Good teachers share knowledge with students.
Exceptional teachers inspire students to tread the path of learning and life.
I never told him thanks till now.
The writing craft is hard work and I didn’t have the desire, photography was my passion.
I was a lousy speller and mediocre typist and figured I could drift through Cal Poly reporting classes and get to the photography that was my true ambition.
Somewhere in my Reporting II class with James H. Hayes my attitude toward writing changed.
He asked me at the end of the term what how the transformation had taken hold.
Why is it the “B” grade I am proudest of in my Cal Poly transcript? At the time I was too stubborn to admit the truth. Now I’ll tell you.
The codger made me furious.
Usually teachers knocked a few points off for misspellings, but you could often make up the grade with style points.
Hayes would land a fat, felt-tipped, red “F” on your paper next to the offending word. It didn’t matter that you had sweated in an muggy typing lab, converting a desiccated collection of facts into story.
Zero, zippo, zilch.
Someone had even graded the graffiti in the Graphic Arts building men’s room stall with a red sharpie, “F – Hayes”.
It looked like his handwriting. No place was safe.
The best and worst stories from the typing lab were projected at the next class session.
Hayes’ reedy voice and felt pen would break down what worked and what didn’t in a dim room via an overhead projector. Comments were solicited from student writers.
The names were blacked out but you knew when your work was being placed on the operating table and dissected by everyone.
Dread or elation were palpable as transparencies were placed on the projector.
The flops were stinging, success was energizing.
It was a lesson in responsibility and how other readers viewed your work. Back to the lab and try again.
The writers who had any talent worshiped the footsteps of the Zen Master.
My first impressions were less charitable. I saw squeaky shoes on a waxed tile floor. It may have had something to do with the collection of F’s I was accumulating.
At an office hour visit, instead of consolation and a pep talk Hayes told me that photographers were usually poor writers. Muddle through and go back to your darkroom.
I left the office angry and I could see my game needed an upgrade. I simplified my writing, and paid closer attention to details that breathed life into a story.
Serendipity provided a book of Pulitzer prize winning stories atop the campus bookstore slush pile. I studied it cover to cover. Strunk and White’s book Elements of Style was sifted for clues.
When the student is ready, the master appears.
I released the anger a long time ago and will carry lessons from that Reporting II class the rest of my life. A generation of writers carry those skills, affection for Cal Poly and Jim Hayes in their journey through life. There is a Jim Hayes scholarship awarded to upper division or graduate journalism students.
After retiring from Cal Poly and the Tribune, Hayes was working a writing coach including the Los Angeles Times in his client roster.
He also is continuing to be published as a freelance writer.
If you see Jim this August wish him “Happy Birthday!”
On February 25, 1978 fellow Telegram-Tribune reporter Warren Groshong wrote about his colleague:
He deals in news
For Hayes, it’s more than just a job
Teaching is a work of the heart to James Hartzell Hayes.
The Cal Poly professor watches the careers of his students like a father. Their successes are his successes. When they fail, he wonders what he did wrong.
The ties are so close, for example, that Youssef Ibrihim — one of Hayes’ students in Egypt nearly two decades ago and now a New York Times reporter — still calls his old mentor on the telephone.
This is one side of the 52-year-old man who was named the state’s Journalism Educator of the Year by the California Newspaper Publishers Association.
On the other side is a stern taskmaster who never lets his students stop short of excellence in the business of writing.
“In his first lecture, he tells his students it’s going to be tough,” said Peter H. King, a former Hayes student who now works for the Associated Press in San Francisco. “He weeds out the people who are just there to live in the dorms and play tennis.”
“Sometimes I use shock treatment. I’m tough on them so they’ll be prepared for anything.”
Hayes recognizes his award as an indication that his students were ready for battle when they left his classroom and accomplished what he hoped they would. He also believes the award shows that a small department with only seven faculty members can produce so many working journalist in California and other states.
Hayes, who follows Professor John Healy as the second Cal Poly staff member to win the honor, estimates that 60 of his former students are now working journalists in California.
Among them are Paul Simon, city hall reporter for the Ventura Star-Free Press, and Dewitt Russell, city hall reporter for the Redding Record-Searchlight.
Among his pre-Cal Poly students were former Egyptian President Gamal Abdel Nasser’s daughter and Lissette Balouny, now Cairo correspondent for the Associated Press.
Add to the list Richard Saltus, an Associated Press science writer in Los Angeles.
“The approach of this department is different (than in some of the larger prestige schools)” said Hayes. “It’s strictly a nuts and bolts, practical approach.”
“The result is that our students quickly get and keep positions of trust with newspapers.”
Before he came to Cal Poly in 1969, Hayes had been a journalism teacher at University of Arizona, assistant to the dean of liberal arts at the University of Minnesota and for a year a journalism lecturer at American University in Cairo.
Out of one class of 30 students at Arizona, Hayes said, one now works for Newsweek, five arre Associated Press newsmen and women and two have jobs with United Press International. Others in that same lecture class who hold positions on newspapers across the country.
Perhaps the great teaching strength of the Los Angeles-born son of a one time wire service newsman is his vast experience in the newspaper business.
He has always been involved and still is as a part-time copy editor for the Telegram-Tribune.
He first worked at the Tulsa World in Oklahoma as a feature writer for $25 per story.
He worked for a chain of weeklies in Bishop, as county editor for the Sun-Star in Merced, on the copy desk at the Fresno Bee, as police and courts reporter at the Phoenix (Ariz.) Gazette, as a copy editor for the Evening Star in Washington D.C., as city editor of the Press-Courier in Oxnard and a copy editor for the San Francisco Chronicle.
Hayes’s theory is that “people shouldn’t teach or preach until they have worked at something long enough to be able to communicate.”
In 1976-77 The Mustang Daily, Cal Poly’s student newspaper, was named the best college daily in hte state by the California Intercollegiate Press Association. Hayes is the paper’s advisor.
Steven Churm, co-editor of the Mustang then and a sports writer for the Telegram-Tribune now, said:
“That award symbolized more than a student achievement. It reflected nine years of consistent struggle by haves to develop a vigorous learning tool — one that allows free expression and experimentation without intervention from the faculty.”
Churm called Hayes a practitioner of learning by doing.
“He’s an honest man who uses sincerity to motivate his students.”
Other students are quick to pay Hayes tribute.
“The thing that makes him stand out,” said King, the Associate Press reporter, “is his youthfulness and currency. He knows what his students are thinking. He can relate to them and he knows what is happening in the industry.
“The starting point for many of his lectures comes from fresh news clipped from the New York Times copy machine (at the Telegram-Tribune) only two hours before,” said King.
At the seat of Hayes’ remarkable career as teacher and newspaperman is a remarkable talent for putting words together.
It’s the love for style that was displayed in the very first feature story Hayes ever wrote for a newspaper. it was about people who made money from phrenology and it read:
“Bumps on the head mean money in the pocket to three Tulsa gypsies.”
If you want to read an example of a a James H. Hayes story here is a link to a profile on Joseph Giannini, long time Morro Bay businessman. Giannini was not an easy character to profile but Hayes makes the writing look easy while retaining the complex nature of his subject.