio of 80 per cent news to 20 per cent ads, so each issue has only about six ads.”
How many people work on the paper?
“There are about 26 staffers,” Little says, “and everyone does everything.”
Pascual finds the teamwork that is needed to produce the paper especially rewarding.
“There is such a sense of accomplishment when you produce a tangible product on our publication schedule,” Pascual says. “You feel absolutely drained at the end, but also exhilarated when you actually see the results of all the hard work you have put in.”
How much time do staff members devote to the paper?
As editor-in-chief, Pascual is adamant that “I don’t want students putting in more time on the paper than they do on their other studies.” That said, however, he estimates that “to put out one really good article takes about 10 hours; if you can put in 10-15 hours every week writing, editing, and re-writing, you can be a very good writer.”
Being an editor is a different story; Pascual, who is 33 and also works part-time, admits he spends “about every other moment of my life basically in class or in the paper’s news room at Santa Ana College. I just love the staff and the camaraderie.”
What qualifications do you need to work on el Don?
Responding from the perspective of a professor of journalism and Chair of the Journalism Dept., Little says he is looking for students who “are really interested in an array of subjects, including politics, society, entertainment, sports, and opinion/editorial material. We try to appeal to many interests.”
Pascual, however, was primarily interested in just watching sports when he took Journalism 121: News Writing & Reporting, “because it sounded interesting.
“I never would have imagined that I had any skill as a sports writer. Actually, I saw myself more as a PR (public relations) guy, because I like to focus on the ‘good’ as opposed to an investigative journalist who digs for the dirt. But then I wrote a couple of sports articles and I realized that I was learning skills in the journalism program that I never could learn anywhere else.”
Do you need to take journalism classes to work on el Don?
Every staff member is enrolled in one or more classes, which include News Writing & Reporting; Publications Editing; Newspaper Production; Magazine Writing & Production Workshop; Principles of Broadcast News; Photojournalism; Advanced Publications Writing and Broadcast News Production.
What are the major goals for the paper’s future?
“Of course, we want to continue our traditions of award-winning excellence, but we also must continue expanding into digital media and internet radio, and maintain our design presence in the changing world of print and digital media,” Little said.
Can students who study journalism find work?
Little responds, “Absolutely; a number of graduates have gone on to rewarding careers with the Chicago Tribune, CBS TV Channel 2, and KOCE-TV, KFWB radio, the Orange County Register and its parent company, Freedom Communications; the Los Angeles Times, People Magazine and a variety of specialty publications. Others have distinguished themselves as authors, teachers and as writers, producers and directors in film and digital careers
However, the knowledge and skills leaned in journalism classes transcend those that directly relate to employment. As an instructor, Little says, “I want students to know how to analyze, evaluate and interpret ideas and material. They must understand the value of critical thinking, and be able to reason and write well, with integrity.”
Pascual agrees and adds, “I’m much better at collecting and organizing my thoughts, and communicating them effectively. As an editor, I also have learned how to better manage time, and people. Doing many projects also improves computer skills.”
“It is not necessary that students all become journalists, but that they all become good critical thinkers,” Little concludes.
Learn more about the award-winning el Don and the journalism program