Behind the Story: Covering The Fire that Burned Down The Sub

DSC_0061Getting Started

During the first week of class, my group and I got together for the first time and brainstormed story topic ideas. Annie, who was assigned print, shared her interest in The Sub fire and mentioned that no news organization has done an in-depth investigative story on the fire or status of the business and building.

We all had many questions. Why is the burnt building still untouched one and a half years later? Why aren’t more reporters talking about this? Was it an arson or accident? My group and I quickly decided that this would be a great story opportunity for Mustang News.

Journalism seniors Nicole Peterson and Mariam Alamshahi work on planning the story during class.
Journalism seniors Nicole Peterson and Mariam Alamshahi work on planning the story during class.

After an hour-long phone call between Annie and Owner of The Sub Richard Ferris, Annie quickly realized how complex this investigation would be – this was going to take more than just two weeks.

Annie shared her thoughts and discoveries with our instructor, and we were given four weeks to cover our story. However, we were still given new roles for the second two weeks of the project. Regardless, we thought four weeks should give us enough time to find and talk to enough valuable sources and uncover all the information we needed.

The Process

The process of covering this story was a long and complicated one. We realized we would need multiple components and many different sources for each. I initially received many responses to my social media posts on Facebook and Cal Poly Reddit when I asked what people know or would like to know about The Sub fire. I gathered several sources during the first week and set up a few interviews for Annie to begin her digging.

However, it wasn’t all that easy. It quickly became very difficult to find sources who were willing to provide information and records about the fire because it is a part of an ongoing investigation that’s potentially tied to a crime.

Once I switched to multimedia halfway through, I posted on social media looking for witnesses. This time, no one responded.  I mean, it’s not a surprise that no one wants to get involved in a crime related investigation; nonetheless, I was frustrated as time was ticking and no one was responding…

After doing a lot of digging, though, I found and interviewed a drive-by witness and two managers of The Sub who were present during the fire.

In addition to finding sources, some of us struggled with our roles. Nicole, who is concentrating in public relations and had no video experience prior to this project, was first assigned broadcast.

“I struggled a little bit with the focus on the camera which led my video to turn out blurry. I ended up having to set up another interview but eventually was able to get it working correctly. Overall, it has been a learning experience.” – Nicole

Journalism senior Nicole Peterson films the inside of the San Luis Obispo Fire Department.
Journalism senior Nicole Peterson films the inside of the San Luis Obispo Fire Department.

One of the most rewarding experiences, however, was capturing the 360 degree virtual tour of the inside of The Sub on a $5,000 Matterport camera (with our instructor’s help, of course). Nicole and I had to keep Kjerstin Ferris, who allowed us inside the building, entertained for the three hours that it took to capture the entirety of the building. But dang, it was worth it – the scan turned out awesome!

The Result

Over the course of four weeks, my group and I produced one main written story on the fire with an accompanying sidebar story on the history of The Sub, two broadcast videos, and six multimedia components (one slideshow, one quiz, one Matterport scan, one before and after comparison image with a slider widget, and two Thinglinks).

Rather than writing a second story on The Sub fire, Mariam decided to write about the history of The Sub in a sidebar element.

“I thought it would be best to give the shop some life, to paint a picture of what the history was like to our readers who had never visited.” – Mariam

Mariam also interviewed loyal customers of The Sub from every decade since it opened and included their memories of The Sub in her Thinglink.


Although we each faced different struggles when covering The Sub fire, the hardest part was dealing with two very different sides to the same story.

The Sub ‘family’ is strongly convinced that the fire was started by an arson and that the firefighters acted negligently when putting out the fire.

“I would just like someone to explain to me how chainsawing a bunch of holes in a roof helps the fire not spread,” Manager of The Sub Kjerstin Ferris said. “I know I’m not a firefighter, but that makes no sense to me at all, and nobody’s able to explain why that would be a good thing to do.”

On the other hand, the San Luis Obispo Fire Department claims they did everything they could to put the fire out as quickly as possible. In addition, the fire department and insurance company that ran the investigation on the building have both declared that the fire was not arson related, but rather electrical.

Journalism senior Annie Vainshtein discussing reports of the fire with San Luis Obispo Fire Chief Garret Olson.
Journalism senior Annie Vainshtein discussing reports of the fire with San Luis Obispo Fire Chief Garret Olson.

How do you cover a story fairly when both of your main sources contradict one another?

My group and I realized how important it is to remain neutral when reporting on a story that is not only extremely controversial, but also a very sensitive topic for our sources.

“My main concern while reporting on this story was to be as accurate as possible without compromising deference to either party. A story about a fire is, fundamentally, a story about a loss, and I wanted to make sure that that was captured and animated, even alongside the very technical details.” – Annie

Overall, I think my group and I did a great job at remaining impartial through the process and solely reporting the facts.

I’m looking forward to hearing people’s reaction to our final product!

-Lauren Roberge

The Sub As a Cultural Landmark

For those who don’t know what The Sub was, it was a cultural gift store that offered an array of unique items such as swords, wigs, lava lamps and much more. It was family owned and operated. The shop was located at 295 Higuera Street and burned down unexpectedly December 26, 2015. 

Group members, Lauren Roberge and Mariam Alamshahi discuss ideas for our story.

“The more I learn about The Sub, the more surprised I am. It was an icon in San Luis Obispo because of the diversity it brought to the small town. It seemed to be a safe place for expression for more than one type of person. I’m upset that I didn’t get a chance to visit it when it was still around.” Mariam Alamshahi, our multimedia and print group member said.

We started contacting people right away since we knew there was a lot of information to cover. Many people we asked didn’t know what The Sub was or just briefly passed by the store in their car, but never went inside. This made it difficult to find people that could share their experiences and talk about what they enjoyed about the Sub. To gain more feedback from other people, I posted on the Cal Poly Reddit page, Cal Poly Facebook page and my Instagram.

“Covering the story on The Sub fire has been a challenging, yet rewarding, experience. I was public relations for the first two weeks of our story and I definitely realized that it isn’t easy to get people to talk to you about an ongoing investigation, which may be [allegedly] tied to a crime. But, we have been able to speak to some sources that have provided us very valuable insights.” Lauren Roberge, our public relations and multimedia group member said.

Group member Lauren Roberge takes pictures of The Sub.

Each person we interviewed gave us a different outlook on The Sub and provided us with more detailed information. Cal Poly student Rhys Couser used to shop at The Sub.

“I bought a tye dye sweatshirt, and a tye dye t-shirt, both really cool. They had rave lamps. They had incense candles. They had weird little magnets. It was a wide variety of objects.” Couser said.

Group member Mariam Alamshahi interviews Rhys Couser.

We were not really sure if we were going to be able to see the inside of the Sub, but luckily the co-owner Richard Ferris let us inside. When we got on the scene of where the Sub burned down, and it really opened our eyes. The scene was completely burned with only parts of the structure still standing. The Sub was a large location that had many different areas including a smoking section, blacklight room and a basement full of posters. Some items that still remained today were several posters in the basement, as well as several lanterns that had not been burned. It was strange being inside the building that didn’t have a roof anymore due to the damage.

“From our reporting, we’ve seen the way in which what the sub lost was more than just property-it was a whole collection of cultural relics and unique artifacts of humanity.” Annie Vainshtein, our editorial and broadcast group member said.

Overall, The Sub culturally impacted many people in San Luis Obispo and provided a variety of merchandise that could only be found at The Sub. Our group has done its best to tell the story of The Sub and hear from all different people.  It will be interesting to see what will happen next!

-Ti’l next time


Behind the Scenes of San Luis Obispo Party Houses, and the Cost of Owning One

Our story led us in a direction my teammates and I didn’t intend. However after a week filled with back to back interviews, we managed to pull together a solid story before the deadline.

Initially, we planned to do a feature story on non-Greek-affiliated Cal Poly San Luis Obispo students who have lived in a “party house” for 3 or 4 years in San Luis Obispo. Although we solidified our topic, we had a hard time honing in on an angle. 

My team and I shifted our angle slightly several times over the course of 2 weeks. Because of this, Sophie Kelley found it challenging to align her multimedia piece with the other two main components of the story, print and broadcast. “Multimedia has been pretty challenging to tackle. Our story was going in a bunch of different directions so I essentially had to decide on an angle for multimedia that would compliment and make sense for the entire story before the final story angle was established,” Kelley said.

I am working on public relations this story, and after speaking with students and community members and gauging interest through social media platforms such as Facebook and Reddit on our topic, we found that people were interested in knowing more about noise violations, and how the San Luis Obispo Police Department (SLOPD) keeps the college party-scene in check.

How does SLOPD determine the cost of noise violations? What is the Student Neighborhood Assistance Program (SNAP)? and Who normally calls in, students or non-Cal Poly community members? were all common questions we encountered throughout out story. My group and I feel that we addressed a majority of the questions that arose from our potential readers and viewers in regards to our topic.

We reached out to college students, over the age of 21, who have experience with noise violations and ideally have received one or more within this academic year. We were able to interview 7 sources, 6 Cal Poly student party house owners and the San Luis Obispo Police Department Neighborhood Outreach Manager, Christine Wallace.

Sophie Kelley in microbiology junior, Zach Landry's home, to hear his perspective on hosting parties.
Group member, Sophie Kelley, speaks with microbiology junior, Zach Landry, on parties he has hosted, and receiving his first warning.

As we were interviewing sources, we ran into an obstacle. Many of our prospective sources were hesitant to talk to us, fearing their interview will draw attention to their household. Group members, Cameron Bones, found it challenging finding a student who felt comfortable going  on record. “Finding sources that are willing to go on camera to talk about parties has been pretty difficult, but there are a lot of people with really interesting stories about getting violations,” said Bones.

Cameron Bones reviews her broadcast piece with Mustang News Managing Editor for Multimedia and Web, Gurpreet Bhoot. Meanwhile, Lexy Solomon preps her plan for print before running it by our editors.

A key source for our story, specifically print, was the San Luis Obispo Police Department’s Neighborhood Outreach Manager Christine Wallace. Thursday, May 4th, Lexy Solomon and I had the pleasure to speak with Christine on the “behind the scenes” of the SNAP, and her take on college partying in San Luis Obispo.

Christine Wallace has been working with SLOPD since 1993. She has witnessed the Cal Poly party scene throughout the years, and believes students can still party, as long as it’s done correctly. San Luis Obispo community residents can now register their parties to avoid receiving noise tickets and warning. The SLOPD party registration is accepting applications starting today, Friday, May 5th.  “We have expectations for folks if they want live in the neighborhood. I think you can party as much as you want in our neighborhoods if you fly under the radar,” said Wallace.

Group member, Lexy Solomon, believed that Christine Wallace was a great addition to our story. “I really enjoyed getting the opportunity to speak with Christine today. She was very open and honest in answering our questions, and was a positive resource. I appreciate her contributions to our story, and look forward to seeing it all come together,” Solomon said.

SLOPD Neighborhood Outreach Manager, Christine Wallace, explains the role the Student Neighborhood Assistant Program (SNAP) plays in regulating college parties to our editorial writer, Lexy Solomon.

To protect and to serve for more than 20 years

Going into this second project, our group decided to focus on a topic that is more fun, active, and something that we thought students would really enjoy learning more about. The one-unit racquetball class attracts a significant amount of students each quarter, but most students don’t know that their lecturer not only works outside of Cal Poly as a lieutenant with the SLO Police Department, but also freely volunteers his time to teach the class. With these interesting facts in mind, we decided to focus on Proll and how the racquetball class would not exist without him.

However, we did not start off thinking that this would be our focus. Initially, we wanted to talk about the role of volunteer lecturers in general and how they contribute to the Cal Poly environment. We were hoping to speak with administration and get a full outline of the qualifications, expectations, requirements, and logistics involved with volunteer part-time lecturers. What we quickly began to find is that very few people know anything about this position.

“We were unable to find a list or anyone in administration who was aware of how many volunteers there are. Because of this difficulty, we narrowed our story to focus more on Bill Proll and his racquetball class.” -Sophia Levin, print

Part of our inspiration came from a Mustang News story from back in 2007 on Bill Proll. It was exciting to learn that he has been volunteering for more than 20 years, allowing the racquetball class to go on. And when our group interviewed Proll, he showed no signs of quitting anytime soon.

“I don’t see any reason why I would stop,”

Proll told us when we interviewed him at the Recreation Center.

“Something might come up but I don’t plan on leaving here. I’ve worked for the police department now for 33 years so I don’t know how much longer I’ll do that but, this I would continue even after I retire from there.”

Group member James Tweet going up against Bill Proll (photo by Amanda Newell)

Our whole group was present for our interview with Proll which took place directly after he finished teaching his Monday morning racquetball class. Since we have a video component as part of this story, group member James Tweet worked with the Recreation Center to get permission to film inside.

“A lot of student journalists have had issues with reporting on the premise. I went in and explained my project and filled out a request form, it wasn’t anything too gnarly. When we went in to film, there was some bureaucracy we had to deal with to talk to the highest person in charge available at the time. Besides that, it was pretty straightforward, a little intimidating at times, but totally I respect and understand their cautiousness because of student liability.” -James Tweet, broadcast

Group members Sophia Levin and Laura Hoover getting footage (photo by Amanda Newell)

Once inside, James, and fellow group members Amanda Newell and Sophia Levin, photographed and filmed students playing racquetball and had Proll demonstrate some of his skills.

“Interviewing Bill Proll was great. It can be intimidating to have four journalism students filming and interviewing you, but I felt that he really opened up to us by the end of his interview and shared great insight about his last 20 years here at Cal Poly.” -Amanda Newell, multimedia

Group members Laura Hoover, James Tweet, and Sophia Levin interviewing Bill Proll at the Recreation Center (photo by Amanda Newell)

Amanda and Sophia interviewed a few students who stayed after class to get their thoughts on Proll and his volunteer work. We left the Recreation Center with great footage, photos, and successful interviews. Not only did we learn a thing or two, but this project proved to be fun as well!

Just keep digging: Cal Poly caveman builds “art” caves for self-expression, family and a search for a deeper connection to the earth

Most professors spend their free time researching, spending time outside, or enjoying the day with family and friends. But Leland Swenson, a Cal Poly psychology professor, digs manmade caves. He has spent the majority of his free time in last 20 years digging and customizing “art” caves beneath his property in SLO County, California.

Once I heard about these caves, I went to my group members and asked if they would be interested on doing a story on Swenson and his impressive, and odd, hobby. Once they agreed and our topic was approved, I told Swenson it was a “go” and we planned an informal tour.

On our way to the caves, we were really curious about what it would be like. We weren’t sure if it would be dark, cold, or crammed. Mostly, though, we were excited because it was impossible to predict what we would see. It was the sort of adventure you couldn’t plan for because no one could tell you much about it. You just had to go. “The most exciting part of the project was definitely the tour of the cave. I heard about it before and honestly didn’t know what to expect. When I went down there, I was blown away,” Josh Munk said. Though we can’t take our readers for an in-person tour, we hope our reporting efforts give this bizarre art project justice.

Sara Portnoy working on the editorial piece for this story.
Sara Portnoy working on the editorial piece for this story.

During the first moments in the cave, I felt like I was looking into someone’s journal. The art on the walls felt very intimate yet whimsical and fun. In a way, it reminded me of the home the animated Flintstones family lived in, though Swenson’s caves were more colorful. Swenson’s explanations of each piece were highly unpredictable, too. When he would point to an art piece, before talking about it, I would try to guess what he would say. I was always off. The art was just as unpredictable as the caves.

What Swenson calls the "anti-drug god." According to Swenson, his job is to make sure that anyone who tries illicit substances down here, or abuses substances, has a bum trip."
The anti-drug god. “His job is to make sure that anyone who tries illicit substances down here, or abuses substances, has a bum trip,” Swenson said.

“I think the most exciting part was getting to actually see the caves in person. When he’s telling you about it, I couldn’t really imagine it but going through it’s really awesome to see all the detail that goes into it,” said Laura Daniele. Swenson said that no one who has visited the caves has been disappointed. Now we know why.

Reporters, and friends, shuffle through the cave to find another unexpected room.
Reporters, and friends, shuffle through the cave to find another unexpected room.

When people hear the term “caves,” a clear picture doesn’t always come to mind. Being a modern caveman is unusual and initially raises a lot of eyebrows. However these caves are more elaborate than you might expect; not only because of how large the caves are but because of the artwork found at every turn. At one moment, you’re looking at a clay mythical god; at another, you’re looking at a clay moose with a heart and arrow above it. “One Valentine’s Day I decided I didn’t want to just do a perishable card and Debby’s favorite animal is the moose. So I created a valentine moose and on Valentine’s Day I took her down here and said ‘Here is your valentine,’” said Swenson. The individual art pieces may seem random at first glance but all were created with intent and have deep meaning. The strange items around the cave, like the skull collection that makes up the cave’s first room, are what give the caves the funky character around every corner.

Swenson Caves 1
Laura Daniele interviews Professor Leland Swenson in his cave approximately 20 feet below ground.

“I really enjoyed getting to meet the person that actually has this reputation of building the caves. Each of the rooms seemed really sentimental to him and it’s really amazing to see somebody spend so much time on a project that symbolizes what they’re about,” said Sara Portnoy. Indeed, Swenson has poured his soul into this project. It is not only his creative outlet but a place his family can gather. His search for a deeper connection with the earth, along with his love for others, is what makes the caves such a sacred place to explore.

The Insider’s Scoop on The Emerging Sour Beer Trend

The question I bet you’re asking if you don’t already know: what is sour beer? Well, I’ll get there, but you will have to wait.

Brainstorming the topic of sour beer was something that took more than a little thought for our group. Once we all came to the conclusion that going downtown San Luis Obispo was an itch we all needed to scratch, there came the idea of sour beers. This was based off of The Libertine, a new brewery in downtown SLO. We were all pretty excited, “Put any beer in front of me and I’ll drink it,” said group member Marie Leleu.

Can you blame her? Any college student would feel that way. At this point, we were all eager to get started.

So, lets get into the nitty and gritty of finding out facts about sour beers and creating our story.

Alright Alright, you twisted my arm. Sour Beer is an intentionally acidic or tart beer that leaves you with a more “sour” taste. There are a wide variety of sour beer ranging from flavor to fermentation. When our group got an official definition, we dove right in to wanting to know about the behind the scenes of making sour beer.

We started to chat with people in the Cal Poly Community and those who had experience with breweries to see what people wanted to know about sour beers– if anything. A lot of what we found was that people either didn’t know what it was or they didn’t have a clue where to find it.

Don’t you worry, we were on it. We set up a meeting with one of the brewers at The Libertine, Dan Miller. When we first walked up to him, he was standing in between something that looked like this:

Image Courtesy:
Image Courtesy:

You could say the interview was under-whelmingly casual. What we did come to find was that Dan knew so much about the history and production of the beer.

What is the difference of “regular beer” from “sour beer” you ask? Well Dan had the answer, “The thing that separates us [Libertine] from clean beer breweries, is that we cool it down quickly and then put it in an open top fermentation vessel for about 2-3 days.” So, it’s all about the fermentation.

Now you would think that the two types of beers are very similar from what he said, however sours are also closely related to wine production. How? Sour beers are aged in oak barrels for a varied amount of time before they are brought back into retail spaces which is similar to wine. Below is a look into how The Libertine ages its beers.

Image Courtesy: Beer and Brewing
Image Courtesy: Beer and Brewing

You can imagine our group as starry-eyed journalists when we found out there was so much more that goes into the production of this beer. Group member Rachel Mesaros said, “It’s definitely a major commitment and clearly takes time to master.”

We wanted to tell people why it is the way it is because, well, our first impression of this story was just:

Image Courtesy: TripAdvisor
Image Courtesy: TripAdvisor

But, we wanted to give you guys the best insight to the sour beer trend. So, our group talked to people from BarrelHouse Brewery and MadeWest Brewery which are both located on the Central Coast. We were lucky that everyone was very easy to talk to and ready with a wealth of knowledge.

We uncovered that there are 6 main types of sours and about three main types of bacteria found in sour beers. Not only did we get to talk to interesting people, but we got to know more about something our whole group was curious about.

Also– Can you believe I did not even have one sour beer while covering this story? I can’t. Don’t worry, that’s next on my list.

Until next time folks~

An inside look at Cal Poly’s student activism

The past two weeks have been a whirlwind of reporting and scrambling for sources; but already, our group’s dynamic and reporting abilities have strengthened tremendously.

Our group decided to cover Cal Poly’s student activism for our first project; specifically, we wanted to investigate whether or not student activism has increased within the past year. When reaching out to the community, other students, like ourselves, noticed an increase in protests on campus.

“The political climate on campus has changed so much. When I was freshman, I don’t think I ever saw a student protest,” political science senior Hannah Quitugua said. “I feel like everything has really just kind of erupted and people are protesting and becoming a lot more active in that way, which I definitely think is reminiscent to the ‘60s.”

Our group member, Laura Hoover, discussing her broadcast storyboard ideas.
Our group member, Laura Hoover, discussing her broadcast storyboard ideas.

Ideally, we wanted to interview as many student activist groups as possible– like Students for Quality Education (SQE) and Queer Student Union (QSU– along with an administrator, a Women’s & Gender Studies professor, and several student activists.  We began by engaging with these communities via Reddit, Facebook and in person.

We quickly realized however that our story reporting would not go as smoothly as we had thought (but honestly, when is it ever 100% problem-free). Many of the activists groups we wanted to feature in our article did not want to talk to us. They did not like the way Mustang News had covered them in articles in the past, and because of this unexpected obstacle, finding activists that would participate was extremely difficult.

“We had a lot of difficulty with finding sources that were willing to talk to us in the beginning. Although we found an administrator and students to talk to right away, student activists were either unwilling or unresponsive,” Sophia Levin, our multimedia group member said. “In the last few days, we were able to find student activist sources who were willing to do interviews, but it made our story a little more rushed than we might have liked it to be.”

Additionally, the Mustang News article published in Monday’s edition complicated things quite a bit; it ended any hope that the unresponsive student activists groups would contact us. By Wednesday however, we were able to interview both a student activist and the president of Cal Poly Democrats.

President of Cal Poly Democrats Club, senior Liana Riley, presents at their meeting Tuesday morning.
President of Cal Poly Democrats Club, senior Liana Riley, presents at their meeting Tuesday morning.

“Despite difficulty getting in contact with a willing source, my interview with the president of Cal Poly Democrats, Liana Riley, produced the responses I had hoped for,” Laura Hoover, our group member covering the broadcast portion of this project, said. “My video successfully connects Liana’s thoughts on activism, the rise in campus protests in the past year, and footage of recent activist events on and off campus.”

After pushing past these obstacles, our group learned how to handle reporting on sensitive topics, like social justice and student activism. We did not anticipate the topic being as sensitive as it proved to be, but we adjusted to this along the way.

“This story brings up a lot of political and social opinions, which makes things sensitive, especially for interviews. When this is the case, I believe, as a writer, asking the sources general questions helps to avoid feeding into possible biases and feelings,” James Tweet, our group’s editorial reporter, said. “Along with that, I find it key to ask these same general questions to all the sources so that they can all chime in and give different perspectives on one question. By asking these same questions, the themes tend to organically come out of the sources themselves.”

Three weeks into the quarter, we are already becoming better journalists, and we are excited for our next challenge ahead.

Group members, Sophia Levin and James Tweet, working hard to meet our story deadline.
Group members, Sophia Levin and James Tweet, working hard to meet our story deadline.

Exploring Romantic Student-Professor Relationships at Cal Poly

Before our group decided to cover this topic, it was originally brought up in passing as kind of a funny idea, but was quickly passed by. We mulled over different topics that were far less interesting, and when pitched them to our Brady. After each pitch was shut down for many  valid reasons, he asked us if we had anything else. The group sat in silence for a few moments until one member, Audra Wright, chose to speak up and pitch the Student-Professor dating story. Brady started laughing hard and simply said, “Yes”. From there we knew we had something.

With our topic decided, we now faced the task of finding sources for a story that absolutely nobody wanted to be associated with. Initial attempts at reaching out with students and faculty were met with a lot of apprehension, as well as a strange comment from a former manager. Overall, each group seemed to feel like they were being coaxed into a witch hunt, the complete opposite of what our goal was.

Some of the responses received from my post to the Class of 2017 Facebook page were hilarious, and you should check them out. Below is a response from one of the professors we ended up interviewing, and a link to the Cal Poly subreddit page with a similar posting.

Screen Shot 2017-04-16 at 5.51.31 PM

Student-Professor Romantic Relationships At Cal Poly/Universities from CalPoly

Even with all the lukewarm feedback, we managed to secure sources on the grounds of professional opinions, not experience. At this point, the group realized we may have to narrow our story’s focus down to the policy of student-professor relationships and the grey area involved. It seemed like even that aspect of the topic got people stirred enough to want to talk about it.

Screen Shot 2017-04-19 at 12.36.30 AM

Laura Daniele, said she saw this as a good reason to keep going with this story, as follows:

“I had never considered the fact that a relationship could be so controversial. Hearing so many different perspectives on student/professor relationships really helps me understand why it is a hard topic to talk about, but why it is one we need to talk about.”

As a sidetone we did also interview a student who had met a professor on tinder, but once she started telling her story, she let us know that it happened a.) In Germany and b.) With a professor in no way affiliated with Cal Poly.  She did still have some interesting viewpoints on the subject as a whole but unfortunately, the SD card on the camera we recorded her with was corrupted and the entire interview was lost. A lesson learned from that experience was to always back up a video interview with a voice recording, so that at least we could have salvaged a quote or two from it.

As Audra Wright, the group member covering the broadcast portion of this project put it,

”This project definitely had its challenges. For example, we were able to find a student who was willing to share her experience of a fling with a non-Cal Poly professor. We met up with her at a local coffee shop, filmed her, and the interview exceeded our expectations. Unfortunately, the AP card was corrupted and the footage couldn’t be retrieved. Though it was miserably unfortunate, it was a learning experience.”

Luckily, we had some really great interviews lined up in addition to that one, and the interview that I thought was the best was our interview with Professor Loving.

Professor Loving waits for his interview while Audra Wright sets up the camera.
Professor Loving gets ready for the interview while Audra Wright sets up the camera.

Although I knew Professor Loving was going to deliver, having taken some of my most memorable classes with him throughout the years at Cal Poly, he exceeded all of our expectations. He clearly explained the legal and ethical sides of the dating policy in a soft-spoken and eloquent manner. I’m sure Audra will have a hard time cutting down the 20 minute interview into 90 seconds, and Cal Poly will definitely miss having Loving around going forward.

This story was a lot of fun to work on and I think Sara Portnoy, working the Multimedia aspect of this project, summed it up best when she said,

“Being able to hear so many perspectives from students, professors, and administrators about the CSU Policy for Consensual Relationships really allowed me to see why this topic, that’s considered taboo and controversial, needs to be looked at through many points of view.”

It will be very interesting to see more reactions if this story happens to make it into Mustang News, but overall our group is just happy we got to break some new ground on a topic not previously covered.

Four journalism students walk into a barn…

So far this quarter, my group had our fair share of heavy topics. Up until this project, we were covering the kind of stories that required empathy (Deaf students at Cal Poly), data analyzation (computer science faculty retention) and difficult sources (Black Student Union).  These projects were tedious. No doubt we felt tuckered out. Discouraged. Unmotivated.

For our next story, it was time to let down our hair down. It was time to run into the wild, open and abundant planes of Cal Poly…

Just off the beaten path, Cal Poly is home to sprawling acres of hills, dirt and animals.
Just off the beaten path, Cal Poly is home to sprawling acres of hills, dirt and animals.

I mean really. What better way to end the quarter than with a story about pigs.

I had the idea. I remember when I first came to Cal Poly around age 6, it was to visit my family friend who “worked with the pigs.” My aunt and uncle drove me out to this deserted area on campus that smelled so bad. There was mud and I just remember I didn’t want to get out of the car.  Then I saw baby piglets. I didn’t believe in love at first sight until then.

Fast forward to now and I understand better. My family friend was an animal science major who was also a student resident manager for the Cal Poly Swine Unit.

Somehow I convinced Julia, Olivia and Veronica that this was a good idea and so we proceeded with the story topic.

“I didn’t know living in the swine unit was an option, so it was really interesting to see how Matt and Logan live,” group member Julia Morris said. 

After a quick Google search, I found this Mustang News article from 2012.  I decided we should still proceed with the story because the article published in 2012 lacked more than just multimedia. It didn’t portray the swine unit I had visited when I was 6 years old and continue to visit now during long runs at Cal Poly.

Finding the sources was easy. After a simple post to the Cal Poly Class of 2017 page, we found Logan and Matt. Their profile pictures reminded me of something I would see on

Screen Shot 2017-03-10 at 3.29.58 PM Screen Shot 2017-03-10 at 3.30.25 PM

The process was easy once they agreed to be our sources for the story. They were beyond helpful.

While filming for her broadcast piece, Olivia captured the pigs getting out and then breaking an irrigation pipe, which made for compelling footage.

“So I went to the swine unit and got great footage of Logan and lots of pigs and piglets. But I also got great footage of pigs breaking out of a pen (then being herded back in) and a pig breaking a pipe and water spraying everywhere,” Doty said.

Julia was interested in the story because the boys explained to her the skills they’ve gained from their experience in the swine unit goes beyond agriculture and has made them more responsible young men. 

As a team, we hope that we can leave JOUR 462 on a humorous note. I think covering a feature on the swine unit did just that.

Discovering what it means to be polyamorous

Peter had the golden idea.

He came to us and said he had heard of a group of four students at Cal Poly in a polyamorous relationship– one guy is dating three girls and two of those girls are also dating each other. He knew they kept a contract and were pretty open about their relationship.

Woah. How could we not do a story on this?

All of us grew up in a household and in a society that promotes monoamory. Infidelity is frowned upon. Adultery is a sin. Staying committed and faithful is a value that I would argue most people have.

Yet, millennials– especially college students– live in a modern dating culture that accepts casual hookups, encourages emotional games and teaches us that whoever can prove that they care less in a relationship has the upper hand.

We got to thinking. Could the two be related? Could this polyamorous relationship foreshadow the future of college dating culture?

After searching through the archives, we found that Mustang News had done one story about open relationships in the past but nothing about polyamory. So, we took on the challenge and set out to find some answers.

We first interviewed a political science professor, Ren Den Otter, who has done substantial research about monogamy and he enlightened us that there really has not been much research about polyamorous relationships, possibly because it’s not widely accepted or known.

“Multi-person relationships are not only not legally recognized in the United States,” Den Otter said. “All states have laws that, to more or lesser extend, criminalize aspects of multi-person relationships.”

We interviewed Professor Teresa Downing next who echoed that social science community knows very little about polyamory.

Neither professor could expertly speak to the relationship between polyamory and college dating culture. But, Downing had done extensive research about the “hookup culture” and brought up concerns about the safety behind the groups sexual endeavors– something we had not yet thought about.

We also interviewed a college student who was once in an open relationship and no longer is. But, the story got really interesting once we sat down with the “polycule”– a term that the polyamorous group uses to identify themselves.

“Meeting the ‘polycule’ and learning about their relationship was a really cool experience because the idea of polyamory was so foreign to me before and I had no idea what to expect,” Madison Agatha Mancebo said.

Watching the group interact was fascinating to all of us. We set up our interview so the man in the group would sit in between his two girlfriends. Both of his ladies lovingly gazed at him, rubbed his leg and talked openly about their relationship. We could not sense any jealousy or animosity between the women. They are friends.

Cecilia takes video of the group’s natural interactions.

“Watching their dynamic was enlightening. I was impressed that they could pull off such a complex relationship,” Peter Gonzalez said.

The polycule walked us through how their relationship came to be, and the rules and logistics that guide their relationship, as expressed in a not-so-strict contract they all share. Consent and communication– that’s how they make it work.

Screen Shot 2017-03-10 at 2.00.36 PM
This contract was created with the polycule was forming. It is no longer strictly followed but some rules and values are still carried out in their relationship today.

“I was so surprised by how comfortable they were with each other. It was very refreshing to see such mature young people doing what they want,” Cecilia Seiter said.

After the interview concluded, we all looked at each other in awe. It was nothing like what we expected.

Through this story, we learned a hell of a lot about relationships, love and dating. It inspired us to look for similarly interesting stories that have not been done before. And, it reminded us of why we got started with journalism in the first place.