So long, Horizon!

By Toby Sonneman

Toby Sonneman and the crew of the Horizon take a tour of the Lynden Tribune’s press, to see how the Horizon is printed.



Twelve years ago, when I was asked to take over the journalism position after a recently hired teacher left in the middle of the quarter, the Horizon newsroom was a windowless room about the size of a walk-in closet in Laidlaw, as Syre Student Center hadn’t yet been built.

We had a couple of old computers, but no Internet connection. The editor and production editor had to drive out to the printer in Lynden with the finished proofs and if there were any problems, drive back to the college to fix them, then go back to Lynden.  We didn’t have digital cameras, so the photo editor had to take the film over to a camera shop in the mall to be developed.

Still, after teaching English 100 and English 101 for several years, I saw journalism as a fresh and lively endeavor. I stopped teaching English composition and never looked back.

The beginning was rocky, and not just because of technical issues. The newspaper operation had a certain, shall I say, lack of professionalism.

Often, stories just weren’t finished by deadline or the production editor failed to finish the layout on time.  And embarrassingly (at least to me) several times that first year the paper was printed days after its scheduled publication.  Proofreading was nearly nonexistent and errors were rampant.

By the second year, I realized that strict penalties for not meeting deadlines and clear ethical and professional guidelines for journalism students and Horizon staff were essential, not only to the health of the newspaper but also to my own mental health.

From that time on, with a few exceptions, it’s been a very rewarding job (though not financially).  I believe strongly in the values of journalism–honest, objective, thorough reporting and clear concise writing—and so it has been my challenge to teach students how to put those values into practice, and my pleasure when I see them embracing those values in their work.

You can tell how seriously they take the job during our classes when we read and comment on drafts (three for each story) and ask reporters to go back and find out more, talk to more people, ask more questions.

Yet we also enjoy the occasional hilarity as we try to think up Whatcom Voices questions or create clever headlines (the ones you haven’t seen are the source of the humor).

Horizon editors–who have run the gamut from 16-year-old Running Start students to a 35-year old former hair stylist from Boston—and staff spend countless hours perfecting the paper. They fuss over such details as the nuances of captions, the appropriate Associated Press style for capitalization or the placement of commas.

Often this work goes on late into the night or on weekends, with greasy pizza boxes and marked-up 11-by-17 proof pages littering the newsroom table.  It’s been a privilege and an inspiration for me to witness the dedication of students who take on the huge responsibility and commitment of producing a quality newspaper to serve the college community.

As I look back over the newspapers from my time here, I see that Horizon reporters have covered subjects small and large, from dead cats being dissected in biology lab to a life drawing class, from dyslexia to sleep deprivation, from the veterans’ club to volcanoes.

Our readers learned about teachers who dig up archeological artifacts and those who stage mock crimes in the classroom, about custodians who clean the campus bathrooms, about a golden retriever named Ozzie and about students who come from Denmark, Egypt, Turkey, Taiwan and Tanzania.

We wrote about the border troubles after September 11, 2001, about the Bellingham bomb squad destroying an unattended metal box on campus (it turned out to contain art supplies) and about a student on the Horizon staff who received a raunchy tweet from a congressman and became the subject of national media attention.

We weathered a storm of angry letters about an advertisement for an adult video shop – the most letters to the editor we have ever received – and the inevitable controversies about our reporting of conflicts or upheaval in the student council.

Times have changed, thank goodness, since those early days. The Horizon consistently meets its deadlines for print publication and we no longer get letters from readers detailing numerous typos and grammatical errors.

We have a large newsroom with working computers, up-to-date software programs, a digital camera and, yes, Internet access. We have a website for our newspaper and we’re on Facebook and Twitter, though our readership is still largely through the print paper.

What has not changed is the commitment of journalism students to the newspaper and the college’s support of students’ rights to a free press. For that, I am grateful and also hopeful that, as I leave my job, the Horizon will continue as strong and vital and interesting as ever.

(If you are a former member of the Horizon staff and want to share your memories, or if you just want to say goodbye to Toby, feel free to do so in the comments below.)

10 thoughts on “So long, Horizon!

  1. I really enjoyed my time at the Horizon. It was so cool to see my writing/designs get published and I really enjoyed working with a small team of smart people. Thanks so much, Toby, for the time and energy you put into that. Whatcom is a small college but full of so many amazing resources and teachers who really care about your learning.

  2. Working on the Horizon changed my life. I will never forget the day when my first article was published. My acquaintances on the student council would tell me how great my article was, and it was so enlightening to know these people enjoyed reading my work. I also gained so much new social skills working with the other editors and writers. I also developed a thick skin (figuratively), when working on stories.

    I’ll miss you a lot, Toby. You were professional, incisive, and a pleasure to work with. Luckily I will still see you on Facebook every now and then. I’m in Thailand right now teaching ESL, but maybe I’ll see you around Bellingham sometime next March when I move back to the Evergreen state.

    Take care and much love,


  3. Toby-I find it interesting that I received your email on the day that I found a copy of my dad’s first article as the student editor for his high school newspaper. I didn’t know.

    Thank you for giving me the opportunity to write and take photos for the Horizon. The experience, for this non-traditional, student stretched me so out of my comfort zone. The times spent putting the latest edition together was inspiring. I learned so much from everyone. I learned so much from those I worked with and from your support and guidance.

    Yeah, right you are retiring. . . we will see you in print around the county. Love your blogs about food and cooking. You will always be a force in Whatcom County.

    Blessings on your next chapter.

    MA Baker

  4. Thanks for your comments, everyone! Kyle, I still read the marvelous feature you wrote on Z’s Recycling to my classes.

    Michael, you’re in Thailand?? Wonderful!

    MaryAnn, I vividly remember how vigilant you were about the security issues at Whatcom — what an important topic!

  5. In the years to come, the quarter I spent on the Horizon with Toby as its fearless leader will always be an inspiring and fond memory for me. I’ll never forget the long hours on Production Mondays, the input and knowledge gleaned from those I worked with, the experience of real life interviews, and of course, Cletus the Fetus! And Toby was always there behind it all with her unrelenting support and journalistic wisdom. I’m sure the Horizon will be hard pressed to find such a fabulous advisor.
    Buona Fortuna, Toby!

  6. Thank you for making writing fun and drawing me into journalism! I took somewhere between 40 and 50 classes before graduating and at least half of them were at WCC. I can say with certainty that the Horizon produced the best memories I ever had in college, and that says a lot! I still have my first prints, and man they are bad. I also kept my awards for best breaking news story for car prowling.

    I especially appreciate you and everyone else listening to my Navy stories over and over again. 🙂 Oh and I’ll never forget arguing with Johnny over simple grammar.

  7. I am fond of my days in the corner office of the Horizon at WCC. Those production meetings I would look out that tiny window while coming up with story ideas for another issue along with a group of six dedicated amateur reporters.
    I met a lot of great people on campus thanks to working on the newspaper and worked with a great group of reporters and editors. I learned so much more about life and sense of community, something I never would have experienced if I never dove into journalism.
    Thank you Toby for creating such an exciting and learning atmosphere. My time spend on the Horizon newspaper really set the foundation for my love of reporting.
    Right now I am writing for the Ferndale Record covering the sports beat. I followed up Caleb Breakey, former Horizon staffer. I do believe Ryan Wynne was a former editor on the Record, someone I met while on the staff at WCC. My editor now is also also a former Horizon reporter, Mark Reimers.
    So you have certainly left your mark in the community.

    Enjoy your retirement Toby, you certainly deserve it!

    Dan Balmer
    WCC 2005

  8. Thanks, Dan — how great to know what the Horizon meant to you! Congratulations on the sports beat job — and thanks for filling me in on where all those other folks are too. Hi to Caleb, Mark, Ryan — and Esther if you see her too!

  9. Hi Toby

    I only noticed this today. Yes, I was that student who was late with layout proofs. I remember it well. So many things have and haven’t changed for me since then, but I can’t thank you enough for “breaking me in,” to the world of Journalism. I had to laugh when I realized how many of those events and situations I got to witness and experience first-hand. What a ride! Thanks for putting the time in and learning right along with us. I can’t believe how many people I know who got their start through your humble Journalism program.

    I remember the fun staff photos we would take outside the newsroom at the conclusion of every quarter. Some of those were pack. Others, not so much. And then there was the unofficial one we doctored with prison bars for the fun of it — oh the budding Photoshop skills! There was also the unfortunate incident when a staff member accidentally printed dozens of photos of a single student on copy paper and, instead of going to waste, they made for a wonderful collage to welcome him to staff meeting that day.

    All the best and I hope things are going well for you in 2013. Thanks again for all the hard work.

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