SAN LUIS OBISPO, Calif. - It's been said the 2020 presidential election is the most important election of our time. It's a big responsibility for journalists on the campaign trail.
One Cal Poly alum knows that firsthand; he is now at ABC News, closely following the presidential candidates.
Armando Torres Garcia has come a long way since his days at Cal Poly studying journalism and working at the university TV station.
“I really got to try a little bit of everything, the production aspect of it, the reporting aspect of it, doing a little bit of anchoring as well," Garcia said.
After graduating in 2013, he put all that to practice at a local Spanish-language newsroom.
“Since Cal Poly, I reported for a couple of years for Univision Costa Central, driving up and down the coast San Luis Obispo, Santa Barbara County.”
He traded the coast and the Cali weather for snow and The Big City.
“Columbia Journalism School granted me a really really generous scholarship that allowed me to go there.”
The East Coast move paid off.
“Now I'm on the presidential race.”
The Napa Valley transplant is one of 44 network embeds closely following the democratic candidates on a daily basis.
“Let me tell you, it's a wild ride.”
For his professors back at Cal Poly, though, his success is not surprising.
“Armando was kind of one of the bright lights in our department," said journalism professor Brady Teufel. “You could tell from early stages that he was really driven. He was hyper focused on what he wanted to do and what he wanted to achieve.”
Teufel remembers being particularly impressed with Garcia's reporting during the aftermath of hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico. The Cal Poly alum covered the 2017 disaster as both photographer and reporter.
"One of the best conduits to getting information was in fact Armando's twitter feed," said Teufel. “I just thought that was so impressive, his ability to kind of bounce around and hone in on the human interest aspect of a disaster.”
Now Garcia continues documenting history during one of the most important presidential elections of our time.
“You know, it's such a once-in-a-lifetime experience to be able to do this. The people that you're asking questions to could indeed be the next president of the United States.”
The ABC News reporter says he tries to capture the candidates in a way you might not typically see on TV.
“Just things that are so mundane but you may not see a candidate do a lot. So for example, a colleague and I played basketball with Andrew Yang right before the Houston debate, which ABC News hosted.”
Another time he interviewed Yang while bowling. Over the holidays, he stopped by Senator Kamala Harris' kitchen.
“As she was preparing for her Thanksgiving dinner, I was able to ask some questions," said Garcia.
“He really embodies the spirit of what Cal Poly journalism is all about, which is being resourceful, being able to land on your feet wherever you are, and possessing a multitude of storytelling skills," said Teufel. “And our students learn to cover stories using a pen, using a computer, using a cellphone, using a video camera, using a still camera, virtual reality, drones.”
“At Cal Poly we really talk about the pitch... the art of the pitch. Every single day we had to come up with something new," Garcia recalls. "It's the same now. You always have to think about when's the next show, when's the next deadline. And you always have to feed the important material, the breaking news material that you have, as soon as you can.”
If there's one thing Garcia would impart to current students at Cal Poly now it's: “Count on your professors. I was so lucky that I had such great professors there, you know people that really took their time to work with me.”
“There's no magic badge that means you're a journalist when you walk out of here. In doing journalism, you are a journalist," said Teufel. “And journalism is essential to our democracy and to our society at large.”
“It is so cool to be able to really witness history in such a front row kind of way," said Garcia.