Behind the Scenes: Harmon v. Marx Mayoral Race

Why the Mayoral Race?

With elections coming up in just under a month, our group thought it was important to highlight the race for the next San Luis Obispo Mayor.  While most students are debating over whether Hilary Clinton or Donald Trump would be a worse President, very few students recognize the names Heidi Harmon and Jan Marx – the two women running for SLO Mayor.  Katie brought this idea to the groups attention and we all jumped onboard.  The story is so relevant, not only because it is election season, but also because Cal Poly is at a time of growth and change and the next San Luis Obispo mayor will have a lot of say in what the University can and can’t do.

As we started talking about our story angles on the day of assignment, we quickly realized our hypocrisy when criticizing our fellow peers for not being more aware of their local government representatives.  We ourselves were also not too familiar with who Heidi Harmon and Jan Marx really were.  So task number one for our group was to research the candidates so we were educated on the topic when talking to our sources.

Time with Heidi Harmon

Our biggest fear when choosing this story was that it would be too difficult to get a hold of both Heidi Harmon and Jan Marx in a timely manner.  Our worries were put at ease when Heidi’s campaign manager emailed me back within 24 hours of our email inquiring an interview.  The only mishap we ran into was that another student (Bryce) had also requested time with Heidi.  Because of the overlap, we decided to collaborate and conduct our interviews at the same time.  We set the interview for Friday (10/7) and communicated with Bryce to insure we would all be on the same page regarding the type of questions we wanted to ask.

On Friday we met at Bella Mundo, a cafe located downtown.  While the cafe was a little loud, we were able to find a quiet corner with perfect, natural light from the window for our video.  The interview went off seamless and Heidi seemed to be very enthusiastic about bringing a new insight into the SLO government to achieve solutions to prevalent issues in our community.

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Dani (pictured on the right) interviews Heidi Harmon on issues involving Cal Poly vs. the San Luis Obispo community as Bryce (pictured on the left) takes notes on her responses.

Tracking down Jan

While Heidi’s team was quick to reply to our interview inquiry, getting a hold of Jan was a more difficult scenario.  After a couple unreturned emails and phone calls, we finally found success from our new friend Bryce, from the Public Policy reporting class.  When we realized that our deadline was fastly approaching and we still had no word from Jan, we reached out to Bryce to see if she had any luck reaching Jan.  She replied informing us that she was doing an interview with Jan the next day and we quickly invited ourselves to tag along to get video and ask our questions.

The interview was held outside the UU by the Mustang statue.  While it was a nice place for visuals, the area was less than ideal for sound – it was extremely loud due to how close it was to the street and foot traffic.

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After watching the interview back on tape and realizing that the loud traffic took away from what Jan was saying, we decided to schedule a second interview.

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Reflections

In the end, this story made me realize how important it is to vote for your local government.  Cal Poly is in a period of change as the University wants to increase its student population and the next Mayor will have a lot of say on the how much they can grow.  It’s extremely easy to switch your to registration to be able to vote in SLO and voice your opinion in the upcoming Mayoral elections.

“Reaching out to the public about what they wanted to hear in the story really made me realize how different our perception as reporters about what we assume our readers want to see and what they actually say they want to see.  I loved working on this story and being able to talk to both Jan and Heidi to get their opinions on issues that are affecting Cal Poly students everyday.” -Maddie Reid

“Covering the Mayoral Race in SLO was fun and exciting. I’ve never been involved politically before, as this is my first eligible election. Thanks to this project, I have switched my registration to SLO county and will be voting in a few weeks. I will encourage my classmates and friends to vote in San Luis and will pay attention to what’s going on in our community from now on. I’m very happy our team covered this story successfully and can’t wait to see who becomes Mayor!” -Dani 

I learned a lot about the Mayoral Race and each of the candidates who are running. Even though I think they have similar stances on Cal Poly issues, they are very different candidates overall. While Jan Marx is more experienced and entrenched in the community, Heidi Harmon is very charismatic and has run a great grassroots campaign which made me think about whether we need new blood in the office. Ultimately though, I think Jan Marx is the more qualified candidate.” -Katie Stark

“I learned a lot about time management and being able to get things done on a tight deadline. I successfully completed an article and five interviews in less than two weeks, on top of work and my other school assignments. I also learned a lot about what a large role the mayor plays when it comes to decisions at Cal Poly and around SLO.” -Caitlin Clausen

Our Time with Smile and Nod: A Behind the Scenes Look at Developing the Story

The Idea

When we all came together to figure out which story we wanted to tackle for our first project, we came to the consensus that doing a piece on Cal Poly’s very own improv comedy team, Smile and Nod, was the clear choice. Some of the members in the group had never even heard of Smile and Nod and thought that it was a pretty cool aspect about campus that many students (and community members) don’t even know about. So with that we were on the trail for a new angle to come up with for narrowing down a story about our chosen topic. We knew that Mustang News had covered Smile and Nod in various ways before, but we wanted to try and find something new and exciting about the improv group that maybe a majority of Cal Poly students had never known about before.

Smile and Nod members at their show on Saturday night preparing for their sketch.
Smile and Nod members at their show on Saturday night preparing for their sketch.

The Start

In our group of five, Rachel Furtado and I were in charge of the public relations portion of the story. This meant hitting the ground running with developing audience engagement reports, doing background research on the group to see what else there was to cover, scheduling interviews, posting questions and starting discussions about Smile and Nod on various social media platforms and even diving into search engine optimization programs to help us narrow down key words and headlines that would best attract our audience’s attention.

Meet the Team

Kaylee Zaccone was tasked with writing the actual editorial piece about Smile and Nod. This involved going to interviews with people that Rachel and I set up for her so that she could take the jumpstart we gave her and run with it for her story.

Demi Castanon was in charge of doing the multimedia aspect for the project and coming up with a cool way to display some of the facts and information that we got from some of the team Members from Smile and Nod. Her portion is also going to be pushed to the web, so having a visual component about our topic was very important.

Finally, Amanda Fridley got to use her skills as a broadcast journalist to work the broadcast and radio portion of our story. She actually got to go to one of Smile and Nod’s rehearsals on Sunday afternoon to see what goes on behind the scenes to make the show what it is.

The Process

All in all each of us had a very set way that we were going to handle each of our portion of the project. Given that Rachel and I were both doing PR for this story, we leaned on each other for support and advice on what to do for each step of the way. It was all new to us and so any questions that we had were answered by figuring out what exactly it was that was being asked of us and reading in close detail. Setting up the interviews for each other was one of the bigger things because each of us depending on interviews and communication to get our pieces done. With that being said there were no arguments or drama between any of us in part because we knew that all of us were working toward one common goal. There was a mutual respect and understanding for everyone’s individual part in the group, which made working in our group a very cohesive process.

The Takeaways

For me, personally, I had a really good time with this project. I got to use Reddit for the first time and post a question in the forum, which I thought was pretty cool. Being able to post on social made the project seem a little more real, as well. Engaging with various audiences and posting questions (even though there weren’t that many responses) was still something that I can take into the professional world and use as a great tool for engaging with the public. I also was bale to sit down and have a pretty long talk with one of Smile and Nod’s veteran members, Sasha Smolgovsky, about some of the cool things that Smile and Nod gets to do that not many people realize.

“If people in the community knew that there was a team nearby that does comedy in Scotland at an international festival, then I think they would be more interested in seeing it as opposed to [thinking] ‘it’s just a college thing’” Smolgovsky said.

Sasha Smolgovsky at the Smile and Nod show on Saturday night.
Sasha Smolgovsky at the Smile and Nod show on Saturday night.

I think this is a great point to be made because I certainly didn’t know that they got to do awesome things like that and I’m not sure how many other people do either. It makes them seem more legit when it comes to performing and getting their name out there for people to come to their shows.

Team Takeaways and Perspectives

Demi, who went to the show on Saturday night to get images for her multimedia section was surprised at how entertaining the group actually was when she saw them in person.

“It was more funny than I thought it would be. I didn’t know that the audience also had a say in what they performing in cause it really is improv” Castanon said.

One of the main things that Kaylee wanted to do with her editorial piece was separate it from previous pieces that were written about Smile and Nod in the past.

“The other [Mustang News article] was just kind of an overview of what they are now and so we’re going to talk a little bit more about what they do outside, like giving back and working with Safer and also explaining how the group started” Zaccone said.

Having some previous background knowledge in comedy groups and possessing some great broadcast skills, Amanda wanted to change it up a little bit and do something a little bit different for her piece.

“I wanted to do a more fun interview just because it is a comedy group. I didn’t want to do just a clean-cut broadcast-style interview. I wanted to get more involved and actually have me talking with people” Fridley said.

Rachel and I both agreed that the PR portion of the project was a little difficult to begin with, but once we knew what we had to do everything was fine.

“I was really stressed out at first cause I had no idea what I needed to do and then meeting up with the members in such a short amount of time was hard, but I managed to meet with them and interview them for a little bit” Furtado said.

Team Smile and Team Nod getting ready to face off in their skit at Saturday night's show.
Team Smile and Team Nod getting ready to face off in their skit at Saturday night’s show.

Behind The Scenes: Cal Poly’s Wet Environment

Why We Chose The Topic

On a Monday afternoon, during the second week of classes, my group members and I each got assigned media roles for the story we were going to report on. Arinee Rahman and I both were both assigned the Public Relations role, Vinny Van Patten assigned to print, Avrah Baum to broadcast and Katelyn Piziali to multimedia.

In class, we bounced off topic ideas until we all agreed on a topic that we were interested in covering. All of us were interested in the topic of downtown culture in the context of day vs. night. After brainstorming multiple ways to cover the story, we realized that Cal Poly students would not be interested in the topic. So instead, we decided to cover Mustang Station, the new pub on Cal Poly’s campus. Mustang Station is new and intriguing, however, students are unaware of the rules and regulations at the pub. After we talked about this topic for five minutes, we created over twenty questions we had as Cal Poly students. Our questions made us realize how a story on the rules and regulations of Mustang Station is needed for the students of Cal Poly.

Shortly after, Arinee Rahman and I got together after class to discuss a plan reaching out to the individuals and organizations that were a part of creating Mustang Station. We did a little research on Mustang Station and the Cal Poly Corporation. Then, we found information of administrators and individuals we thought were best to interview for the story angle we were taking. To our dismay, just a few days later Mustang News released an article covering the history and decision-making process that led to the creation of Mustang Station. Because of this, our group decided to narrow the angle of our story.

“Improvising is important with reporting and you always have to be flexible enough to change your plans or angle,” Arinee Rahman said.

The Change In Direction

We decided to report on the environment of Mustang Station. The new story angle caused Arinee and I to speak with different people. We instead reached out to Jana Colombini, President Armstrong and multiple students and faculty hoping to get a sense of the environment. President Armstrong sadly rejected my group over phone and email, but did not say no to an interview when Avrah and Arinee ran into him in person!

Our original plan was to have Avrah interview Armstrong while drinking a beer, however, interviewing him in his office still gave us a great sense of the drinking environment at Mustang Station. In addition to Armstrong, our interviews with Jana, the Facility Supervisor and students painted a clear picture of the drinking environment at Mustang Station.

Avrah Baum interviewing Armstrong
Avrah Baum interviewing President Armstrong

Interviews

Avrah filmed the interview with Warren Chang, the University Union Facility Supervisor, in Mustang Station with the big television screens and many students with their pizza and beer in the background. The interview started at four o’clock in the evening and lasted for about thirty minutes. The setting was very loud and difficult to hear Warren from four feet away because every table was occupied by students or Cal Poly faculty. Once the interview was over, Avrah discovered that the audio to her broadcast taping did not record. I unfortunately had to leave because of another class obligation, but thankfully Warren did not mind redoing the interview.

Warren Chang interview at Mustang Station
Warren Chang interview at Mustang Station

“Always bring an extra audio recorder,” Avrah Baum said.

“It’s all about the acoustics,” Vinny Van Patten said.

Four days later, Vinny Van Patten and I interviewed Jana Colombini at three o’clock in her office located in the University Union. Jana gave detailed and thoughtful answers to our questions while also providing San Luis Obispo Community members’ opinions and thoughts about Mustang Station serving beer and wine.

“San Luis Obispo community members are worried about Cal Poly students drinking on campus and driving home intoxicated,”Jana Colombini said.

Personally, I understand the San Luis Obispo’s community members concern, however, Cal Poly is making their best efforts to promote drinking safety on and off campus through their Week of Welcome educational programs which every Cal Poly student goes through.

The next day, Katelyn Piziali and I went into Mustang Station during dinner time to take pictures and interview a few 21 year-old students with beers. After spending an hour in Mustang Station we really got a feel for the environment.

Katelyn Piziali taking pictures beers at Mustang Station
Katelyn Piziali taking pictures of beer at Mustang Station

“I think it’s really convenient that Mustang Station was created during my last year here at Cal Poly, when I’m actually 21 and able to drink on campus. Sittin in there in the evening, I could see why students might want to come to Mustang Station and grab a beer, whether it was to accompany studying or an on-campus meal.”

What we learned

After two weeks of working on this Mustang Station story, my group members and I learned multiple rules, regulations, history and environment of Mustang Station, but most importantly how to work well together.

“Having to be on a deadline only two weeks long really makes you lean on group members and better your time management,” Katelyn Piziali said.

Now it is time to relax and have a beer at Mustang Station!

 

Beer at Mustang Station
Two glasses of Deschutes Fresh Squeezed IPA beer at Mustang Station

Brittany Tesmer

Behind the Scenes: Smile and Nod

fullsizerender-2 Our group decided to cover Smile and Nod, the improv comedy group at Cal Poly, because we thought it would make a fun feature story. We wanted to do something different than what other people had done in the past. We wanted to go beyond just highlighting this club, and share things that people don’t typically know about this group— like how their audition and callback process works and how they give back to the campus community.

Trevor Melody and I were assigned the PR role for this project, so as soon as we knew the topic we started contacting Smile and Nod members, reaching out to the San Luis Obispo community, and brainstorming the possible angles along with what would be important to include in the story.

Finding Our Sources

No one knew anyone personally who was in Smile and Nod, so we started with the group’s website. When and where were their shows? What possible footage would we be able to get in two weeks? Who do we talk to? We found out that they performed the first seven Saturday nights of the quarter, so we were excited that we would be able to see what they do firsthand.

Trevor and I started to send emails to some of the members listed on the website and hoped for a quick response. We also had to reach out to community members, people in administration, and faculty along with utilizing multiple social media platforms to get feedback for our story. Trevor says, “The most challenging part for me was approaching community members and getting good responses from them since most of them typically hadn’t heard too much about Smile and Nod.”

The Process

I ended up contacting one of the girls in the group, Brianna Rodebaugh. She was extremely helpful and agreed to meet with me and bring a new member (Paul) along with her. Talking with her helped generate ideas to cover for the story.

“Many people don’t know how much practice improv comedy actually takes, there is a different one for each type of performance,” Brianna says.

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Kaylee interviews Brianna and Paul from Smile and Nod.

Later, Briana and Paul became two of our main sources for the story. They met with Kaylee Zaccone, the person assigned to editorial, and me for an interview. Trevor set up the interview with Kaylee, himself, and one of the team’s managers, Sasha, and we had our three sources for the editorial portion of the project.

“We are doing an angle that focuses on the history, present, and future of the group,” Kaylee says. “It will hopefully be different from other articles done on them because we are going to talk more about what is going on outside of the comedy aspect, like how they give back by working with SAFER.”

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Demi getting footage for the multimedia component.

Demi Castanon and I went to the show Saturday night where Demi got video, audio, and photos for the multimedia component of the project.

“At first I was going to make a video, but now I am going to do the photo slide show,” says Demi. “I feel like people might be less likely to actually go to the show if they could just watch what Smile and Nod do on video.”

Lastly, Amanda Fridley is working on the broadcast piece for our story so she went to Smile and Nod’s rehearsals to do her interviews and take video.

“I wanted to do more of a fun interview. I didn’t want to do the clean cut broadcast style, but I wanted to get more of me involved in the interviews talking to people,” says Amanda. “It was a challenge for me to organize my angles and shots during the interview because they are an improv group, and everyone is so eccentric and was screaming in the background.”

What Surprised Us

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Smile and Nod performing Saturday night.

Throughout the process of putting together this story, each of us found ourselves learning something new.

“It impressed me how quick-witted they are and how easy it is to go from sitting in their chair to getting up and being crazy.”- Amanda

“I was surprised to find out how many people actually audition every quarter. I didn’t know many people were interested in Smile and Nod.”-Kaylee

“It was more funny than I thought it was going to be. I didn’t know that the audience also had a say in what they were performing. People in the audience were throwing out topics and Smile and Nod would just run with it.”-Demi

Rachel Furtado