Journalism program offers students real-world experience

Student journalists proofread final stories preparing the final copy for the fall orientation issue of the Lariat. (Oliver Yu)

Faith Lawhorn

Meeting deadlines and creating first-rate publications are top priorities for serving on the college news staff.

So says Paul McLeod, associate faculty adviser to the student newspaper, the Lariat, and its companion Web site,

Students in the program learn interview techniques, Associated Press writing style, newspaper design, page layout and other valuable journalism skills like blogging and covering news for Web sites.  It was, in fact, McLeod, a former reporter at the Los Angeles Times, who helped students create when he arrived at Saddleback two years ago.

“Previous efforts to create a news presence on the Web at Saddleback had fizzled,” McLeod said. “I wrote for The Times for 20 years and toward the end of my career I spent about 15 months working at the Web site. I really believe in the concept of a strong paper and an even stronger online product.” went live in early October 2007 with a breaking news story about the beating of a football player.

It has since received two consecutive awards for general excellence statewide, by the Journalism Association of Community Colleges.

Since McLeod has taken the Lariat faculty adviser position he has helped students make many changes. 

He would like students to explore more ways to disseminate information to the college community including broadcast, audio slideshows, and more multimedia objects. All options are available using the Web site.

“The newspaper has traditionally been among the best in the nation,” McLeod said.

In the spring, it was ranked first in its class, nationwide, by the American Scholastic Press Association.

In March, McLeod was named Journalism Educator of the Year, two-year division, by the California Journalism Education Coalition.

“Paul has done an excellent job instructing the students in our newspaper publication program,” said J. Mike Reed, journalism program chairman.   “He has led the program into the age of multimedia news delivery systems here at Saddleback.”

McLeod said the newspaper program is slated for some big changes this next academic year.  For starters, the production facility expects to be moved to temporary housing in the Village Learning Center on lower campus, perhaps in late December. 

Temporary headquarters will have much more space, a meeting room, 25 new Macintosh computers, and the ability to handle high-tech equipment for streaming video and instruction, McLeod said.  The operation also has the benefit of full-time lab technician Ali Dorri.

“I’ve heard from, and seen, many journalism labs, both two- and four-year, and Saddleback has, and will continue to have, one of the best facilities in the state, if not the nation,” McLeod said.

Ultimately, the Lariat is scheduled to move to permanent headquarters in the soon-to-be renovated Library.

The move is not expected to affect publication of the hard copy of the Lariat, which hits news racks almost every Wednesday during the school year.

“We’re one of the few schools to continue the practice of publishing weekly,” McLeod said.

“So many community colleges have cut back or gone to the tabloid size. We’re still a regular-sized newspaper and we still publish nearly every week.”

McLeod said one of his goals is to see the college restore the position of full-time adviser to handle all Journalism publications.

“When one is only around a couple of days a week instruction suffers,” he said.

Nationally, statistics show that enrollment in journalism programs is up. McLeod says that the Journalism 120, Newspaper Publication course is a great way to build skills as a writer, journalist, and a photographer for any major.

Students who aren’t good at writing or photography can still take this class, he said. The four-unit course can be taken four times.

“Even if you’re into graphic design or you’re just a bad writer, you can still take this class,” said Lariat editor Tim White, 28, journalism.

Keith Cousins, 23, journalism, said the course is unique.

“It’s not run like a class,” he said. “It’s run like an actual job. There’s a lot of responsibility, but you get to see the finished product of your work every week when the paper comes out, and that’s very satisfying.”

Cousins said he has come away with a new sense of purpose.

“The class is an opportunity to get real world experience,” he said. “It’s an environment I want to work in someday. I like the atmosphere and the comradely that goes with it.”

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