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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.

Takeaway

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

Behind the Story: How Student-Parents Do it All

As soon as Olivia Proffit suggested covering a story about college students raising kids, the energy in the room started buzzing.

“Good,” I thought as our group of reporters began assessing how to break down such an expansive topic. “This is the kind of story that needs to be told.” Proffit and I, along with our group members Peter Gonzalez and Madison Agatha-Mancebo, knew we had touched upon a subject we could delve deep into.

Cal Poly students who are also parents are hardly discussed within the context of the student body (they’re not mentioned on the diversity homepage). Though there aren’t many, they are here, and they’re working twice as hard for twice as much – not just a degree, but a degree to support a family with. According to the Institute for Women’s Policy Research, over a quarter of the nation’s undergraduate students are raising children.

To start tackling this project, I first reached out to different members of the Cal Poly and San Luis Obispo communities. I wanted to hear their opinions, their expertise and their questions on the subject before we dove into our reporting.

For the most part, nobody that I talked to came into much contact with student parents. I spoke with three freshmen who had never thought once thought about there being students on campus who are also parents. When I asked a few San Luis Obispo residents if they knew much about students being parents, they didn’t have much to offer, either, and the professor that I spoke with had never taught a student-parent before.

These sources did, however, give us some direction for our reporting: they wanted to know how these student-parents balance their time, how they manage to do in school, how many of them are at Cal Poly. With a better sense of guidance for the story, we got to work finding sources.

There are different types of student-parents. There are those who are returning students, well into their twenties or thirties, who’ve been raising their families for a few years. There are also those who entered college without kids but became parents along the way. Each has a different story to tell.

“It’s important for the story to be shared, and for campuses like Cal Poly to recognize the population of their student body who are parents.” – Melinda Radsliff, psychology student and single mom

Our first interview was with Melinda Radsliff, a transfer student in her second year studying child development. She’s a 32-year old returning student and a single mom. She explained how she balances taking care of her three-year-old daughter, Evelyn, with going to school, and how she pays for it all (mostly through student loans).Melinda edited-11

“The support for students with children who want to finish an upper level college degree is severely lacking,” Radsliff told us. “So it’s important for the story to be shared, and for campuses like Cal Poly to recognize the population of their student body who are parents.”

Radsliff was the subject for Gonzalez’s video, in which he filmed an interview with and then her dropping Evelyn off at the ASI Children’s Center.

“I think that the initial storyboarding gave me a foundation for creating the video,” Gonzalez said. “Having footage from the sit-down interview and the morning with Melinda helped create a fuller story.”

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We then talked to Elizabeth Barrett, a psychology professor, to gain a better understanding of the stressors that are involved with parenting and going to school at the same time. She said that trying to meet the physical and emotional demands of a child while trying to stay on top of school work can often lead to problems, especially if with single parents.

Parents are often so focused on trying to create a better life for their child in the future, she said, without realizing that they’re missing out on the present. That can lead to loneliness and behavioral disorders in children.
For the most part, the parents we talked to have gotten a good grasp on balancing school and family, but not without rigorous scheduling. Hallelujah Adams, a married mother of two and psychology student, said that 70% of her time is dedicated to school – the rest is divvied up for family time and sleep.

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Radsliff reads to Evelyn at the ASI Children’s Center before dropping her off for the day.

“School for me is my thing and that takes so much time already that all the other stuff just [doesn’t take priority],” said Adams.

Our multimedia reporter, Agatha-Mancebo, asked all her sources about how they split their time between work, school, family and other functions of life. Her graphic displays how a typical Cal Poly student with a job versus Cal Poly student-parent split up their time every day.

“I was shocked and inspired by our interviews with the different parents,” she said. “I didn’t necessarily have any predisposed opinions, but when I got to meet both mothers I felt so inspired by what they have accomplished all while raising children.”

Proffit also spoke with a student who got pregnant as a Cal Poly freshman, who became the main source for the story. She had the most interesting and unique perspective of the parents we talked to.  But when Proffit talked to the director of the ASI Children’s Center, she couldn’t quite get the data on student-parents she was looking for.

“I had to learn to be flexible when my story idea didn’t quite pan out how I thought it would,” Proffit said. “I struggled to find interesting sources and solid data.”

Despite the few twists and turns in the reporting process, we got a good glimpse into the day-to-day life of a parent who is also going to school, and overall, it’s important that those stories are told.

Behind the Scenes: Mustang Music Majors ♫

Ideation

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

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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.

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“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

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~ Dani Orlandi