A biweekly publication for faculty and staff

Second Time Around for News Director

February 25, 2015

If James Leonard looks familiar, you’re not experiencing déjà vu.

Leonard works in University Communications as director of news and social media, and it’s his second time working at UC Merced. He first joined the campus in 2010 as a senior public information representative and was later promoted to news director.

In 2012, Leonard left to become a senior writer at California State University, Stanislaus, his alma mater. During his time at CSU Stanislaus, he said, he learned a lot about the differences between the CSU system and the University of California and developed a strong appreciation for the role both institutions play in the region and state.

Leonard returned to Bobcat country last December, rejoining a University Communications team that has continued to build upon the writing, editing, Web, photography, video and graphic design services it offers to the campus.

Leonard recently discussed his role with Panorama.

Please describe what your job entails.

I manage what you might call the “news team” within University Communications. We are responsible for the news stories, photos and videos on the UC Merced website, the university’s social media channels and our media relations efforts. We also provide writing and editing services for campus, assist faculty and staff members, students and administrators in working with the media, and respond to requests for photo and video work. We also work closely with our colleagues within University Communications, lending a hand with new and renovated websites and print publications.
When people ask what I do, I say my job is to help build a positive reputation for the university and to maintain that reputation. We all know how great UC Merced is. Our job is to make sure everyone else — including prospective students and faculty members, parents, the community, elected officials and donors — has a positive perception of the university. We want everyone to know the impact the campus has on students, the region, the state and the world. 

What are some of the most rewarding things about your job?

The most rewarding part of the job is successfully telling the university’s stories through articles, videos and photos, communicating to audiences that might not have heard of UC Merced or aren’t aware of what we do here. Our goal is to raise awareness of and support for UC Merced, which benefits all of us. The work our team goes a long way toward building positive perceptions of the university.


What are some of the biggest challenges in your work and how do you overcome them?

I think our biggest challenge is how new UC Merced is. It’s not as widely recognized as other universities that have been around much longer. Our task is to get the word out about who we are and what we’re doing here. But that can also be an advantage. As a new campus, and an innovative campus, we have unique stories to tell that older universities don’t have.
Another challenge is how the traditional media landscape continues to change. Newsrooms are smaller and have fewer resources. That puts a greater importance on us in telling our own stories and producing Web stories, photography and videos. It allows us to get the word out about UC Merced, even when traditional news outlets focus their attention elsewhere.

What new initiatives, projects or plans are you looking forward to in the upcoming year?

We launched the new gateway site (www.ucmerced.edu) last fall but continue to work hard on revamping and re-launching secondary websites. We also have some exciting new video projects we’re working on, including the Discover UC Merced video series. And we’re continuing to work with faculty and staff members and students to make sure we’re telling all the stories there are to tell at UC Merced.


Tell us something about you that people on campus might not know.

I ran for city council in Patterson in 2010, which was a fun and interesting process. I didn’t win, but I learned a lot. And in a previous life, I covered (San Francisco 49ers quarterback) Colin Kaepernick’s last high school football game. I started my journalism career covering high school sports in the Central Valley. While at the Tracy Press, I covered a playoff game between West High in Tracy and Pitman High in Turlock. I remember Colin being tall, skinny and a pretty good player, but West High got the better of him that night.