“I have always been lucky enough to be in the right place at the right time,” says Terry Bales. He began his career at Whittier High School as a journalism and history teacher, as well as the baseball coach, before moving to Santa Ana College (SAC) in 1971. For the next 45 years, he built one of the most prestigious community-college journalism programs in the country, watching news media evolve from morning-afternoon dailies and four television networks to today’s era of fake news and Facebook Live.
The recently retired Bales estimates he taught around 40,000 students throughout his career. But his lasting legacy is the powerhouse student-media organization he left behind: The newspaper El Don regularly racks up national awards, and he created the first college-student cable-TV newscast in OC, Around And About Orange County News. In 1995, Bales created the Spanish-language news show Noticiero Latino Del Condado de Orange (Orange County Latino News Program), the first college or university show of its kind in the United States. In a sign of the ever-evolving times, his contributions continue on Facebook and YouTube.
“I am pleased that I got to see diversity in action with students from many different ethnic and income-level groups,” he says. “I was happy to be of what I hope was service to all.”
At 15, he started his path in journalism as the sports editor for his high school’s newspaper, The Upland Highlanders, and a reporter for The Ontario Daily Report. Those clips got him a full ride to USC, where he received a BA in journalism and a master’s in U.S. history. Bales always admired his teachers and enjoyed researching and talking about media and history subjects, so he decided he would be a college professor. “I feel I really had the best of both worlds since I could teach full-time and moonlight covering all major games and sporting events,” he says. “Doing both jobs concurrently allowed me to use my practical experience to make it easier for my students to experience the real world through my war stories to go along with media theory and history.”
Over the years, Bales had the opportunity to jump to four-year universities (including USC), but, he says, “I felt very satisfied at SAC and felt that the department I helped create was like the child I never had—or, more correctly, like the 40,000 children I had a small part in helping to raise.”
Ever the journalist, Bales is spending his retirement betting on fantasy sports. “I always told Tommy Lasorda that I could manage or coach as good as them, so now I get to make out daily lineups in various sports to see how I do,” he jokes.
For future students, he offers this advice: “Hard work always pays off, and today, you have to be prepared with all the rapid pace of technology change to re-invent yourself every few years. And education and homework don’t just end because you are out of school.”