LA icon Patt Morrison ’74 stays devoted to Occidental and the mission of journalism

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Patt Morrison signing her book, “Don't Stop The Presses,” outside Mosher 1 at Occidental College in Los Angeles, CA. Oct. 19, 2021. Lila Hempel-Edgers/The Occidental

Patt Morrison ’74 is an award-winning L.A. Times journalist, Occidental College alumna and this year’s “Greg Critser ’80 Memorial Talking Books Series” speaker. The series is hosted by the Occidental College Library and provides a forum for alumni and current faculty to discuss their books. Morrison discussed her 2018 book, “Don’t Stop the Presses! Truth, Justice, and the American Newspaper” Oct. 19.

According to the L.A. Times, Morrison has gained experience as a writer, columnist, radio host and television host in her many decades at the paper. Her work has earned her two Pulitzer Prizes, six Emmy awards and a dozen Golden Mikes. Morrison has written two best-selling nonfiction books, “Rio L.A., Tales from the Los Angeles River,” published in 2001, and “Don’t Stop the Presses! Truth, Justice, and the American Newspaper.” Morrison also has a vegan hot dog named after her at Pink’s in Hollywood.

Morrison said Occidental nurtured her wide-ranging interests, allowing her to study across disciplines and get class credit for internships. As a result, when she was 18 years old she began an unpaid position at the L.A. Times in exchange for school credit. She said having the opportunity to study journalism outside the classroom helped her understand the world and how to work in a professional setting.

“For me, Occidental was an ideal place for journalists, because journalists are the last generalists,” Morrison said. “We need to know something about everything because you never know as a general assignment reporter what you will be doing from one day to the next.”

At the time, Morrison said she faced obstacles in the workplace as one of the only women in a newsroom filled with white men.

“That was really as much a learning experience for me as anything else because it made me able to roll with the punches and give back as good as I got,” Morrison said. “The world is not going to necessarily be sweet to you and be considerate of your feelings.”

College Librarian Kevin Mulroy is in charge of helping choose a figure to speak at the series and said he chose Patt Morrison because he admires her fearless nature and pride in Occidental.

Kevin Mulroy, head librarian, outside the Academic Commons at Occidental College in Los Angeles, CA. Oct. 21, 2021. Lila Hempel-Edgers/The Occidental

“She is obviously very brave,” Mulroy said. “Back in those days it was very tough for women; generally there were not that many women reporters, and certainly nobody in real power positions much. She was a real trailblazer. And I think she talks a lot about how important Occidental was to her and her education and why it was a great background for journalism.”

According to Secretary of the College Marsha Schnirring, Morrison served on the board of trustees from 1998–2002.

Morrison said many people believe newspapers resist new technology but she does not think that is true — as technology advances, she said newspapers find new ways to inform the people at a faster pace. Morrison also said there is no better way to read the news than reading it on paper.

“The tangibility and reality of paper is something we have to think of as precious,” Morrison said.

Helena de Lemos, Special Collections and College Archives instruction and research librarian attended the talk and said she appreciated the way Morrison brought up important points on journalism and how it has changed.

“I love the way she delivered [the talk],” de Lemos said. “She is a wonderful storyteller, and she weaved all these different interesting little bits of history, and then brought it all into the importance of journalism.”

An exhibit of Patt Morrison inside the Academic Commons at Occidental College in Los Angeles, CA. Oct. 21, 2021. Lila Hempel-Edgers/The Occidental

Mulroy said that Morrison continues to give back to the college and has donated her working library on journalism for student and faculty use. It ranges from post-Civil War and the development of American journalism as well as pieces from other parts of the world.

Urban & Environmental Policy (UEP) professor Rick Cole attended the talk and said he appreciated that Morrison continues to interact with the college community and preach the importance of journalism.

“It was a glorious talk about the glories of newspapers and acknowledging some of their shortcomings,” Cole said. “Patt is an icon in journalism in Los Angeles, and the fact that she is an alum and brought the story here I think is very special.”