The California Aggie has seen a lot of change in just the past 20 years. While the days of daily color publication have long been over, some things won’t budge — The Aggie is still the best place on campus to get a journalism education, and its past editors are a testament. We have alumni reporting for publications like The New York Times and National Geographic, but we also have folks in politics, education, public relations, and others legitimately living out their dream jobs.
We asked them to reflect on their time at The Aggie and how it got them where they are today.
It was the last week of spring quarter and our staff was limping toward the finish line: Graduation for some, a new position at The Aggie next year for others.
As managing editor, I had a few more papers to put out before the end of the year. I hadn’t been in the job long — my predecessor had made a sudden departure. It happens, sometimes frequently.
Our best art that day was a trio of three anthropomorphic spermatozoa. Cleverly drawn in Freehand 3 by next year’s art director, they weren’t typical front page material for the paper.
I showed them to our editor. She said no. There are always other options, she said. I watched in amazement as she issued a few curt commands to our photo staff. People jumped up. Soon there were new photos.
Sometimes in the creative process you have to accept what you have and go with it. But often you don’t. What I learned that day in 25 Lower Freeborn was that creative people will respond to leadership, especially if it’s delivered with clarity and without ego.
Publishing a newspaper — daily or non-daily — is a really difficult activity. It’s even more difficult to manage all the personalities smoothly. There’s always drama. One of the many things that I learned at The Aggie is that there are always other options.
Sometimes that option is going back to the drawing board with your own work. The other option could be looking at challenging coworkers in a different way. It’s about striving to make things better.
And if nothing works, it could mean finding a better place to work yourself. I used that option to good effect several times (after leaving The Aggie of course — many of us from that era still think of The Aggie as the best job we ever had).
The sperm ran on page 3. They were still clever, and I liked them even more because they were in the right place.
Reporter for Stars and Stripes
Aggie campus news editor 2001-02
I arrived at The Aggie at a time of transition, not unlike what it’s experiencing now. Our dark room had changed from the epicenter of the paper’s photo staff to little more than a convenient spot for late-night dalliances. The glue and scissors had been tucked away in favor of QuarkXpress and it was no longer good enough to get a story to readers first thing in the morning (or afternoon, depending on your college drinking habits).
But the paper retained something of an old school edge. Arguments were openly aired in the newsroom, papers occasionally tossed from the desk and profane jokes were the lingua franca of the staff. Editorial discussions were the most spirited. This was the language of dedication from a staff that relied on no one but themselves and had no one to shield them from the vitriolic criticism coming from the right and the left (we were, of course, both ardent communists and committed fascists, depending on who was waving the sign). We were proudly “the only daily broadsheet in the UC system” and more proud because we had no journalism program backing us, no funding from the university and the freedom to write critically about issues important to students.
While my degree is in history and political science, my main education was putting together the paper each day and it served me well. I’ve worked as a reporter around the country and the world, covered two wars and written about everything from felonious strip club owners to taekwondo. The foundations of my reporting skills were honed at The Aggie, where I not only got experience with daily deadlines but plenty of tough criticism, too: “Heath, if you ever write the same lede again, I’m going to kick your ass,” my first editor said of the boring, repetitive ledes I submitted as a freshman. I didn’t make that mistake again.
I still get together regularly with friends from The Aggie and, 10 years (yikes) later, our conversations inevitably turn to those long ago days in the basement — fights with the administration, what beverage we had in our Camelbaks during Picnic Day, and the 2002 spoof edition, the funniest thing that ever got us in deep, deep shit.
Photography editor at The Idaho Statesman
Photography editor 2001-02
For the moment I’ll put aside how my four years at The Aggie launched me into a career that’s had everything you could ever want: fun, adventure, challenge, relevance, constant learning and the opportunity to make a difference in our world.
Because the most important thing The Aggie did for me was give me the best friends I’ve ever known. The bonds that were forged in the Ivory Basement under the constant pressure of putting out a newspaper every single weekday have endured over a decade after we all filled out our first VDT slip. There was no moderator, or advisor, we could go to when shit got real at The Aggie in my day. We only had ourselves on which to rely.
We may have now all scattered across the world, but that doesn’t mean I feel any less close to those incredibly talented, wickedly smart people. I think it’s because we had an “us against the world” mentality. The conservatives thought we were too liberal, the liberals thought we were too conservative, the faculty thought us too juvenile and the students just wanted their crossword. In a lot of ways, we were campus outcasts, and most of us liked it that way. The only group we enjoyed approval from was our own.
The “Aggie Hubris” crew and I, we get together at least once a year for what we call a “Basement Reunion.” We recall the battles waged, the victories won, the ires drawn, the lawsuits dropped. I share a kinship with these people, whom some have dubbed The Aggie’s “Greatest Generation,” that will last forever.
It might sound like I’m being overly sentimental here, like I’m some balding has-been pathetically recalling his youthful glory days, now living a mind-numbing life of garage door openers and gas fireplaces and gardening gloves. But I really think it was actually that great. If you don’t believe me, just ask any other Aggie alum.
I was barely finished with my finals review session one evening when I received a phone call on my cell phone. It was someone from the UC Davis News Service. I was told that campus police officers were responding to a report of a suspicious man near student residence halls. Instead of heading home to regurgitate what I had learned at my finals review session, I hopped on my bicycle to join reporters from other news outlets who were waiting behind yellow caution tape for updates at the scene. After what seemed like hours in the dark, we finally learned of what had transpired on campus. A man was shot and killed by campus police officers after he fired first at the officers.
By the time I had enough information to put a story together, the printing deadline for The Aggie had already passed. I knew we had to get the information out sooner rather than later, and I asked our editor in chief to let me post a story online immediately. We got the story out online, and the story was eventually recognized as Second Place for Best Breaking News Story by the California College Media Association.
Not all stories that I wrote were that dramatic, and certainly not all of them were of award-winning caliber. But the intensity of meeting daily deadlines while juggling academics accompanied every article I submitted while I worked at The Aggie.
Once I left UC Davis and entered the working world, I realized that everything I had gone through at The Aggie set a great foundation for me in any job. Through The Aggie, I learned to be more critical with my analysis of any story or situation, how important it is to meet deadlines no matter what curveballs are thrown your way, how to become a mini expert in a new subject almost every day and how to be more observant in the community. Whether it was in my first job out of college, or whether it is in my current job today, all of those skills I developed at The Aggie have come into play. I look back fondly on my memories inside the basement and am grateful for my experience of working for The Aggie.
In 2006, sometime in the middle of winter quarter, I hopped on my bike outside Freeborn Hall and pedaled as fast as I could to the Silo. I had just hung up the phone with someone who offered me an anonymous leak. A leak! Something about the faculty turning against the chancellor with a secret “no confidence” petition. On the verge of my first major scoop, I remember foolishly thinking, “This is what Woodward and Bernstein must have felt like.”
Back in Lower Freeborn we pored over the petition. We picked out excerpts, laid it out on the page. No one could forget the five horribly awkward minutes we spent crowded around a speakerphone asking the chancellor’s spokesperson for comment. We wrote a story that would rankle the administration and, perhaps more importantly, beat the Enterprise. We high-fived and sent the paper to the printer. Within minutes, we were back playing foosball.
Five days a week we did that, some editions better than others. Sometimes on time, occasionally late. The paper always got out. Letters always came in. And when it was time to hire columnists, people always lined up. The Aggie was an institution, bigger than any of us. We knew that no matter how many hours we spent in that windowless basement or how many editorials we wrote huffing and puffing about ASUCD’s latest outrage, someday we’d graduate and The Aggie, in some capacity, would live on.
Many of us that year decided to stick with journalism, vying for jobs in an unstable industry simply because it’s the best job there is. Sometimes you can still get the rush I remember from being an undergrad reporter. About a year ago, I jumped in a cab to go pick up some leaked documents for a story that would later get me chewed out by an angry government official (a badge of honor in Washington). It wasn’t as much fun picking apart those memos as it was that day we were giddy with excitement. But there was one upside: My newsroom now has windows.
So the truth is, I’ve always been a cynical, anti-social weirdo. In my first two years at Davis, I was having a hard time adjusting to college life. Classes, for the most part, bored me; the friends I had disappointed me. Finally, my junior year, I dug myself out of my rut and applied to write for The Aggie and got the job. Who knew that a room in a basement would be full of other cynical, anti-social weirdos who (God knows how) did amazing work together?
Turns out, the experience of working in a newsroom was way more valuable than anything I learned in class. I had a great editor who taught me news writing and the basic principles of journalism: be persistent, accurate, fair and skeptical; dig up the dirt on people that they really don’t want found. I became obnoxiously dogmatic about all this stuff.
My senior year, I became the campus news editor. The ed board was tighter than any group of friends I’ve ever had. We lived and breathed the paper, every day, night and weekend. We laughed and groaned together, we ate, drank and partied together. We really didn’t have a choice, did we? But seven years later, I still talk to a bunch of these weirdos all the time.
When I left UC Davis and The Aggie, I stuck with the journalism racket, starting with a job at a computer magazine, then a mainstream magazine, and finally, at The New York Times, I was back in a newsroom again — another group of intelligent misfits who put out an amazing product together every day because we are obnoxiously dogmatic about great journalism. I felt well prepared. It feels like I’m home again.
It has happened twice now.
There was first the elevator at the San Diego Union-Tribune in 2006. I’d just met with a newspaper columnist to pick his brain about the industry, wanting his advice before entering it — the advice for this 19-year-old was “don’t” — when I met a stranger on the descent to ground level.
He asked what school I attended. I told him.
“UC Davis!” said Pat Flynn, a former California Aggie sports editor, then a U-T editor.
Two months ago, there was the elevator at a Super Bowl media hotel in New Orleans. A man held a bag of shirts, souvenirs for his wife back home in the Bay Area. He introduced himself as Dan Brown, sports writer at the San Jose Mercury News.
I knew the name.
“UC Davis!” I said to the 1991-1992 editor in chief.
I spent thousands of dollars at the Memorial Union for books I didn’t read. I still pay off loans for classes I rarely attended, a 1090-E tax form on this desk as hard proof. What made those investments worthwhile was the chance to invest my time at the California Aggie.
I owe my career to it.
So many others do, too.
The Aggie’s new transition from a daily to weekly format, while difficult to stomach given the paper’s influence on the campus community and, on a personal level, my decision to attend the school, is about right. My time on staff between 2006 and 2009 saw the disappearance of color pages and writer pay; we previously earned $1 per inch, or just enough to pay our Coffee House sandwich bills.
We feared a more drastic change to the Aggie’s structure was inevitable.
Now that it’s arrived, I take solace in knowing what has proven most valuable — the chance to invest time at a college newspaper — remains.
It’s an important grind.
For me, it was sitting at home on a Saturday, a laptop for company, writing about basketball at 11:50 p.m. as the music and drunkenness of a party pounded in the distance. It was a question in discussion section inquiring about our daily interpersonal communication tendencies. My answer was “97 percent workplace.”
You keep grinding, keep grinding, keep honing the craft you love.
Then, one day, an elevator randomly becomes an elevator no more.
It’s a fraternity.
I look forward to the next ride.
Coordinator, Media Relations & Broadcasting for the Oakland Athletics
Aggie editor in chief 2009-10
I couldn’t go to The Pavilion for its first-ever, nationally-televised UC Davis basketball game on March 7 because I was away on a business trip.
This business trip wasn’t your standard business trip.
First, it felt like I was in Arizona for a month, most likely because I was. I spent a significant amount of each day around people you’d probably like to meet, particularly if you’re a sports fan. And I watched baseball every single day, a responsibility that’s actually written into my job description.
That’s because I work for the Oakland Athletics.
I’m in my fourth season with the A’s, my third as the team’s Coordinator of Media Relations & Broadcasting. My days typically consist of the following: Traveling with the team on various road trips throughout the season, staying in fancy hotels I couldn’t afford to go to otherwise, talking to players, talking to the media, researching a bunch of statistics and subconsciously memorizing an embarrassingly high percentage of them, eating free food and working more hours at the ballpark than I care to admit.
I’m 24 years old, doing the only job I’ve ever planned to do. Better yet, I’m doing it for the only baseball team I’ve ever been a fan of.
Rarely a day goes by where I wish I was someplace else.
March 7 was one of those days.
That day, I wanted to be at The Pavilion. I wanted to be there for that game, to be one of those 5,670 fans in the building.
Instead, I sat and watched ESPN2 from the hotel bar, confusing everyone around me with how much I wanted to see a game featuring two teams no one else had heard of.
The reality is I wouldn’t have been at that hotel bar, or been on the fast track to the Major Leagues, if I hadn’t got my start covering games at The Pavilion. And I wouldn’t have been covering games at The Pavilion without the newspaper you’re holding right now.
If you’re a UC Davis student and you’re not working for The California Aggie, you’re doing it wrong.
You can walk into 25 Lower Freeborn with no work experience. You can walk out like I did four years later, as the editor in chief.
This newspaper has sent writers onto major publications, including The New York Times. It’s sent people to Fortune 500 companies.
In 2010, it sent me to a Major League Baseball team — six months before I graduated.
Do yourself a favor: Be the next person on this list.
Still unsure if this is the right place for you? Let’s talk in person. The next time The Pavilion hosts an ESPN game, I won’t be hard to find.
I’ll be down on press row, where this whole trip started for me.
When people ask me if I majored in journalism, my answer is no. UC Davis doesn’t offer a journalism major. But I did learn journalism there.
My first day of my first year I applied to be a reporter and was told to report news about the campus, knowing only what I had learned during orientation about the place I was supposed to be a mini expert on. Throughout the year, I started to get the hang of it. I could go from interviewing the Chancellor about student tuition increases one day to the next day writing a feature on artificial horse insemination. Adapting to completely different topics like this prepared me for the type of general assignment reporting I’ve been doing at every job since.
Editing the campus news section for The Aggie was perhaps the most humbling experience of my college career. The letters and criticisms I received were harsh, sometimes personal, and I had to restrain myself from telling those readers that the paper was pulled together by a group of students who often missed classes or didn’t study so they could meet deadlines. I’m certain I spent more time in The Aggie’s basement offices than I did in Olson Hall, but that never frustrated me. It gave me what I needed to do well as a journalist.
Thinking about journalism as an educational process stuck with me. Working as a web reporter at NBC in San Diego, I treated the city like a subject in school. I read everything I could about the place and spent probably twice as long as I should have on each major article to do background research – something I had the luxury of doing at The Aggie. Now, I’m back at a newspaper, reporting for the Orange County Register. The deadlines are swifter and the relationship I have with my editors is stronger because I show I can learn from them. The Aggie gave me the right framework to get the job done.
I now know that reporting means you have to take everything you know and about something and throw it out of the window. It requires an open mind and a certain brand of curiosity that is not taught, but learned by experience. I would never have gained that understanding if I hadn’t worked at a student newspaper like The Aggie.
When I joined The Aggie’s arts desk halfway through my second year in college, I really had no idea what being a reporter entailed. I struggled with deadlines early on, and I felt challenged covering a scene I had little involvement in. Working alongside a witty writing staff with an editor who seemed more Portlandia blogger than student writer made my first few pieces feel like junior high school essays.
But by example, the desk quickly taught me how to really observe the arts scene firsthand to understand and appreciate my beat. I worked hard to emulate my fellow writers, and soon found myself developing a written voice that I actually enjoyed. Conversing with the likes of Davis’ symphony orchestra conductor and art gallery curators felt like interviewing the President.
I became editor for the desk a little over a year later, which above all taught me how to better interact with people. I worked with a group of editors with an unmistakable desire to improve the paper, and a staff of writers who genuinely enjoyed their work as much as I did. I even got a shot at conducting and editing a radio interview — years before I ever thought to apply for my current job at Marketplace.
I’ve talked about my experience at The Aggie in every job interview I’ve had since leaving the arts desk. My editing resume landed me a summer internship at The San Francisco Chronicle, where I covered state politics out of their Sacramento bureau. I moved on to a great internship through the UCDC program called the California News Service, where I covered California’s congressional delegation for a variety of California newspapers. I spent another summer interning for Politico in Washington, D.C., where my assignments ranged from covering tech policy on Capitol Hill to staking out Anthony Weiner’s apartment. A Politico editor once told me that my campus editing experience was the driving factor in picking my name over the other applicants.
As a producer for Marketplace, I have a bunch of roles, including assigning and editing the stories you hear on the radio, coordinating and cutting interviews for air, and directing the show as it’s broadcasted live. But not much has changed. I still grapple with reporters under rapid deadlines, and I’m still constantly scanning my beat to find news. I work every day to create a product I can consume, and it’s every bit as rewarding as it ever has been.