Behind the Scenes: Cal Poly Poinsettias

The Cal Poly Plant shop this year has over 4 thousand poinsettia plants for sale this holiday season. Group 3 settled on writing about this topic after a number of false starts. First, we wanted to write about goat yoga that was going to occur at Madonna Inn. We investigated this yoga event and found that there was a class scheduled for the first Saturday of our project. Unfortunately, we quickly learned that another Mustang News writer was going to tackle this topic so we went back to the drawing board.

Next, we investigated the possibility of writing about the cube satellites that had recently sent back pictures from Mars. Cal Poly had helped build and program these satellites and it was a big deal to get the first images back. We spoke with a Mustang news editor who had worked on the cube sat team and she said the story would probably be very technical. The team was skeptical of journalists and might be reluctant to talk to us, she said.

We then decided to pivot to another topic: drag show bingo. We found an event put on by the Cal Poly Pride Center for a fundraiser called Drag Bingo. The night would feature games and people dressing up in drag, and all group members were really excited to go to it. I did some background research and the Cal Poly students were really excited to learn about drag bingo. Unfortunately, this event was cancelled shortly before we could write about it and we had to head back to brainstorming for stories.

To our delight, we found out that goat yoga hadn’t been written about as we’d previously thought. We called Madonna Inn to see if we could come to their event on Saturday and, surprise surprise, it had been cancelled.

Finally, we settled on a topic we had been considering all along- the Cal Poly Plant Shop’s annual poinsettia sale. We learned that the shop had over 4,000 plants this year and were interested to know what the rub was on these holiday plants.

I reached out to the parents on the Cal Poly Parents Facebook page and they were more than excited about these leafy treasures. The parents wanted to know all about the care of the plants, the prices, the varietals for sale, and if they really were toxic to cats (it apparently is an old wives tale and unfounded).

My group went to the greenhouses on campus and took beautiful pictures of the poinsettias. Max interviewed one of the students working on the project. “For anyone considering doing this project in the future, be ready to work hard but I promise the rewarding feeling of seeing the plants that the team worked with for months being purchased by smiling and wowed customers is priceless and something that we won’t forget,” Graeme Davis said.

My team also enjoyed the project. “It was really interesting to see the behind-the-scenes process of the greenhouses and the plant shop. Knowing how much time and effort the poinsettia team spent preparing for the sale makes me appreciate the project even more,” said Max Goldberg. In his signature style, Carter Harrington also chimed in: “Cal Poly poinsettias are the witches tits. The beez kneez. The creme de la creme.”

As for Emily Fagenstrom, she was still stuck on the goat idea. “I love baby goats!”

Behind the Story: Student Transfer Club

The Cal Poly Transfer club is one that lacks attention on campus but has great motives. After completing our social engagement report, I found that a lot of Cal Poly students are unaware of the club. Why? In fall of 2016, 779 transfers were admitted to Cal Poly in comparison to 4,341 freshmen. As you can see there is a huge gap here, which is why we wanted to look into the transfer club that recently started up again this fall. 

Our video producer was the perfect person for this position. Victoria Gracie is a transfer student herself and was passionate about producing a video that sheds a light on the community. She said her transfer experience was not easy. She went behind the scenes to the club’s potluck study event and saw what the club’s community and interaction was like. Obtaining interviews was a lot easier this time around than previous stories. 

“Getting interviews and sources early really worked out to our advantage because we were able to adapt and find new sources as needed,” said Victoria. 

Spenser’s job was the interactive components. He decided to do photos of transfer students in their everyday environments. By doing this, the audience could hopefully get an insight into what the club does and looks like. Spenser also felt that our story was smoother this time around because of the willingness of our sources. 

“The story came together smoothly because our sources were quick to respond,” said Spenser. 

The transfer club is a place for transfer students to come and feel welcomed and joined by community. There are close to 200 people in their GroupMe, which is the club’s main source of contact. Itai Maine, a transfer student at Cal Poly, described the club as “a big community”. 

Transfer Student Club at Bonfire

A few other transfer students were also willing to help with our story. We got input from Alisa Frost, the president of the club, and Primo Fachinni, a member of the club. As the strategy and engagement role, I felt we had a lot of strong background information on transfer students in general and Cal Poly students’ overall knowledge about the club. Our goal was to go inside the club and look at members of the club’s stories. 

Jarrod’s role was word. He said the most helpful part during the process was the one on one meeting. 

“The one-on-one meeting helped me instrumentally in analyzing my work and updating it to where it needed to be,” said Jarrod. 

Behind the Story: How tiny houses can change SLO

A press release caught our eye, “Cal Poly Construction Management Students Donate Tiny Home Structures to Hope’s Village.” This sounded like a story we wanted to dig into.

Construction management students that built the tiny homes to donate to Hope’s Village.

We discovered that Hope’s Village is a place for homeless veterans who need shelter. This village is a substance-free place where they can start getting their lives on track in homes that Cal Poly students donated.

We reached out to the student making this their senior project, but they did not respond. They only platform we could find this student on was LinkedIn, which is not an ideal platform to talk over.

During the first week, the city council approved the ordinance that allows tiny homes in the city and it gave us a new angle for our story.

The new angle turned into how students and millennials can use tiny homes to stay in San Luis Obispo. That or even for housing since 64 percent of students live off-campus.

During an interview with Mayor Harmon, she mentioned that students who go through the SLO Hothouse have to leave the area with their business because they cannot afford to live here. All the businesses that leave the area to start somewhere else are hurting the potential of downtown San Luis Obispo.

“It has always been a dream of mine to interview SLO’s Mayor, and I was fortunate enough to do so when writing this story of tiny homes,” said Molly Schrum, the writer for the story.

Molly Schrum sits in the San Luis Obispo city hall waiting to interview with the Mayor.

“It is one of the main risks to our long-term economic vitality. We are having a hard time growing businesses here because folks can’t find a place to live.”  Mayor Heidi Harmon said.

This angle further developed after researching statistics and discovering how expensive it is to live in San Luis Obispo.

San Luis Obispo is 33 percents above the national average in cost of living. This encompasses house prices, food and other expenses to live in the area.

“Many people we talked to have wished that Cal Poly students could afford to stay in SLO and develop businesses here to help contribute to the community,” Schrum said.

As a group and as Cal Poly students we were very excited about this new angle. Housing is very expensive in San Luis Obispo and is something we have all dealt with.

We were certain this was developing into a solid story that touched San Luis Obispo communities as well as Cal Poly students. We believed that this should be a publishable story as well.

Then Mustang News published Tiny Homes are approved in SLO: how a new type of student housing could be on its way. This really shocked our group because we shouldn’t have been writing the same story.

After reading that story and seeing that their one interview was not related to students staying here after graduation, we felt better. We didn’t hate the article but we analyzed how ours will be different and it brought us together.

“I am confident in our team and our ability to create a cohesive and unique angle!” Schrum said.

Wikipedia Commons | Tiny homes on display in Portland, Oregon.




Behind the Story: dude. be nice.

dude. be nice.

For our last story, Megan, Jillian and I decided to write about a successful and uplifting business that was started by a Cal Poly student.

This project was going to be difficult from the get-go because, as a group of three, we have a different portion left out of every story. This story is missing a person assigned to the word category, so we had to find a story that was tellable well through only interactive elements and a very short video.

Coming to the idea of covering dude. be nice. was difficult. We were out of ideas for the quarter, and all of our good ideas that could have blossomed into great stories definitely needed a word element to be told to their fullest potential. Then Jillian brought up the company because she was involved with them a few years ago and had heard that it had grown rapidly since.


Our Social Media Engagement report told us most Cal Poly students have never heard of the company, so we could cover it in almost any angle.


Once we decided to cover the business, it got a bit trickier. Although the founder and owner of the company went to Cal Poly, he now lives in and is based out of Los Angeles. This made getting any interviews we might need very difficult. So Megan and Jillian went above and beyond and way out of their way and drove down to Los Angeles for the day last Friday. They visited the dude. be nice. offices, took photos, interviewed several people, and got all of the information from the story.


“The hardest part about the interview wasn’t actually going all the way to L.A. to have it, it was that [the business owner] actually sent everyone home before we got there in order to have the office be quiet. So the b-roll was really tough because there wasn’t a lot going on,” said Jillian.


“It was really difficult to come up with a whole Instagram story from a few hours of an interview, but I made it work!” said Megan.


Our group was in almost constant communication through a group text and emails. That was incredibly helpful, because when anyone had a question, it would get answered almost immediately. We also brainstormed ideas on how to cover this topic for a long time, but ultimately we decided the most important aspect of the story is the good the company does and the inspirational and uplifting presentations they give at schools and organizations across the company. So, the story is mainly about a Cal Poly alumni who is putting some nice back into the world at a time of turmoil.

Megan and Jillian work in class after their trip to Los Angeles.


Megan and Jillian said the interview went really well and Brent Camalich, founder and owner of the company, is very bubbly and easy to interview.

Brent Camalich, founder and owner of dude. be nice.


“I just wanted to make people smile and spread some kindness in a world that is usually mean,” Camalich said in the interview.


Overall, our project went pretty flawlessly and we worked very well together as a team.

Behind The Scenes: Think You Can’t Afford to Study Abroad, Think Again…

One in four students had studied abroad at some point during their education at Cal Poly during the 2016-17 school year. This statistic was one that shocked our group immediately as we heard it. Thoughts like, “I know a lot of people that have gone abroad, but one in four, that seems way to high.”

Then we did some thinking.

During new student orientation there are workshops about study abroad, and same with during WOW week. The study abroad office is well known on campus and hosts several events every quarter. Even walking the hallways in the graphic arts building, you can’t escape dozens of study abroad program fliers that fill the bulletin boards.

So why is study abroad so prevalent at Cal Poly? Immediately we reached out and asked people why they thought Cal Poly had a staggering number of students sent abroad, a few common themes were financial means,  resources, and academic flexibility. However, when we talked to students who studied abroad a common theme came up: it doesn’t have to be expensive. In fact, living abroad could save you money compared to living in San Luis Obispo for a year.

International Center Student Ambassador Izzy Perello shared the misconceptions people bring to her about study abroad.

“The biggest misconception to me is that it is an elitist thing. Like you have to be rich to go which is just not the reality at cal poly… the cost of living in spain was so much cheaper than living here … and there’s so many scholarships, and so much funding and there’s so much help to get you there that I genuinely think that anyone can study abroad,” Perello said.

Leanna Newby, our very own reporter, was almost the perfect candidate for a feature story about this. Unlike many other students, Leanna chose to study abroad during Winter and Spring quarter. She applied for a scholarship and was allotted the entire fund set aside for those quarters, making her abroad experience very financially doable. Newby was able to write about her experience through this story, a journalism first for her.

“I loved working on this story due to the personal connection I have with the international center. I love conducting interviews so meeting the directors of the office and various students who have studied abroad was very exciting for me. I am self conscious about my writing skills but stretching myself with this story and writing in a first person perspective was a unique and challenging opportunity. I was thankful for all of the help I received from Professor Kim and my peer review session and hope that our hard work will be evident through this piece,”Newby said.

For the interactive portion of this story, McKenna Roberson had the opportunity to learn about parallex scrolling. Including a more immersive visual component was important to Roberson and made it one of her favorite projects that she worked on in this class.

“This project was my favorite to work on because I liked the interactive part of the project. It was fun seeing and putting together all these beautiful images from students time abroad. I loved the creativity aspect! I also think the parallax component is a really effective storytelling medium because it gives the reader the ability to follow along and be captivated by every new image. I’m glad we switched to it,” Roberson said.

Students who studied abroad graciously shared photos and video they took during their time abroad. These clips really highlighted the immersive experience that students gain during their time abroad. Lauren McElroy, who worked on the video for this story, was able to use these submitted clips as b-roll.

“It was interesting to learn about peoples’ study abroad experiences while working on this project. Premier is the adobe program I struggle with the most, so it was good to push myself on this project,” McElroy said.

From the initial thought to the final draft, this story shaped itself over the past two weeks of reporting. Conducting outreach was crucial to understanding where to take such an exciting story. Taylor Barnett, who worked on Strategy and Engagement for this story, received a decent amount of audience feedback.

“What I loved most about this story was how audience driven it became. People on social media were very vocal about what they wanted to know. This is the first story where I’ve been able to cater to the story the audience wants told, which was an incredible experience,”  Barnett said.



Behind the Scenes: SloGlo

The reporting for this project went a lot smoother than our first two projects. Our sources were much easier to reach as well as quicker and more responsive when we reached out. In addition, I think the project was a lot more successful because the story itself was more upbeat and fun to report on.

“This project was a really fun one to work on. The SLO GLO club was really excited and open to interviews, which was a nice change from our previous stories. Using longer exposure and taking videos at night was a challenge for this story, however I was able to learn so much more about the filming and editing process because of it,” said Taylor Barnett.

Slo Glo is a really neat club and were a great group to work with. we really appreciated their time and effort into helping us put together a great story. Trevor Robertson, the co-president describes his love for Slo Glo, “getting into your own headspace, a Zen state where you can really feel the rhythm of the music, nature or what you’re spinning”.

They were engaging and eager to help the whole time. It was awesome that we got to attend one of their meetings as well as a bonfire where they showed off their fascinating moves and tricks.

“This story was much easier to work on than the others. It was great to work with Slo Glo. They were enthusiastic and I got to learn about a new art form,” said Lauren McElroy.

There were a lot of aspects of this project that worked out really smoothly that contributed largely to our success. The key factor into the fun surrounding the project was having sources that were willing to talk about their passion and hobbies.  It was really cool to learn what inspires them, interests them, and how they got their start. We were actually able to directly contact and speak to the founder of the club itself which offered a really great insight and wonderful quotes!

“Attending the club meeting and being able to contact the founders of the club through one of my friends were my favorite parts of this project. Everyone was so nice and excited to talk about their passion. It made this story a joy to work on,” said Leanna Newby.

The first thing that we figured out for the project was our covering plan. We needed to figure out what the angle of the project would be. Since the club has been in and out of popularity, we thought this would be a good opportunity to bring it to the attention of a larger audience. We were deciphering wether to include upcoming events and dates because we didn’t want it to sound to promotional. Our final choice to make it a feature based story was the best because it really allowed for a compelling and flushed out story with a great idea of what the club was really about at it’s core.

I am proud of how the final project turned out and it was one of my favorite topics I have ever worked on in my time at Cal Poly.

Behind the Story: Cal Poly Cat Program


The Cal Poly Cat Program was founded in 1992 as a result of a population of nearly 400 feral cats roaming Cal Poly’s Campus.

The population of cats were on campus for two primary reasons; The Agriculture department brought cats to campus for pest control, and people began abandoning their cats on campus.

Since then, the Cal Poly Cat Program has gotten the feral cat population under control and has turned into more of a shelter for cats. Since 1992 the program has found nearly 3,000 homes for cats.

How the Cal Poly Cat Program found group 3:

When sitting in class two weeks back, our group set out online in search of a story. When we caught wind of the Cal Poly Cat Program, it was too hard to pass up.

One of the members of our group came across a story in Mustang News, written three years back.

“It was fascinating to see a whole other world that exists on Cal Poly’s campus that most people don’t get to see,” said Alyssa Mavor.

Two days after choosing the story topic,  Emily Fagenstrom had set up interviews with the director of the program, Sharon Dobson, and some volunteers.

That following Sunday, Emily and Max Goldberg paid the on campus program a visit. After their visit, Emily had this to say:

“It’s been great getting to know some of the volunteers at the program. You can tell they all really care about the cats and work hard to make sure they’re taken care of.”

Max also had great things to say about the program:

“As a cat owner and lover, getting to visit cats on campus and learn about the Cal Poly Cat Program has been a thoroughly enjoyable project for me. It’s nice to know that so many generous volunteers and helpers are working hard daily to ensure these cats have a shelter and eventually a permanent home.”

Interview with Sharon Dobson:

Emily sat down with Dobson, who has been with the program since it’s start.

Emily was struck with how much of Dobson’s life is spent on ensuring the program carries out its duties.

Dobson also gave Emily a history of the program, and how it has transformed since 1992.

“We were so successful with trapping cats, socializing them and finding them good homes, that just inspired us to do more,” said Dobson, “I feel like it gives me a lot of purpose.”

After talking to Dobson, and meeting with Professor Lisagor-Bisheff, Emily realized that this cat story couldn’t be about Whiskers and how fluffy and cute he is. This story needed to take a serious angle on the ins and outs of the cat program and the problems that arise with feral cats, and feral cat populations.

Emily got to re-editing her story quickly after coming to this realization.

The final piece will hopefully be well-received by the Mustang News staff, and make it’s way to Mustang News.


Hotel Availability

For our third story, my group chose to focus on San Luis Obispo’s hotel availability. We originally had the idea to do a feature story about the newly opened Kinney hotel, but we decided to take a look at the bigger picture. At this point we decided to focus on how busy weekend affect local hotel availability. Right after we pitched our story, we started reaching out to potential sources. We wanted to get a parent’s perspective, speak to a hotel manager, and get some stats from either the Chamber of Commerce or the Visitor and Conference Bureau.

After completing the community engagement report as well as the social media engagement, my group had enough information to move forward in our reporting process. The backgrounder also helped my group by showing us how past students and professional outlets approached this topic. Through our engagements, we found that people were genuinely interested in local hotel availability, specifically the price increases. Generally, people wanted to know why the price seems to increase over busy weekends. Any alternatives to booking a hotel were also in question. Here’s what Cal Poly Parent Paul Rodarte had to say, “I did not believe what I was seeing when I saw that a majority of the rooms were booked or that I would have to pay hundreds of dollars more to stay the weekend in San Luis Obispo to watch her graduate.”

Over the course of the following week, we were able to get interviews with hotel staff and Cal Poly parents; however, we found it a bit difficult to get in contact with the officials for some statistics. On top of that, some of the hotel employees weren’t allowed to talk about the topic of hotel availability during graduation. Most of our sources weren’t comfortable with video interviews, so we had to make do with what we had.  We ended up gathering stats near the end of our reporting process even though they are a necessary element to  this story. For example, we found out the overall amount of rooms in SLO and and compared this number with the amount of visitors that are expected to come to SLO for graduation. Once we got the stats, the process went alot smoother. The stats gave our story a better structure and helped answer some of the questions that came up during our initial pitch, like how the two hotels being built downtown might affect local hotel availability.

Once we had the stats, our story was basically complete.

Here’s how our reporting process went, according to the rest of my group:

“It was interesting to see the numbers or how many hotels and rooms we have in town. It really puts people’s frustration into perspective,” said Victoria Gracie.

“How drastic the price hike really was and  how hotels are already booked full for spring commencement is what really put the problem into perspective,” said Jarod Urrutia.

“I thought it was interesting to understand and compare the viewpoint of hotel owners versus the viewpoint of a Cal Poly parents who is trying to find a hotel for graduation weekend,”said Katie Peterson.

Cal Poly Cheerleaders

Cal Poly cheerleaders have multiple practices a week, a GPA requirement and mandatory attendance over academic breaks in a season lasting from August to May. Paying over $1,500 a season, team members lack access to scholarships, as well as priority registration.

These facts were first shared by Megan. In the span of two weeks, we were able to witness the effects of Cal Poly cheerleaders, and other groups, being cast outside the university’s athletics department. Our reporting process exposed student’s dedication to their sports with little validation from their college. Naturally, the story resulted in moments of conflict.

In our social media and public relations process we found that the general public almost unanimously supported cheerleading as a sport. We also found that support extended to the Cal Poly dance team.

In short the cheer/stunt team have a coach and assistant coach that delegate the amount of funding the dance team receives. Resentment seems to spur from the disproportionate amount of money going to cheer, rather than dance.

The dance team lacks a coach, a designated practice area and leadership at sports games as well as their own competitions.  The general public in their support of cheer often mentioned the obvious demand for more dance team resources.

“As a reporter, I should be more critical in dealing with confrontation from a source. There is a lot of tension between the cheer team and the dance team. It’s important not to make an assumption before I get the full story ,” said Megan.

This story is one that was largely supported by people online. As far as I can tell, people desperately want a better environment many sports excluded from the Cal Poly athletics department. This story quickly became pretty complex, especially in regard to different sports funding and classifications. Exploring how female sports are regarded by university’s in California is a story in itself.

“One thing I struggle with is news writing so I was glad to be pushed out of my comfort zone a little this round,” said Aaron.

Campus Dining Meal Plan Concerns

After three years of a strictly Plu$ Dollar diet, meal plans have returned. At the beginning of Fall Quarter, the new meal credit and declining balance system replaced Plu$ Dollars.

Aaron Lambert, the Communications Specialist for Cal Poly Corporation said in an email, “Instead of just one declining balance plan, they had three significantly different options… two were less expensive than the prior year. This gave students the freedom to purchase the dining plan that best fit their lifestyle and budget.”  

Originally, my team was going to produce a story based on a sustainability angle toward the new system. As time passed and interviews were held, we realized that the larger story was in the response to the new system. Sustainability plays a major role in many students’ opinions, but the functionality of the new system was what our interview subjects were primarily passionate about. Many articles were written about the reasoning behind the switch and reaction to Plu$ Dollars. These included initially proposing the idea in 2005, the food waste associated with the meal plan system, the introduction of the Plu$ Dollar system, and the improved sustainability due to the Plu$ Dollar system. There have been few articles regarding the switch back to meal plans. This is why we specifically chose this project.

Now onto the creative process of our team members…

Leanna was in charge of the strategy and engagement process. She said, “I loved this role, background research and connecting people together for this story gave me an adrenaline rush. Finding sources for McKenna and Taylor to work alongside and supplementing with any assistance they needed was a joy for me. I enjoyed reaching out to my connections throughout the community of San Luis Obispo and asking for their opinion on this topic. I had never used Reddit before and I was thoroughly amused by this media form connecting ideas (and sometimes trolls!) together. It is such a useful tool that I will continue to use throughout my career as a journalist.”

Lauren created the interactive portion to our story. She said that the most challenging part of her role was waiting to determine the angle. “I wanted to make sure the interactive part added to the story,” she said. She wanted to highlight the angle in her interactive piece initially but she had to wait, due to some of the various angles changing into key points within the story instead of the main focus.

Similarly, Taylor expressed her surprise at how the story shifted throughout her writing process. “The most challenging part of the story was how much it changed from the pitch day. At first, it was going to be focused on how the new meal credits were producing more waste. As I talked to more students, and finally got through to the right channels of campus dining, I discovered that these plans did not have to be wasteful. The true story ended up being in students complaining about how limiting their meal plans were, even though they were meant to provide more freedom for students,” she said.

McKenna dealt with the struggles of editing footage over the past two weeks. “The most challenging part for me was actually figuring out how to edit. I had a hard time with premiere so I switched to iMovie. I had a hard time incorporating the Mustang News slides in. My subjects didn’t answer in complete sentences so I had to have slides with questions on them before the video. I was also a little bit confused on what the angle was going to be, but eventually resolved that. The worst part was just being sick for this week because I had a lot to do for this project. Overall, I think it went well and the project as a whole came a long way with the great help from my group,” she said.

Overcoming many challenges and unforeseen alterations, I am extremely proud of this group and how we have worked together to produce this story.