What you need to know about the CSPA Workshop

CSPA students in the classroom

CSPA Workshop graduates do more in 13 days than most people do all summer. Whether you’re an experienced student journalist, a beginner or simply a student interested in improving your writing skills, you’ll find the CSPA Workshop beneficial. It’s an opportunity not only to sharpen journalism skills but to become a better writer, to improve your time management and to learn how to communicate and cooperate with others in a professional environment. You also will learn cutting-edge digital skills to go along with the journalistic principles that are vital in any medium.

Every summer, 25 students come to Cal Poly, San Luis Obispo, for 13 days of learning and fun. Our curriculum covers a wide variety of journalism-related areas, including writing, editing, photography, blogging, newspaper and television production, and social media. We even take a trip to the beach (no work required there).

Want to know more about the workshop? Here’s a rundown of several of our courses, which represents only a small sample of everything our students learn each summer (courses and instructors subject to change):


During the workshop, our students produce a four-page newspaper and a 15-minute television broadcast (overseen by Fox television producer Josh Kaplan). Throughout the workshop, our students contribute online content to our website and work on special online projects.


We increasingly get our news through mobile devices, which makes it crucial for today’s journalists to report news succinctly while remaining accurate. Jessica Davis, online guru for The Tennessean and a former digital editor at the Los Angeles Daily News, takes students through a fun and fast-paced intro to social-media reporting.


Court reporting is some of the most compelling work in all of journalism. Larry Welborn, who spent 40 years as a reporter for the Orange County Register, walks our students through a recreation of a trial and gives highly important tips about reporting, note-taking and organization.


There’s just been a breaking news event on your campus, or in your city. Where do you go? To whom do you talk? In this hands-on class with Orange County Register staff writer Rich Hammond, our students leave the classroom to gather notes and quotes then report quickly for online and print.


We also have classes in covering basketball and football, but it all starts with this introduction by Todd Harmonson, Senior Editor of the Orange County Register. Learn the basics of sportswriting here, then expand your knowledge throughout the workshop.


You never know who will surprise us with a visit. In 2015, Orange County Register editor and renowned digital innovator Rob Curley, who led a Pulitzer Prize-winning team at the Las Vegas Sun, joined us for two days to teach and lead a group discussion. He plans to be back, and we regularly have top journalists drop by to teach.


How do you report a complex story? How do you contact sources and properly utilize them to acquire important, accurate information? L.A. Times staff writer Laura Nelson gives students hands-on experience in working quickly on a breaking news story.


We’re not simply about words. In this class, taught by award-winning Associated Press photographer Chris Carlson, our students learn the basics of photojournalism, about how to approach subjects, how to frame them properly in pictures and how to capture the moment. Students take pictures around campus, then learn to edit them and write captions.


Let your readers know whether they should watch that movie or TV show, or buy that song. Saba Hamedy, who covers digital entertainment for Mashable, shows you how to become a reliable, respected critic.


When news breaks, law-enforcement sources always are among the first people to contact. Learn how to communicate with police sources, how to avoid their jargon and how to discern facts. Kim Minugh, former longtime crime reporter for The Sacramento Bee, walks our students through it all.


Who does the digging to get the gritty details of the story? It’s the reporters who dive into public records. We visit the San Luis Obispo government center for a hands-on exercise in researching records, and discuss why they are relevant to journalism.


The first paragraph is always the most important. An unclear, inaccurate or boring lede will cause readers to look elsewhere. Longtime former reporter Dan Thigpen shows our students how to start their stories the proper way. Keep it tight and bright, and get the facts.


It all starts here. Steve Harvey, former award-winning reporter and columnist for the Los Angeles Times, kicks off the workshop with a course on the basics of solid writing and reporting. It’s the foundation for everything we do at the workshop, and even experienced student journalists will learn valuable tips.


Learning how to approach subjects and ask questions of them can be an awkward aspect of student journalism. In this class, our students learn to overcome being timid as they go out to talk to people in the Cal Poly community, ask good questions and write profile stories.


It’s one thing to have an opinion. It’s another to make others want to read it, and to influence them. In this class, you’ll learn how to express your thoughts on a controversial topic, and back them up with facts.


It’s not all work. We spend an afternoon at beautiful Avila Beach and have a picnic at a local park, and our students experience the famous San Luis Obispo farmers’ market.

Published by Nicole Vargas

Assistant professor, Digital Journalism, San Diego City College; Adviser, City Times Media - City Times digital news, CTTV/Newscene, City Times Sound radio and podcast, Legend magazine and Indy Film