(Santa Ana, CA) - The 2019-2020 Santa Ana College newspaper staff rounded out a storied, award-winning year with a first-place win at the 62nd Annual Southern California Journalism Awards presented by the Los Angeles Press Club. The el Don won national, state and local titles, earning recognition as the best collegiate newspaper and student media organization in the country.
According to assistant adviser Sarah Bennett, el Don is a student newspaper, but this publication and its staff are far from amateur. At the el Don newsroom on any given day, students are learning the latest digital trends to be industry-ready, including recording podcasts and Tik Toks; shooting and editing video; designing and editing, and finding new and creative ways to tell the stories of the college and their local community of Santa Ana, Calif.
The el Don has a 34-person staff that works 30 hours per week on average, going above and beyond their regular school days. It is this dedication and tenacity to top quality work, said el Don Adviser Charles "Bud" Little, that has made the newspaper earn so much recognition over the years, including the Associated Collegiate Press National Pacemaker and College Media Association’s Pinnacle awards, the equivalent of the Pulitzer Prize in collegiate-level journalism.
"I can definitely guarantee you: it's a coaching method," said Little of the newspaper's years of success. "But it's more than that -- it's the efforts and desire of the students. We have a trophy case that they have to walk by every day, and they don't want to let those students who came before them down."
Co-editor-in-chief Dorian Zavala agreed.
"They only ask for 10 hours per week, but we put in way more than that," Zavala said. "There's a reason we keep winning. (Little) and (Bennett) never put pressure on us to win. It's always 'do your best and have fun with it.' But we put that pressure on ourselves."
Bennett is set to fill Little's shoes, who is leaving el Don at the end of this year, and become the full-time Adviser. She is a former student and staff member of el Don and returned after 10 years working professionally as a journalist. She said she wanted to give back to the program that gave so much to her.
"I've been teaching for about five years now, but I'm standing on the shoulders of (Little) and the program he has created," she said.
El Don covers news about the school, the neighborhood around SAC, and city and state issues connected back to SAC. Although they usually have a print edition, COVID-19 and distance learning has forced the newspaper to sideline the hard-copy until students are back in the classrooms for face-to-face learning. But the pandemic has proven a boon to the digital edition of the paper, and elDonNews.org received more than 100,000 hits on heavy news days as users around Orange County turned to the site for information on how to get tested; where the local hot spots were; and how COVID-19 was affecting their community-at-large.
Top row (left to right): Kate Bustamante, Lifestyle Editor; Bre Castañeda, Social Media Editor; Asst. Professor Sarah Bennett, adviser; Ashley Ramynke, Multimedia Editor; Marta Konarska, 4th Place Reporter of the Year.
Bottom row (left to right): Dorian Zavala, Sports Editor; Lesly Guzman, Editor in Chief; Rafael Valencia, senior staff reporter.
Interim SAC President Marilyn Flores said el Don elevates the college and its reputation. She and the administration are glad to have the publication and its students at SAC.
"We could not be prouder of el Don for its first-place win at the 62nd Annual Southern California Journalism Awards," said Flores. "My sincere congratulations to the hardworking and dedicated students, staff, and faculty that run and maintain this prestigious program."
Former editor-in-chief Lesly Guzman said she has seen what the program has done for students. Students learn journalism skills like writing, reporting, and editing, but they also gain friendships and life skills that have proven transformational.
"These kids are born and raised here in Santa Ana, and they have accomplished so much in the last year,” she said. “The program gives them the motivation to do better, to be better, and do what's right. We can become those leaders and be that person who makes a difference."
Visit the el Don's website here, eldonnews.org, or find out more about SAC's Communications and Media Studies program at www.sac.edu/cmsd.
About Santa Ana College
Santa Ana College (SAC), which turned 100 years old in 2015, serves about 18,000 students each semester at its main campus in Santa Ana. The college prepares students for transfer to four-year institutions, and provides invaluable workforce training and customized training for business and industry. In addition, another 11,000 students are served through the college’s School of Continuing Education located at Centennial Education Center. Ranked as one of the nation’s top two-year colleges awarding associate degrees to Latino and Asian students, the college is also recognized throughout the state for its comprehensive workforce training programs for nurses, firefighters, law enforcement and other medical personnel. SAC is one of two comprehensive colleges under the auspices of the Rancho Santiago Community College District.