Veteran reporter, first-time teacher introduces the craft to non-journalism students

By Louis Sahagun:

After 34 years as a staff writer at the Los Angeles Times, I just finished my first semester of teaching journalism at the college level.

I’m feeling pretty good about my experience and what my seven Antioch University Los Angeles students accomplished in the 1-unit Master of Arts in Urban Sustainability course titled “Introduction to Environmental Journalism.”

The students came up with real-life controversies and issues brewing in their own neighborhoods. Then, just as I do with my editor at  the Los Angeles Times, we discussed how best to investigate and write about them.

Overall, I shared tricks of the trade learned on the job over the past three decades and introduced them to the complex and nuanced relationships between journalists, scientists, regulatory agencies, non-profits, landscapes and the public.

One student investigated a nonprofit dedicated to training a new generation of community activists to improve the quality of life in the Los Angeles housing project known as Ramona Gardens. The nonprofit, she discovered, had plenty of recruits, but little money to implement projects on its wish list.

Another student examined the City of South Pasadena’s efforts to transform itself into an environmentally sustainable oasis on the southern flanks of the San Gabriel Mountains.

Other articles were about the health benefits of hiking the trails of a scenic state park south of downtown Los Angeles; a massive fish die-off in the seaside community of Playa del Rey; a neighborhood campaign to reduce the noise and air pollution resulting from Santa Monica Airport’s aviation activities, and the plight of four lonely “ladies in waiting” — California condors at the Santa Barbara Zoo not yet needed to participate in captive breeding programs across the nation.

Every student who enrolled completed the class offered at the small non-profit private liberal arts school in Culver City.

Their success was especially gratifying to me because after graduation, they will be applying some of the journalistic tools and insights they learned in class at jobs in social services, philanthropic organizations and government agencies across the nation.

Louis Sahagun is a CCNMA board member and staff writer at the Los Angeles Times. Follow him on Twitter @LouisSahagun.

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