Highlighting a Campus Gem – The Poly Plant Shop

The first three stories that my group did were feel-good stories. We started with the transition of alcohol being allowed on campus, then second, covered how Cal Poly grads are affecting the local community, and our last story covered a student who runs a local phone repair business. We stuck to a rule set early on that we wanted to do stories that highlight positive events. We believe we continued that trend with our final story, covering Cal Poly’s Poly Plant Shop.

Katlyn capturing students putting together bouquets in the shop.
Katelyn capturing students putting together bouquets in the shop.

The idea came about after we spent a day in class brainstorming. We knew we didn’t really want to do a story having to do with campus administration, because that was similar to our Mustang Station story. This knocked off our idea of going behind the scenes into the food trucks on campus. After brainstorming further, we agreed that we all liked the idea of covering the Poly Plant Shop. It was current, because they were getting ready for their Christmas sale, and it seemed interesting to all of us. Most of all, none of us really knew about it ourselves, and we were eager to learn more.

“I didn’t know about this gem on campus, and it was really cool to learn more about the Poly Plant shop and the variety of things it has to offer for students and community members.”

– Arinee Rahman

To attempt to get in touch with the owners, I first took a look at the Poly Plant Shop website.  This got me in touch with  Melinda Lynch, who informed me that the shop is run by herself, along with Alleen Texeira and Chris Wassenberg, who are faculty and staff in the Horticulture and Crop Science department. We set up a time for our whole team to meet with Melinda later that week. Our group also met with Professor Virginia Walter, who has a ton of experience in flower design and horticulture.

“I have over 40 years of experience in this operation, providing fresh flowers and plants for sales there.”

-Virginia Walter

 Going to the Plant Shop for the first time to meet with Melinda was a very interesting experience.

The shop lies at the end of Via Carta road, where we had all been before. However, none of us realized that there was a plant shop there.

Map to the Poly Plant Shop, provided by the shop's website.
Map to the Poly Plant Shop, provided by the shop’s website.

We got to the shop a bit early, so had some time to explore the grounds and what the shop has to offer. I, along with the rest of my team members we very impressed with the wide array of flowers and plants that the shop offers, as well as how festive it looks. It immediately got us more excited to do the story and learn more.

“I had never actually been to the plant shop before, but had heard of it. After my first visit, I just wanted to keep coming back.”

– Katelyn Piziali

Melinda  proceeded to show us around the shop, and then took us back where they grow all of the plants, which none of us expected would be so elaborate.

Melinda describes to the gorup what happens in the foliage production house.
Melinda describing to the group what happens in the foliage production house.

What we found that makes this story current is that the shop was getting ready for their big Christmas sale which would be in a couple days. The shop sells poinsettias of all colors during the holidays, and the store is jammed during the opening Friday of the sale. Since not many students really know about the shop from what we gathered, the sale is mostly catered to community members who have been coming to the shop for years.

Preparing for the holiday sale!
Preparing for the holiday sale!

What Melinda really stressed to us is that the purpose of the shop isn’t to undermine other flower and plant shops in the community. But rather, it is a means for students who work there to gain experience in the field. I almost thought that it would be cool to work there myself. Spending your days surrounded by flowers and holiday cheer doesn’t sound too bad. But Melinda described further the process of apply to work there, which is actually quite lengthy. But when they do get the job, students gain great experience in horticulture, flower design, among other skills.

“It was interesting hearing about how the Plant Shop has been a way for students of all fields of study, not just Horticulture students, to apply what they learn in class into real world skills.”

– Avrah Baum

While the shop is run very efficiently and looks great, the only recommendation our group could provide would be to upgrade their social media a bit. It seems a little dated, and in this age social media is a key component to running an affective business plan. At the end of the day, we were all very happy to have landed on this topic for our final project. Some of us even learned some new skills ourselves!

“It was my first time working with a GoPro, which was a fun experience.”

-Brittany Tesmer

Behind the Scenes: Organic vs. Conventional Food

How the Idea Came to Be

Once again, our group had some trouble thinking of a story topic. The first idea we pondered on for awhile was a feature on Heart Castle. However, we came to the conclusion that there is no newsworthy aspect to this story idea, nor could we relate it to Cal Poly in any way. Not only that, but it would have been nearly impossible to talk to someone in the Hearst family.

So, we ditched that idea.

As the end of our class period was fast approaching, we came up with the idea of organic versus conventional food. Neither Katie, Maddie, Dani, nor myself really knew much about organic food. Our main question was this: 

Is organic food really better than conventional food?

We did not know the answer and we figured a lot of the student community probably does not either. With that, our story was born. By the end of class, Maddie’s print article, Dani’s multimedia piece, and Katie’s video all had a general direction that they were headed in.

Getting the Details

As soon as we figured out what story idea we were going to roll with, we instantly knew what sources we wanted to track down. We thought of students, faculty, and community members that would able to give us the answers we were looking for. We ultimately decided on: Megan Coats, Registered Dietitian for Campus Dining; Dr. J. Scott Vernon, agricultural communications professor; and Rachel Del Toro-Gipson, senior nutrition major.

Maddie, Dani, and I met with Rachel early Friday morning in the UU to talk organic and healthy food.

Our student source, Rachel, has a food blog called Viva La Veganista, which is dedicated to her vegan and healthy lifestyle. Being the first person we interviewed, she was able to give us many details about organic and healthy food that we did not know before. As a result, she also set the stage for what direction Maddie wanted to go in for her print piece and what questions she would ask Dr. Vernon and Megan.

Next was Megan. It was a bit touch and go when it came to scheduling an interview. She is a key part of our story and it would have been difficult without her. In the end, it was smooth sailing once I finally got a definitive answer that the interview was on for Monday afternoon.

Megan’s basket of stress balls and trinkets from conventions in her office.
Katie and Megan discussing how organic food compares to conventional food.

We all met in her office and sat down at a round table in her office. Katie was first to interview Megan, so she started setting up her camera equipment right away. Once it was all set up, Katie realized the camera and the microphone were not picking up sounds. Luckily, Dani had a camera of her own and was able to save the day. With that, we jumped right into the interview.

As soon as Katie finished up her questions, Maddie smoothly transitioned into her own questions. Dani was also able to use some information from Megan for her multimedia piece about the pros and cons of organic food.

Megan offered us many fun facts about organic food and debunked the major misconception that organic food is better for you.

“Research is slowly finding that there are some foods that are better for you, healthwise, organic and that’s really because of the pesticide residue. It’s not because they’re healthier, usually they’re not necessarily healthier by any sense, but they do have less pesticide residue,” Megan said.

Finally, we interviewed Dr. Vernon early Tuesday morning. We were curious about organic practices on Cal Poly’s campus and, of course, what his take on organic food is. Like our other two sources, he provided great insight and was able to tie the whole story together just in time.

That’s a Wrap

This story came together just as we hoped with few bumps in the road. We learned a lot of valuable information and we are happy to be able to share it with the Cal Poly community.

Dani Orlandi, Multimedia

“I label myself as a serious foodie, so reporting on this topic was both eye-opening and a lot of fun. I tend to pay more for organic fruits and vegetables because I’ve always believed they were somehow ‘healthier.’ After talking with various Cal Poly professionals involved in agriculture, their opinions have changed my perception on how I look at food – there’s really no science that proves organic is better for you than conventional.”

Katie Stark, Video

“Going into this topic I didn’t really know what organic meant and just assumed that organic food is better. After this I won’t put so much emphasis on buy organic products. I think it is important we educate students about this so they aren’t spending their money on something they don’t necessarily need. ”

Maddie Reid, Text

“I’ve always eaten organic because I thought it was healthier and more nutritious, but never actually knew what “organic” meant. Working on the project and being able to interview three very informed sources opened my eyes to the food growing methods and the pluses and minuses of each side. I was really nervous going into the editorial piece since I haven’t written a news story in so long, but this topic was really interesting for me so it made writing the story a lot easier and I ended up being really proud of how it all came together.”

Caitlin Clausen, Public Relations

“I have always tried to buy organic when it was at a reasonable price, but I never knew why. Ever since the end of high school I have been told that organic is better and healthier for you and my mom always encouraged me to eat organically. So, I did. But why? Now I know that when something says it is organic, it does not mean that it is entirely organic. So, from now on, although I might be slightly stuck in my ways, I will be careful about what ‘organic’ and conventional food I eat.”


– Caitlin Clausen

Behind the Story: PolyTronics Phone Repairs

First Things First: Story Ideas

After finishing both our first and second stories on beer and wine, respectively, our group wanted to veer away from alcohol related topics and try something new. When we were all in class tossing around ideas, I had one fresh in my mind that I had been thinking of for a few days.

I had recently gotten my new iPhone 7 and had to return my iPhone 6 to Verizon for their money back trade-in program, but had cracked my iPhone 6 right before receiving my new one. When I was doing research on cheaper repairs than Apple, I stumbled upon PolyTronics, where I ended up getting my phone fixed and my idea was born.

When I went to PolyTronics to get my iPhone 6 repaired, I was greeted by a tall guy wearing glasses and an eager dog who jumped through the doorway to greet me. He was friendly enough, a little awkward, but told me the repair would take 20 minutes and for me to leave and come back in that short time. I went and got food and when I returned to get my repaired phone, I started asking him some questions. Did he run the business out of his house? What year in school was he? How did he get to be running this business on his own?

It was only a few questions, but his answers immediately sparked my interest, and I remember thinking to myself, “this would be an interesting story to cover for my senior project.” And lo and behold, a week later, I pitched the story to the rest of my team members and they went for it. With myself, Katelyn Piziali, on PR, Avrah Baum on multimedia, Vinny Van Patten on broadcast and Brittany Tesmer and Arinee Rahman both on print, I was excited to see the story we would uncover on PolyTronics.

Interviews: Scheduled and Scavenged

As soon as we had decided that we would be covering PolyTronics for our story, I went to work putting Brittany and Arinee in contact with Parker Smith, our primary source and the current co-owner/phone fixer of PolyTronics. I had already contacted him by text for my engagement report, and he had replied with how excited he was to be interviewed – something refreshing compared to the usual begrudging sources journalism students have to deal with.

Text message between Katelyn Piziali and Parker Smith.


That Thursday, the rest of my group minus myself went to interview Parker and his secretary Claire Drewery at his house on Santa Barbara Street near downtown San Luis Obispo.

Vinny Van Patten, Arinee Rahman and Brittany Tesmer interviewing Parker Smith.

Even though I didn’t get to be there myself, I heard only good things from my team members about how friendly Parker and Claire were, how cool the backyard was, and how cute the dog was.

Avrah Baum playing with Parker Smith’s dog, Elvis.

“His workspace is really cool and I was impressed with his set up and his commitment to the business,” Avrah Baum said.

Brittany Tesmer interviewing Parker Smith.

“Interviewing Parker Smith at his house was such a cool experience. I learned so much about iPhone fixing and small businesses. It was an inspiration to see a Cal Poly student run a full success business,” Brittany Tesmer said.

While most interviews are scheduled, there are those you have to scavenge for. After our first interview at Parker’s the previous Thursday, there were still some quotes Brittany needed to get from a professor for an expert source. So, we wandered around the business building on campus, knocking on different doors until we found a professor with his door open who would talk to us.

Brittany Tesmer knocking on Dr. Tad Miller’s office door.

Dr. Tad Miller ended up being very friendly and willing to give us the exact information we needed, even though entrepreneurship wasn’t his specialty. He gave us some great quotes, and we left feeling a little motivated ourselves.

Greatness does not come from waiting at the right time. I think greatness comes from being stupid and passionate and going for it,” Dr. Tad Miller said. 

Since there were still some facts and pictures that Brittany and Avrah needed, respectively, we headed back to Parker’s house later that same day, which happened to be election night, to get what we needed.

While Brittany asked questions, Avrah played with Parker’s dog, Elvis, and I finally got a look around on what I missed during the first interview.

Parker Smith explains phone repairs and parts to Avrah Baum.
Avrah Baum takes a picture with Parker Smith’s dog, Elvis.
Parker Smith repairs a phone at his workshop.

Reflecting and Feeling Inspired

Once Avrah got her pictures and Brittany had gotten her quotes, we left with hugs from Parker and a sense of accomplishment. It was crazy to see how we had come from an idea I had randomly thought of to a full-fledged story with several components.

With this being our third project of four, we’ve started to get the hang of things, but that doesn’t mean we get everything right. We’ve realized that while there are things you do get wrong, it’s those failures that lead to your successes. We all felt pretty inspired watching a student two years our junior running an entire business at his fingertips.

“The interview went well with Parker and it was really easy to speak with him. It was an inspirational experience to hear from Parker how he runs his business just by doing what he enjoys to do,” Arinee Rahman said.

“The interview was really cool. I enjoyed filming his quirky workspace and him working in it. I learned that it isn’t impossible to run a business while you’re in school, it just takes great time management skills and dedication,” Vinny Van Patten said.

Overall, this has been my favorite project topic to cover so far, just because there is so much detail that goes into repairing one phone and it was crazy to get to see the insides of the phones that we carry around everyday. I’m excited to see what topic we cover next – hopefully it’ll be a good one since it’s our last!

-Katelyn Piziali

Behind the Story: Cal Poly Students Who Stay in SLO for Thanksgiving

We all have that one out-of-state friend. Whether he/she is from Hawaii, Colorado, or Georgia. YOU get to drive a few hours away and bam you’re sitting across the dinner table from your Aunt Lucy who’s had two drinks too many already. As much as you hate them, you love your family because the cook of the night always makes the yams just the way you like it–with way too many mini-marshmallows.

A Common Theme

During our time researching questions and discovering answers to the question:

“What the heck do Cal Poly students do when they stay in SLO for Thanksgiving?” 

(for those who aren’t locals), we found that many people actually adopt what’s called a friendsgiving. Friendsgiving: The celebration of Thanksgiving dinner with your friends. Ex. “Hey guys, bring over your family leftovers to my house on the Friday after Thanksgiving to celebrate Friendsgiving!”

It was fun to interview the outliers of the holiday and analyze their attitudes about staying in SLO. Some seemed un-touched, while others were slightly, dare I say, excited. I held multiple friendsgivings myself and they really are fun.

Our Thoughts About the Process

Demitria Castanon (PR & Yours Truly):

The reporting process was very fun. I very much enjoyed being the public relations person in the project. I like to blog, and social is fun for me (and most other people my age), and it didn’t really seem like work to me to be honest. My favorite part was tagging along in the interviews. Meeting the sources is the most exciting. Thinking about challenges, I’d say the only part that was somewhat difficult to me was the first social networking checklist because sources don’t know (nor should get the feel) that we are on a deadline so I need our communication to be prompt. A.k.a. not waiting days to see if a certain time works or not. I understand everyone has plans,  it just makes it difficult when people are unsure about setting interviews.

Amanda Fridley (Text):

I like doing print because this topic had a lot of people willing to come forward and talk about their experiences during the holiday I had fun getting to know everyone and really diving into this topic. Usually I write for broadcast so it short sweet and to the point so print should be fun for me to dig deeper into my writing. Finding sources was not difficult at all for this project

Kaylee Bingham (Broadcast):

I am not super familiar with broadcast, which is what I am doing this time around. So it has been a challenge learning all of the components, from how to use the camera to actually editing and putting a video together. I am having fun with this topic though and learning another facet of journalism.

Trevor Melody (Multimedia):

MM has been rather tricky for me compared to PR and video so far. I’m not really familiar at all with ThingLink so working with it to try and make sure that it’s been working and how it should be has been rather difficult. I also am finding that I have to interview more people than I did for both PR and Video in terms of making sure that I have enough visual and audio quality for the thinglink.

Rachel Furtado (Multimedia):

I liked hearing what everyone who couldn’t go home for Thanksgiving was doing instead. People do things that I wouldn’t think to do if I couldn’t be home with family. The multimedia component was challenging at times but it was fun trying to come up with creative ways to produce content for his project!

Behind the Scenes: From Grad to Grapes

Choosing Our Topic

About two weeks ago, my group completed our first story about the new Mustang Station on campus and the changes coming to the Cal Poly community now that students 21+ can drink on campus. Come Monday morning, we were all still pretty stumped on what to cover for our next story. While brainstorming during class, Vinny Van Patten pitched what would become our new topic: Cal Poly’s influence on the local wine industry.

We all know Wine & Viticulture students and knew a few people who have graduated and either work in a local winery or have printed labels for the bottles. Our professor Brady Teufel had a few suggestions for sources for us, including his lifelong friend Coby Parker-Garcia, and a group of former Cal Poly students who had created an app that helps the user pair wine with what they’re eating for dinner. Initially, our group decided we wanted to profile different people from the Cal Poly community that are involved with the San Luis Obispo County wine industry. So far our source list contained an older graduate, a current student interning this quarter at a local winery, a professor who’s created labels for bottles and the group of former students who created the app. However, pursuing these different sources proved difficult and we realized that we needed to narrow down our topic to be more specific. After brainstorming again in class the following Wednesday, we made the official decision on our story: to cover Cal Poly graduates’ influence on the local wine industry.

With Arinee Rahman and Brittany Tesmer on broadcast, Katelyn Piziali on print, Vinny Van Patten on multimedia, and myself covering Public Relations, we felt pretty confident on covering our story. I personally was looking forward to getting great footage of the inside of cellars and seeing some of the winemaking process.

Visiting our Sources

The two interviews I accompanied our group to was with Pat Doyle, Cellar Hand at Chamisal Vineyards and to Coby Parker-Garcia, winemaker at Claiborne and Churchill. Our first interview was with an old friend of my boyfriend who graduated Cal Poly in 2014. He studied Business and concentrated in Packaging Logistics. He’s currently the Cellar Hand, or assistant winemaker, at Chamisal Vineyards and was thrilled that we had an interest in the wine industry and was more than willing to talk to us and give us an inside look at his job.

“The graduates were really happy to make an effort to help us with the project, which shows how much they still care about the school and its students” said Vinny Van Patten.

That Friday we carpooled to Chamisal and opened the cellar doors to be greeted by a cellar dog and the sweet aroma of fermenting grapes. Pat walked around with us and explained everything about the duties at the cellar and how he got involved with the wine industry. Pat started off as an intern, and realized how much he loved the people he worked with and the experience of making wine. He described the process of learning how to make good wine as “tasting your mistakes”. We got lots of great interview and B-Roll footage, however editing audio proved to be very difficult. The cellar echoed, and made it difficult to hear Pat during some parts of the interview.


Brittany and Katelyn interviewing Pat Doyle at Chamisal Vineyards in San Luis Obispo, Calif.

“I learned how important planning ahead is. Always check your equipment before you leave the equipment check out place, always have back-up equipment and always always mic up the person you are interviewing no matter what. Camera audio is very difficult to edit and is horrible sounding” Brittany Tesmer said.

The second interview that I attended was with Claiborne and Churchill winemaker Coby Parker-Garcia. The drive to the winery was beautiful, and the flowers and landscaping surrounding the building was very welcoming. He gave us a rundown of what a year in a winemaker’s life looks like.

“During harvest, which is in the fall, we’re picking the grapes, getting the fruit off the vines, processing it, fermenting it, and getting it into either a barrel or tank. Then, the springtime is typically busy bottling a lot of our whites and starting some vineyard work which is getting the vineyards prepped and ready for the upcoming growing season. And in the summertime, we’re bottling some of our reds by the end of summer. Throughout that entire time, we’re trying to sell our wine, hitting the market in different areas throughout California and the US” -Coby Parker-Garcia.

He also told us something we thought was really cool: all full-time employees at Claiborne and Churchill are Cal Poly graduates.

I was really in awe of how passionate each worker was about their job. Seeing how passionate they were on the topic made it more interesting to me than wine ever has been to me before” said Katelyn Piziali.


Katelyn Piziali interviewing Coby Parker-Garcia at Claiborne and Churchill in San Luis Obispo, Calif.

The other graduates we interviewed were David Beress, a winemaker at Stillwaters Winery in Paso Robles, who graduated from Cal Poly in December 2015 with a degree in Wine and Viticulture concentrating in Oenology, and Alejandra Alvarez who interns for Treasury Wine Estates. Alvarez graduated from Cal Poly in June 2016 with a degree in Wine and Viticulture and a concentration in Viticulture.


Grapes at Stillwaters Winery in Paso Robles, Calif.

It was so inspiring to me to see how Cal Poly graduates spread out all over San Luis Obispo County and got involved in the wine industry in different ways. I learned that you don’t need to have former connections or to study Wine and Viticulture in school in order to work in the wine industry.

“I thought it was cool to see how successful people become with a Cal Poly degree. Still Waters’ owner, general manager, winemaker and a lot of people in the tasting room are all Cal Poly grads so it’s cool to see what an impact we can make in a community” said Arinee Rahman.


A shot of the vineyard at Stillwaters Winery in Paso Robles, Calif.

Wrapping Up the Story

I loved covering this topic for the last couple of weeks, and it was really cool hearing about how the university I’m about to graduate from prepares students so well to work in the wine industry, and how interdisciplinary the industry really is. We’re looking forward to seeing our final story and what stories are to come!

Behind the scenes: Cal Poly swipes right

Getting Started

Planning our angle for this story was a process. Our group knew that stories on dating apps have been used before. Mustang News had published stories about dating in the digital world and we knew there was definitely an interest in this topic. We messed around with  the idea of do’s and don’t of online dating. We also looked into reporting on what makes a good dating profile.

After discussing our idea with our professor we decided we needed to narrow dating online to just one app. We chose arguably the most popular dating app, Tinder.  After researching other articles that explained exactly what the app is, we wanted to tell the stories of the people using Tinder. Success stories, failures, and everything in between.

It all starts with the decision to swipe right…. 

The Process

We were all assigned our roles for this project and buzzing with excitement for this not-so-traditional topic. Demi Castanon was the print portion, Kaylee Zaccone was multimedia, Trevor Melody and Rachel Furtado were broadcast and I was assigned PR.

I was definitely nervous to be assigned the public relations section of this project because I had never had a PR course at Cal Poly. I must say, once I got started with the preliminary PR portion, I was hooked.  I did research and viewer outreach to gage what people wanted to know, I set up interviews and received a surprising amount of people willing to be asked about their dating life.

What better way to find a professional source about online dating than to look online! I reached out to Laurel House , tv personality and international dating coach. Here are her thoughts about using dating apps…

Laurel House says having discussions with someone before meeting in person is important.
Laurel House says having discussions with someone before meeting in person is important.

Rachel and Trevor started with their interviews and did a great job of helping people open up. They both decided to interview some of the same people but do different angles for their videos.

“I really like working with video again and editing because I haven’t been able to do that in a while.” Trevor says. He explained the only challenge he ran into throughout this process was using the Mustang News elements while editing the video.

“I had fun interviewing Harmony. She was super outgoing and gave me a lot to work with for the video! This was a fun topic to cover”- Rachel


Trevor Melody and Rachel Furtado are all smiles while writing scripts for their videos
Trevor Melody and Rachel Furtado are all smiles while writing scripts for their videos


They interviewed 4th year, Psychology major, Harmony Chen who admitted to downloading Tinder as a joke. “It was fun, it was like a game. I didn’t really take anything seriously.” Chen says.  That’s until she met her now boyfriend, Jason.

Harmony Chen and boyfriend Jason say they are glad they met on Tinder.
Harmony Chen and boyfriend Jason say they are glad they met on Tinder.

I went with Demi to her interview with Elizabeth Alvarado, a freshman, Child Development major at Cal Poly.  Elizabeth stopped using Tinder because she felt she needed to focus more of her attention on school.

“I loved writing my story about this topic and was surprised about how many people use this app.” Demi says. Her only challenge was finding someone willing to be interviewed about their personal life.

Kaylee wanted to create an interesting multimedia portion to this project but had trouble in the beginning. “I liked working with multimedia because it gives you a lot of room to be creative, but it’s the platform I’m the least familiar with so there was a bit go a learning curve for me.” Kaylee says.


After this project our group learned a lot about the ways people meet each other. Tinder opens doors for not only relationships, but good friendships as well. You never know wha connection are out there waiting for you.

It all starts with the decision to swipe right…. 

Happy swiping friends!
I already found my match on Tinder
I already found my match on Tinder

–Amanda Fridley

Behind the Scenes: Mustang Music Majors ♫


Throwback to week four, Monday afternoon. ‘Twas the second round of stories for senior practicum and our group was totally stumped trying to come up with a new topic.

Luckily, another journalism student needed to use one of the Mac computers in the room to work on her project for another class. While overhearing our conversation with the Professor as we were trying to come up with ideas, she suggested, “well, what about music majors?” All it took was one look at each other from Maddie, Katie, Caitlin and I to run with it.

Music majors haven’t really been covered much in the news at Cal Poly. Besides the fact that they perform in shows at the PAC and that we have a really good school band, we concluded there’s not much known about them.  

How do you get in? What’s the curriculum like? What do music majors do after graduation? These are questions we asked ourselves. Our story angle: What’s like to be a music major?

Action Plan

By Wednesday, our group solidified our plans – we wanted to interview at least two music majors and the Chair of the Department. I was tasked with the PR role and hopped on it.

Caitlin decided to go with a spotlight piece on a music student for her broadcast video.

“This was the first time I did a formal video project; I learned a lot about how to set up the camera and the subject, as well as arrange a time to get good b-roll. It was fun to talk to the students and see what their plans and experiences are like. I also got to sit in and shoot video of one of the symphony rehearsals.” – Caitlin Clausen


Katie’s story focused on the academic experience of the major. For Maddie’s piece, we had trouble deciding between the theme “success stories” or “a day in the life of a music major.” She ended up going with the topic “sounds of the music department,” and recorded different people in practice rooms to gather her audio.


“My sister is a music major at NYU, so I was really excited when we chose to cover the music department at Cal Poly because I always wonder what music majors actually do in school. After hearing about all the work and time these students put in, I have a new respect for the major and department. Being able to capture some of the “sounds” of the music department for my ThingLink was a great experience and really shows what someone can hear walking down the halls of the music department.” – Maddie Reid

Our first official interview was with Brandon Webb, a senior with an emphasis in percussion. Next, we interviewed Kelly O’Shea, whose concentration is in voice and Dr. Terrence Spiller, the Chair of the Music Department. He explained the nitty gritty of the music academia for Katie’s print piece.  

“One thing that tends to set music apart is there is almost a conjoining of basic musical skills and the academic studies. Musicianship skills really develop the ability to understand music as you hear it. In the theory classes, the students learn how to read, write and analyze music in all sorts of different forms. There’s a building process across the major. We’re a distinctive program. If a student comes here, they will get an excellent academic preparation and basically you can pursue anything you want music-related. Everytime we get a program review, we get raves about it. ” – W. Terrence Spiller, Department Chair

Ending Note

Everything came together quickly for Katie’s article. By Wednesday (10/26), Caitlin and Maddie had most of their footage, but wanted to record Brandon playing his percussion. We decided to schedule with him again, but he ended up getting sick and had to push it back. Luckily, music majors practice relentlessly, so we were able to film him the next day.

New Appreciation

“Needless to say, our group left each interview in awe. The music majors at Cal Poly are some of the most hardworking people on this campus, often having twelve hour days of school. From class, ensemble, seeing and performing in shows, practice, private lessons and rehearsal (all of which are requirements), the word “dedication” seems like an understatement.” – Dani Orlandi

“I really enjoyed writing about the music major. I learned so much about a major that I think is disregarded at Cal Poly. People at this school think the hardest majors are engineering and architecture, but I have such a newfound respect for music majors. They put so much time and energy into something that doesn’t guarantee them a well paying job out of college. Talking to these students… my jaw dropped hearing about everything they have to do.” – Katie Stark


~ Dani Orlandi


Behind the Scenes: The Mustang Station Way

Coming Together

When our group first came together, we struggled a little bit with finalizing our topic. We went from thinking about writing on the downtown bar scene, to writing on how the bars affected the neighborhood, to Mustang Station.

Once we decided we would write about Mustang Station, we needed to come up with our angle. We realized that not many of us knew all about the new “pub” and we had questions on how it operated on campus.

Who checked ID’s? What would happen if an underage student was caught drinking? Are we allowed to drink beer anywhere on campus? How did Cal Poly become an official wet campus? Are we actually “wet” or “semi-wet”?

These were the questions we needed answered and we were ready to tackle them. Brittany Tesmer and I had the PR role and we quickly began to speak to people on their thoughts.


We had to change the angle of our story very quickly when Mustang News reported on the new pub. Their angle was how the pub came about and what paved the path for Cal Poly to make the campus “wet”.

We changed our angle to focus on the rules and regulations of the pub, how it effects the campus environment, and what the future holds for Mustang Station.

“We should focus on how to balance having a wet campus now and underage drinking. We would focus on the policies, what happens if your caught drinking underage, what you can or cannot do now.” -Vinny Van Patten

I wanted to initially get the thoughts of the general public on the new pub. Most people had similar questions as we did. Brittany worked on getting thoughts from Cal Poly Corporation since they had a lot of input into the venue.

As I was speaking to the cashier about how IDs are checked, one student went over to him to ask if he was allowed to bring his beer into Mustang Way, the bowling alley. The cashier said it was against the rules and that all beer had to stay inside.

After speaking with the cashier, I went to talk to the student that had asked him the question. The student suggested that they should break down the wall that separates Mustang Station and Mustang Way to create a nicer environment to drink and play.

We realized his wish was granted when we spoke to ASI Facility Supervisor, Warren Chang.


Warren Chang told our team in a broadcast interview that they had just changed their rules to allow beer into Mustang Way. It looks like the rules and regulations have been changing based on students’ input.

Avrah Baum did the broadcast portion and we had some trouble with the audio at first. The mic wasn’t working and so we ended up having to interview Warren Chang twice. It helped me learn to always bring an extra audio recorder and to always record with two devices in case one doesn’t work.

“There will always be technical issues with Broadcast. You just need to be prepared for it.” -Avrah Baum

With that in mind, Avrah and I were ready to interview Chief of Staff, Jessica Darin. We brought in extra batteries, extra mics, and set up in her office to ask her how she felt about Cal Poly being a newly wet campus.


Unfortunately, Jessica said she didn’t want to be on camera to answer those questions. She explained that since she has only been at Cal Poly for 6 months, she would not be the right person to ask these questions.

Avrah and I were quite disappointed in not being able to get the quotes we wanted from her. But to our surprise, she offered to check in to President Armstrong’s room and see if he was available for 5 minutes to take our questions.


One door closed, but another had opened. Things worked out better than we thought because we were able to ask President Armstrong his thoughts on Cal Poly’s new pub and how it came about.

“It was just an evolution. It’s something we’ve been thinking about and increasing in intensity since I’ve arrived. We’re excited and we think it’s a good time.” -Jeff Armstrong

President Armstrong told us more about how the pub came to be and what he hopes Mustang Station will bring to the campus environment. It was my first time meeting Armstrong in person so for me, it’s something I’ll never forget.

The Final Product:
Cal Poly and the Mustang Station Way

With a lot of funny hashtags thrown out there (#CPGetsWet, #TipsyMustang, #Moist), our group had finally produced a great story. It was a great experience uncovering Mustang Station, what it had to offer, and what the future holds for it.

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

My favorite part of this experience was seeing how 5 people can work on a story together. Our different thoughts and ideas on this topic brought the story to life and it made me really appreciate having others in my group to lean on.
-Arinee Rahman

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.

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.


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.



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.