With decades of journalism experience at several publications, Bonnie Stewart will replace Paul Bauman as Octagon adviser when he retires at the end of the school year. (Photo courtesy of Stewart)

New adviser with decades of experience, passion for investigative reporting to take over Octagon in fall

On May 1, head of high school Brooke Wells announced that Bonnie Stewart will replace Octagon adviser Paul Bauman, who will retire at the end of the school year.

Wells praised Stewart for her decades of journalism experience.

“She separated herself from the other applicants with a great deal of experience,” he said. “It just goes on and on.”

Stewart is a multidisciplinary journalist and former editorial adviser of the Daily Titan, the award-winning newspaper of California State University, Fullerton.

As a writer, Stewart specialized in investigative reporting.

“For me, it’s always been about holding people accountable and delivering information that people need,” Stewart said.

Stewart found her passion for investigative reporting in Indianapolis. There, she did research on the city’s public transport system and was part of a team that compiled data on nursing homes. She also won the George Polk Award for a series on unwanted pets and a financial scandal at the Indianapolis Humane Society.

Interrupting 16 years at the Indianapolis News and Indianapolis Star, Stewart had a two-year stint (1988-89) as a copy editor at the Sacramento Business Journal.

While Stewart has written feature and opinion pieces, she said she always found herself returning to investigative reporting and searching for “something that’s not quite right. I find (it) kind of addictive.”

A highlight of Stewart’s career is a court victory in which she successfully fought a subpoena seeking unpublished reporting materials related to her investigative book. Stewart had spent five years researching the book while in West Virginia.

“I looked into a coal mine disaster from 1968 that killed 78 people,” she said of her 2012 book “No. 9: The 1968 Farmington Coal Mine Disaster.” “No one had adequately explained why it happened.”

Stewart uncovered flaws in the safety precautions of the coal company.

The families of dead miners sued the coal company, which then subpoenaed Stewart’s reporting notes, records and audio interviews. Stewart’s lawyer successfully defended her on First Amendment grounds.

Stewart has kept in contact with family members of those killed in the mining incident. She attended a memorial service near the site of the disaster in 2018, the 50-year anniversary.

Most recently, Stewart has worked on the West Coast. After more than five years advising the Daily Titan (2013-18), she moved to Sacramento to be closer to her family. She has two grandchildren at Country Day: third grader Wilder Harris and first grader Eva Harris.

Following over a year acquiring grants as a freelance journalist, she applied for the job at SCDS.

Stewart’s goal is to give students the support they need to publish a paper of which they’re proud.

“The skills of a journalist serve you in any profession,” Stewart said. “Journalists are thinkers and givers. I hope that’s something I can offer to (Octagon staffers).”

—By Ethan Monasa