The California Scholastic Press Association got its start in 1951 with the help of newspaper magnate William Randolph Hearst.
Mr. Hearst wanted his newspaper, the Los Angeles Examiner, to be the paper of record for prep sports in Southern California. So he asked track and field writer Ralph Alexander to find high school boys who could cover sports at their schools in exchange for meal money and a byline in the paper.
The boys were also invited to a journalism workshop at Cal Poly San Luis Obispo. During the summer of 1951, they learned sports writing, photography and other journalism skills from Alexander and other Hearst journalists.
It was supposed to be a one-time deal. But Alexander and his wife, Millie, kept the program going. The workshop began admitting girls in 1965, and was renamed the California Scholastic Press Association in 1968.
More than seven decades later, professional journalists are still hosting a two-week workshop on California’s Central Coast.
On his deathbed in 1981, Alexander summoned nine workshop graduates and asked them to continue the CSPA. They said they would try. Alexander died the next day.
The group ran the workshop in the summer of 1982, and for decades after that, guiding the workshop through seismic changes in the news industry.
Though students no longer carry typewriters to the classroom, and though online journalism and social media are now key parts of the program, the reporting and writing lessons at the heart of our curriculum have remained the same for decades.
Due to the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020, the CSPA wasn’t able to hold an in-person workshop for the first time in 70 years. Our faculty pivoted to online programming, teaching more than 100 students in several countries in 2020 and 2021.
The workshop returned to San Luis Obispo for its 71st workshop in 2022.
Three CSPA graduates have been recently honored as National High School Journalist of the Year: Julia Poe in 2015, Kellen Browning in 2016 and Meghan Bobrowsky in 2017.
Many workshop graduates have gone on to prestigious news careers at publications that include the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, the Washington Post, the Los Angeles Times, Bloomberg News, Politico, CNN, NBC News and the Associated Press. Others shine in publishing, entertainment, television, politics, the law and other fields.
No matter the career paths our graduates take, they fondly remember those two weeks at a summer journalism camp at Cal Poly, where they bonded with industry professionals and made lifelong friends.