Journalism Professor – SBCC Advisor, The Channels
The first time I saw Ray Canton, he was wearing a burgundy-plaid sport coat with green pants and a bolo tie. I’d soon discover that he was even more colorful than his attire.
Canton served SBCC from 1965 to 1987 as its journalism professor and advisor for its weekly newspaper, The Channels. He was also a bundle of energy whose classroom breaks would include long runs that added up to as many as 3,500 miles a year.
He took the school newspaper on a pretty nice run, as well.
Before he took charge, The Channels was a four-pager that would come out only every other week, and it often even missed that deadline. By the time he’d retired, it was four times that size and publishing every Friday like clockwork, and with three Pacemaker Awards as the nation’s best community college newspaper to its credit.
I had my doubts about going to SBCC in 1972 even before I saw Canton’s outfits. I’d been accepted to USC’s School of Journalism out of Bishop Diego High School, although the death that year of my father — Santa Barbara News-Press sports editor Phil Patton — made me wonder how I was going to cover the tuition.
SBCC football coach Bob Dinaberg, one of my dad’s close friends, wondered about the same thing, and he suggested that I meet with Canton. “They have a great journalism program there, and I’ve noticed that a lot of his students go on to USC with full scholarships,” he told me.
Dinaberg took me on a complete tour of the campus. When he ended it in the journalism workroom, I spotted the awards that Canton treasured most: His students. He had framed portraits of dozens of them covering an entire wall of the room.
“Here’s Michael Parfit,” Canton said, pointing at the photo of a grinning student who was pictured at SBCC’s copy-editing table in a coat and tie. “He was one my first great editors, back in 1966 and ’67. He went to USC on a full scholarship.”
“And here’s Artie Campos and Tim Novoselski,” he continued, pointing at other photographs. “They got full rides to USC, too. Tim’s there right now, working for the Daily Trojan.”You work and study as hard as they did — and buster, they all worked really hard — then you’ll get that scholarship to USC, too.”
My SBCC classmate, Thomas Kelsey, needed even more of a hard-sell. He had written for Dos Pueblos High’s newspaper, The Charger Account, but told Canton he was disillusioned with the business and really just wanted to be a photographer. “You can be a photographer,” Canton told him, “but you’ve got to take the writing class.” He wanted to groom Kelsey into a photojournalist, not just a photographer.
Two years later, Canton put both of our pictures on the journalism wall with a description of our accomplishments. He added a prediction to Kelsey’s: “He will win the Pulitzer Prize.” Kelsey did just that with a photo series on the Latino community that he took for the Los Angeles Times in 1983.
I learned more about reporting and copy editing from Canton than during any other two-year period of my life. He got his masters degree in journalism from Columbia University and then spent most of his life as a reporter, working for the Kansas City Times, the Chicago Tribune and the Minneapolis Star-Tribune before returning to California as a feature writer and copy editor for the Sacramento Bee.
But he also taught life lessons about dedication and teamwork. Canton had us all even help with the newspaper’s production, hand-feeding a Miehle Pony Press at the campus print shop every Thursday. Those of us who wanted bonus points in the journalism department ratings, which he posted next to all those framed photographs, would also get up at dawn every Friday and deliver The Channels to dozens of kiosks across campus.
He constantly preached about earning your keep, and he practiced that by making sure that we sold enough advertising to cover all of the newspaper’s expenses. “My greatest pride is our independence,” he said often. He stayed true to that credo even when it brought him under fire. In the spring of 1974, we won our second-straight California Newspaper Publisher’s Association Award as the top community college newspaper in the state. The publishers honored us with seats at a front-and-center table at the CNPA banquet at the Beverly Hills Hilton Hotel.
Then-governor Ronald Reagan was the keynote speaker, and when he approached the podium, all the publishers arose in applause. Everyone at our table stood, too — except Canton. We looked at him and then, one at a time, sat back down. “You can stand and clap if you want, I’ll respect that,” Canton said. “I just personally think it’s unhealthy for journalists to idolize any politician with a standing ovation.”
He stuck by his guns even when several of the publishers approached our table to lambast him. “I wouldn’t have stood if it were one of the Kennedys, either,” he said.
Canton would often entertain us with stories during our editing sessions. He once showed his journalist’s neutrality with an anecdote from when he was a student reporter at Whittier College, covering a board of trustees which included future president Richard Nixon. “I really wanted to see USC’s football game at Notre Dame, so I hitch-hiked all the way to South Bend without having a ticket or even a place to stay,” Canton told us. “I found out it was sold out when I got there, but I went to the stadium, anyway.”
Nixon spotted him milling about outside the stadium and asked what he was doing there. Canton told him about his situation, and Nixon got him into the game. “He even got me a room at his hotel, and a berth on the train back to California,” he said.
Canton was always that kind of go-getter. He started writing a column for the Whittier Live Wire when he was still in high school. He told us that he even once tried to interview some Downey High football players during the middle of a game until a coach waved him away.
He suddenly realized that I might think he was advising me to do the same.
“Wait until halftime or the end of the game to check on who did what,” he told me. “Don’t get so excited that you go out onto the field during the game and ask questions.”
Canton retired in 1987 after receiving the Gold Crown Award — the highest available to student newspapers — from the Columbia Scholastic Press Association. “From a personal point of view, it’s a beautiful way to end a career,” he said at his retirement party.
Canton passed away five years later, but his impact endures. Many of his students are in the business today at such places as the Los Angeles Times, the Wall Street Journal, the Associated Press … and the Santa Barbara News-Press, where I work to this day.
He had gotten me that USC scholarship, as promised.
Mark Patton, S.B. NewsPress