That she heads a staff of 60 editors, writers, photographers and typesetters still is a little hard for Blanca Adajian to believe. The 44-year-old mother of two only last year decided to go back to school full-time.
"It's a little like a runaway train," she says. "I'm just holding on to the sides and enjoying the ride."
In May, Adajian became editor-in-chief of Los Angeles Valley College's weekly newspaper, The Valley Star.
Although the paper technically is a learning laboratory for students enrolled in the journalism department, Adajian knows she has a reputation to defend. In recent years the paper has garnered just about every award possible for a community college newspaper, including an impressive display of general-excellence trophies won over the years from the Journalism Assn. of Community Colleges and the California Newspaper Publishers Assn.
The paper also has its readers to consider. Valley College, one of nine community colleges in Los Angeles, has about 20,000 students, which, Adajian points out, is larger than the population of many small towns across the country.
Campus Stories Take Priority
"We realize that the community we service is the college, so campus-related stories have priority," she said. "Unless there's something really major going on out there that has an impact on the community here as well as the one out there, that's what we focus on."
Reporters--students enrolled in Journalism I or Journalism II classes--routinely cover the Board of Trustees meetings downtown and last year, for example, covered the Little Hoover Commission's investigation of community colleges.
Although the ideal editor-in-chief candidate for the college's newspaper should have strong writing skills, the four full-time faculty members in the department agree that other qualities in an editor--whether the newspaper serves a city or a community college--are far more important.
"Putting out a newspaper requires a lot of coordination, patience, and a tremendous amount of organization," said journalism professor Robert O'Neil. "Too often," he added, "student newspapers, just like professional newspapers, tend to factionalize, and people get into groups. Blanca's writing skills are adequate, but it really was her personality, her temperament and her ability to work with people that made her a good candidate for the job."
Adajian, a magna cum laude student, says that entering journalism was a fluke. "I've actually been taking courses here off and on for about 15 years," she explained. "When my kids were little, I used to either work or go to school part time to stay sane and talk to someone over 2 years old."
After changing her major a number of times, she settled on Spanish, her native language. But it was not until her husband encouraged her last year to go back to school full time--something she had talked of doing for years--that she stumbled onto the newspaper staff.
"All those years, I took fun classes and never took any general education requirements," she said. When it came time to fulfill the English requirement, Adajian opted for Journalism I. Shortly afterward, at the suggestion of a professor, she applied for the position of opinion page editor--and got it.
Sole Applicant for Job
Last semester, however, Adajian was the only candidate--literally--for editor-in-chief, even though there are about 400 students in the department.
"There's sort of an underground thing where, a lot of times, people find out that someone else is applying, and so they don't apply," explained O'Neil. "It wasn't as if no one else wanted it. They probably thought the competition was too strong."
O'Neil is the adviser on the paper, but emphasizes that Adajian has ultimate say over what goes in and what stays out. His role is to answer students' questions, ranging from grammar to good taste, and provide a weekly critical analysis of the latest edition's pages--called "hell sheets" by the students.
Even with a top editor-in-chief, 15 staff editors and O'Neil's supervision, things sometimes go astray. A few years ago, for example, the paper attempted to do a series on sexual harassment, which O'Neil says was poorly documented and edited.
"That's not the kind of thing you just make general remarks and statements about," he said, adding, "It caused a lot of consternation" among faculty members. "But we make mistakes," he said, "and that's the only thing I can guarantee. Journalism classes are the only ones you can take in school where your homework is put on display for the world to see."
Valley College journalism program alumni are now staff editors, writers and photographers with local and national newspapers and magazines, and Adajian is hoping that the college's ability to foster success will work for her. Her tenure as editor-in-chief ends in December, and she graduates from the program in June. Still, she's a little uncertain about her marketability.