Cal Poly Student Press to Mark 100th Anniversary

First Mustang Media Hall of Fame inductees include ‘Weird Al’ Yankovic

SAN LUIS OBISPO — The Cal Poly Journalism Department is planning a two-day celebration in honor of the 100th anniversary of the student press on Friday and Saturday, Oct. 14-15.

The weekend festivities will culminate with a Spotlight Gala at the Embassy Suites by Hilton in San Luis Obispo starting at 5:30 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 15. Ben Bradlee Jr., former deputy managing editor of the Boston Globe, will give the keynote address. The journalist and author led the paper’s 2003 Pulitzer Prize-winning series on abuse in the Roman Catholic Church. His team’s investigation was the basis for the movie “Spotlight,” winner of the 2016 Academy Award for Best Picture.

The Journalism Department will also induct the inaugural class of the new Mustang Media Hall of Fame, which will include “Weird Al” Yankovic. The honor is designed to recognize the accomplishments of extraordinary Cal Poly students, faculty and staff who have made vital contributions to the development and history of vibrant student media at Cal Poly.

The inductees also include alumnus Bruce McPherson, former California secretary of state; George Ramos, Los Angeles Times journalist and former Journalism Department chair; and Robert E. Kennedy, Cal Poly president from 1967 to 1979. Yankovic and McPherson will be honored in person; Ramos and Kennedy will be honored posthumously.

The Spotlight Gala event is open to the public; early-bird pricing is available through Sunday, Oct. 2. 

About Cal Poly’s Student Press

The student-run media organization, known today as Mustang News, can trace its beginnings to 1916, when what was then called The Polygram began biweekly publication. Through the years, the student newspaper was known as El Mustang, The Polytechnic Californian and Mustang Daily, before becoming Mustang News in 2013.

Along the way, students adopted the latest technologies and added new outlets for informing and entertaining the Cal Poly community. The campus radio station, KCPR-FM, started in the late 1960s, followed by Cal Poly TV. Student-run public relations firm Central Coast PRspectives opened in 2006. Students launched their first news website in 2006, added a mobile app in 2012, and fully integrated social media in 2013.

Students who learned their craft across Cal Poly’s various media platforms have gone on to leadership positions in organizations including the Los Angeles Times, Chicago Tribune, The Wall Street Journal, ABC News, Vox, Dwell Media, Edelman, Apple and Facebook.

2016 Mustang Media Hall of Fame Inductees

Robert E. Kennedy (1915-2010)

Cal Poly President (1967-79)

Kennedy’s lasting impact on Cal Poly is evident in the library that bears his name. Kennedy was 25 when he came to Cal Poly in 1940. He had a degree in English and had worked as a journalist for the San Diego Sun. Kennedy began Cal Poly as a journalism professor, advisor for the student newspaper and publicist for the college. Later he helped create the Journalism Department. As Kennedy rose through the ranks, Cal Poly developed and grew from a campus of 700 students to one of 16,000. Kennedy went on to become dean of Arts and Sciences, then vice president. From 1967 until 1979, he held the position of president of Cal Poly.

While president, he worked to gain funding from Sacramento for a much-needed new library. He called on members of the Assembly for support. It was a tall order. The project would cost $11.5 million. Kennedy had urged so many of Gov. Pat Brown’s campaign contributors to ask for project approval that when he arrived at the governor’s office, Brown said, “President Kennedy, we’ve got that message from a dozen different sources. You’ve made your point. Go home and relax; you’re going to get your library.” Kennedy died in 2010 at the age of 95.

Bruce McPherson

Fifth District supervisor, Santa Cruz, California state assemblyman
(1993-96) and senator (1996-2004) and California secretary of state (2005)

McPherson comes from a newspaper family — that’s why it was important for him to have newsroom experience by the time he earned his degree. Cal Poly’s Learn by Doing philosophy provided just that. His journalism classes gave McPherson the theory, and El Mustang let him put that theory into practice. He remembers fondly advice from journalism Professor John Healey: “The news business is a serious business that was a vital factor in our communities and to our democracy, but you should have fun putting out the product, too.”

After graduation, McPherson went to work his family-owned newspaper, the Santa Cruz Sentinel. The following 26 years took him from news reporter to sports editor, city editor, editorial writer and editor. In 1993, after his family sold the paper, McPherson ran for and won an open seat in the California Assembly. After serving two terms, he served another two in the California Senate. In 2005, he was unanimously confirmed by the Assembly and the Senate as California’s 30th secretary of state.

McPherson’s political career is still going strong; he’s running for re-election as Santa Cruz County’s Fifth District supervisor.

George Ramos (1948-2011)

Los Angeles Times reporter, editor and columnist
Cal Poly Journalism Department Chair (2003-07)

There are few résumés fuller than that of Ramos: Cal Poly graduate, Vietnam War veteran, Los Angeles Times reporter, Pulitzer Prize recipient, Cal Poly journalism professor, newspaper advisor and department chair. The Los Angeles native studied journalism at Cal Poly and worked on the student newspaper, El Mustang, first as a reporter, then as sports editor and, finally, editor-in-chief.

After graduation in 1969, he fought in the Vietnam War at the rank of second lieutenant. He was wounded, received the Purple Heart, and returned home. In 1978, Ramos began work as a reporter with the Los Angeles Times. Among his many career achievements were his contribution to three Pulitzer Prizes: one for his co-editing and personal account of growing up as a Latino in East Los Angeles, and two more as part of the newspaper’s team coverage of the Rodney King riots in 1992 and the Northridge earthquake in 1994.

Ramos returned to San Luis Obispo to work as chair of the Journalism Department in 2003 and served as faculty advisor to the student newspaper. After stepping down in 2008, he remained on the faculty and funded an annual journalism scholarship in his name. He worked in journalism locally as editor Cal Coast News. Ramos died in 2011 at age 63.

Al Yankovic

Grammy-winning comedy musician known as “Weird Al” Yankovic

It’s peculiar to think that a men’s bathroom at Cal Poly would serve a pivotal role in establishing the career of America’s foremost musical parodist. In 1979, Yankovic, then an architecture student and KCPR-FM DJ, recorded “My Bologna” — a parody of The Knack’s hit song “My Sharona” — in that lavatory, known for its acoustics.

The eccentricity of recording a parody song in a campus bathroom was matched by Yankovic’s KCPR show. “It was sort of the surrogate Dr. Demento show, because you couldn’t pick up the Dr. Demento show in San Luis Obispo,” he told The Tribune in 2014.

Yankovic’s refusal to play popular music on his show, in favor of the obscure, cost him his status as a DJ at KCPR. That, however, didn’t prevent his successes. When The Knack played a concert at Cal Poly, they’d already heard Yankovic’s parody. Yankovic was in attendance at the show. Rupert Perry, then vice president of Capitol Records, met him backstage, and Yankovic had a record deal before graduating in 1980. “My Bologna” was released as a single. In 1983, he debuted his first album, “Weird Al” Yankovic, and over the years, launched 13 more. His most recent release, “Mandatory Fun,” took home a Grammy (his fourth) in 2015 for Best Comedy Album.

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