The Jeffrey Brody Era

By Jeffrey Brody

During my nine years as adviser to the Daily Titan, I took a lot of kidding about the newspaper and heard a sizeable amount of smug criticism about the Daily Typo from other faculty members. I learned to brush aside their ignorance for in my heart I knew that an instructor couldn't find a group of more dedicated, committed and passionate students at Cal State Fullerton than those at the Daily Titan.

On September 11, 2001, when our country came under attack, the Daily Titan rose to the occasion.

That grim morning when classes were canceled and the university shut down, every student on the Daily Titan stayed to produce a special edition of the newspaper. The entire university was deserted except for the newsroom in the College Park Building, which remained in operation, true to Titan tradition, way past midnight.

I remember standing in the newsroom and telling the editors, photographers and reporters, who were numb and shocked by the event, that the university had excused them, that they were free to leave, but if they wanted to be journalists, as their adviser I would stay with them and help put out the paper.

The professionalism the students exhibited that day earned them a first place award for special edition at the annual National College Media Convention in 2002. The prestigious Poynter Institute selected their Front Page coverage of September 11 for publication in a commemorative book and display on its website.

The response of the students on September 11 epitomizes my experience as adviser.

In my first semester as a new faculty member in the fall of 1993, fires raged through Southern California. The homes of faculty, staff and students burned in the canyons and in Laguna Beach. The staff mobilized and traveled beyond the confines of campus to publish a special edition that included a first person account of a student who raced the blaze in Laguna Beach to rescue his grandmother - only to find her sipping a martini as flames approached her hilltop home.

The ability to respond to breaking stories became a hallmark of the Daily Titan. When dozens were injured in a Placentia train wreak, staffers made their way around barriers to capture images and interviews that were the envy of the mainstream press. Special editions focusing on technology, campus growth, immigration and diversity, for example, helped students understand campus and social issues that were pertinent to their lives. The decision to allow students to cover events outside campus led to enterprise stories from across the globe. Two photographers for Spring break flew to the Philippines at their own expense to cover an Easter celebration in which participants flogged themselves and conducted mock crucifixions. Later one of the photojournalists photographed the wars in Bosnia and Iraq. He told me it was his experience on the Daily Titan that helped broaden his international view.

There were investigative stories about campus as well. The sharp eyes of an executive editor noticed hundreds of official looking documents in a dumpster. He retrieved the papers, which turned out to be a treasure trove of confidential material. The story he wrote prompted the university to enforce its dormant document shredding policy. Titan staffers also wrote detailed articles about a state audit that showed discrepancies in university finances. Human-interest stories included the saga of a female track star turned stripper who was kicked off the team, the tragic tale of a foreign student who committed suicide in despair and a profile of a forensic anthropologist on campus whose work with skeletal remains helped investigators solve crimes.

Along with the powerful investigative articles and in-depth features that won awards came the "learning experiences."

Early in my career the decision to allow students to go off campus came back to haunt me when two students, an Anglo and a Latino, decided to become restaurant critics. Their review of a Fullerton taco stand included a string of scatological references and such literary allusions as cuisine fit for Jeffrey Dahmer. I suggested that if they were serious about their grades, they would go back and write a professional review.

But the next day the Daily Titan received a letter threatening to sue from an attorney representing the restaurant owner. The review was now a First Amendment issue. In my opinion, there was no question the students had a right to publish the review; the university had to stand behind the Daily Titan. I advised the students to stay put and the university fended off the lawsuit.

The incident reminded me that when a history professor's student makes a mistake, it's a private matter. But when a Daily Titan student makes a mistake, it's a public issue. I was faced with a moral dilemma when an editor called me for job reference regarding one of the students. Should I tell him about Dahmer? I gave the student a break and remained silent about the racist review. He went on to distinguish himself an Orange County Register reporter.

The Daily Titan has always had its wild side. Whether its nighttime bowling and baseball in the Humanities Building, music fest or wrestling matches in which one student dislodged another's belly-button ring. I was not around to witness the midnight action, but in my early years, Terry Hynes, my first chair, served as the unofficial night-side adviser. "I saw the Titan students running around the halls at 1 a.m.," she would say. A workaholic, I prayed she would never enter the dark room.

The students always blamed equipment for why they stayed so late. And no matter how the technology improved over the years, the paper never seemed to get done on time. When the students used Mac Classic II's, they said Power PCs were the answer. After Power PCs, they screamed for G3s. Then G4s. Then a network and a server. By the time I left, a newsroom that looked like a museum of ancient anemic Macs had been transformed into a network of linked computers with access to the Internet.

The online Daily Titan started when a freshman walked into the newsroom and asked the executive editor if the paper had a website. He replied, "no." She said, "Mind if I start one." The next week the website was up and running. It marked a creative blend of dazzling graphics, photographs and text. The website caught the attention of alumni around the world and won a generous amount of awards.

I can't claim credit for the online Titan, but I can claim credit for the creation of Tusk Magazine. A group of students wanted a class where they could write longer, broader magazines stories. I developed such a class, Communications 437, and decided to initiate a magazine that would blend the best of our students' writing, design and photography. Tusk Magazine has provided an outlet for students who want to go beyond AP newspaper style and work in the magazine industry.

The move from the Humanities Building to College Park in 20XX was a tactical victory for the Daily Titan. With the blessing of the dean and campus president, the Daily Titan spearheaded the deployment across campus. For volunteering to go first, the newspaper received new furniture and the pick of the offices on the sixth floor. While other professors were moaning about the move and complaining that their lives would never be the same, my students grabbed a room with a view. The Daily Titan planted the flag for the College of Communications.

In this brief review, I have deliberately avoided naming names. I have done so because I believe it would be a mistake to single a few people. To do justice to the history of the Daily Titan, I would have to honor every one of my 20 executive editors, the brilliant designers, the hard-charging reporters, the gifted writers, the artistic photojournalists and all the students in Communications 338. They were the team that put the newspaper, online edition and magazine together, I always had faith in their abilities and the greatest respect for their efforts. In my last semester as adviser, Spring 2002, the staffers gathered in San Diego for the California Intercollegiate Press Association Contest (CIPA). The Daily Titan has always done well at CIPA. The onsite competitions meant the most to me because they were blind judged. That semester my students placed first in four out of the five-onsite writing contests. They placed third in the fifth. To sweep the events, beating Berkeley, UCLA and the Cal Polys marked a fitting triumph for my era at the Daily Titan.