The Houstonian Celebrates 100 Years Of Excellence
Nov. 11, 2013
SHSU Media Contact: Stephen Green
|Chasing ledes: Current Houstonian staffers have been preparing for the centennial celebration of the newspaper on Dec. 3, creating online timelines of the Houstonian's history and interacting with alumni. They include (from left) assistant viewpoints editor Alexa Grigsby, layout editor Samantha Zambrano, viewpoints editor Molly Shove, editor-in-chief Stephen Green, associate editor Molly Waddell and graphic designer Kassidy Turnpaugh.|
As the 100th anniversary of the Houstonian approaches, the Communications Office asked someone with an insider's perspective on the organizationócurrent editor-in-chief Stephen Greenóto speak with past and current staff for a story about life at the Houstonian, the influence their student jobs have had on their current careers and share some memorable moments.
When students walk on to campus in the morning and pick up a copy of the Houstonian student newspaper, they might read a few stories and set the paper down for the next reader.
The Houstonian's 100th Anniversary Celebration
Dec. 3, from 3:30-5:45 p.m.
Activities will include a
For 100 years, the students who produce the Houstonian have worked tirelessly for that brief interaction with a reader. They give a lot for not much more in return than the satisfaction that they produced a full paper.
More than 1,000 students have passed through the newsroom since Dec. 3, 1913, the first day the Houstonian was published. That tradition will continue when the paper publishes its special issue on Dec. 3, 2013.
The technical way a newspaper is published is that about a week beforehand, editors sit in a room and decide on what will be published. They assign stories to the reporters who run off to their event and write about what happened. Those stories get put down in the newspaper and sent off to the Huntsville Item to be published. A delivery person then delivers those to the campus and town.
But the social atmosphere of a newsroom is one of the most unique work environments anyone could ever experience. The students work late under a deadline that can cause enormous amounts of stress, thrown objects and words probably not suitable for publication.
The result, however, is a family.
“The office is a fun and relaxed atmosphere with a good balance between professionalism and being able to blow off some steam,” said Molly Waddell, current associate editor. “I am still learning to this day, and this is a great place to do it. The Houstonian gives me the opportunity to make mistakes, learn and get information out to my peers.”
Cody Stark worked as the Houstonian sports editor in 2003 before graduating and getting a job with The Huntsville Item, where he currently serves as news editor.
|The Houstonian newsroom in 1946 shows how much technology has evolved in more than 60 years. Today's paper is laid out on computers (versus manually laying out stories) and then sent to the Huntsville Item, where it is printed for distribution for Tuesday and Thursday editions. —From the Houstonian's 100th anniversary timeline|
“What I liked most about my time at the Houstonian was getting my first taste of working in a newsroom,” Stark said. “I made a lot of great friends, some of whom I am still in touch with to this day. It was an awesome experience to work with them and put out a quality newspaper, while working on a deadline, for our fellow students to enjoy. It was a great feeling to walk into class and see other students reading our work.
Connor Hyde, the current sports editor, said he walked into the office expecting something totally different than that environment. But, he said, the closeness and ability to learn from other students has aided his writing career.
“I enjoy the Houstonian because each staff member—editor, staff writer, photographer and contributor—is on the same level in these doors,” he said. “We're all students learning journalistic ethics and what it's like to write efficiently under a deadline. For the few of us who have landed newspaper internships, it was the experience gained at the Houstonian that allowed us to excel in our assignments.”
Waddell agreed, saying that since spring 2012 when she began, her technical abilities have grown outside of anything that she could have learned in a traditional educational environment.
“I have learned so much at my time here at the Houstonian,” she said. “My writing has been refined and I have become better at reporting and developing a well-planned article.”
The most famous editor-in-chief was long-time legendary broadcaster Dan Rather, who still operates his own newscast. He served in his role from 1951 until he graduated from SHSU in 1953.
“I had a dream when I came to Sam Houston, which was to find a way to make a living to do what I passionately loved to do: report and write stories,” Rather said. “Sam Houston and the teachers at Sam Houston managed to help that dream survive. They did that primarily through the Houstonian.”
At the time, he said, the journalism department had less than a dozen students, but those few numbers didn’t stop them from publishing and learning about real journalism.
“The head of the journalism department at the time, who was also the only journalism teacher, Hugh Cunningham, was dealing with a hand-crafted product,” Rather said. “That is to say that he had six or seven journalism majors and four or five minors. His attitude was that, ‘I want you to get as broad and deep an educational background as possible, and you’ll learn what you need to learn about journalism through extracurricular through the Houstonian.’ That’s exactly what happened.”
|Before he was covering world events and meeting with international leaders, Dan Rather was an SHSU student reporting for the Houstonian. As an editor, he got his start writing on numerous political issues across the state and country, but he also took on topics all over the map, such as in the editorial above. —Courtsey of University Archives|
During his time at the Houstonian, the university was much smaller than the 19,000 students it currently has. He said it was a 900-person place where everyone knew everyone, which included the staff of the newspaper.
“The Houstonian was an enclave, a very tiny enclave, within that small school,” he said. “It was a laboratory for aspiring students, including this one. Everything that has happened professionally since I left Sam Houston, every good and decent thing, every piece of luck and God’s grace I’ve experienced, I think can be traced directly back to my time working for the Houstonian.”
He remembers some of his favorite work he published in the newspaper that he said was “damning with very faint praise.”
“(It) was a story about the homecoming game with East Texas State in probably 1953 or 1952,” he said. “The first line of the story was, ‘And the rains came.’ The Bearkats were underdogs to a very powerful East Texas State team out of Commerce. It rained the kind of straight-down rain that only happens in East Texas and few other places on the face of the planet.”
Some of his other favorites were an editorial describing his goals as editor, titled, “Guns at the editor’s feet,” which he said was actually more of a pop-gun than any real arsenal, and a story on Tripod, the three-legged dog who was the unofficial mascot for SHSU while the dog was alive. Though, like so many former student journalists will attest, just because he’s proud of his work doesn’t mean that it’s quality work.
“I look at them sometimes and think, ‘Gosh could I have possibly have written that badly?’” Rather said. “Let me say that that is what made the experience such a relevant and such a useful one. One had room and time and space and a tolerance of teachers to make one’s mistakes and learn from one’s mistakes.”
Many former journalists remember their favorite moments of being on staff. For Cody Stark it was covering men’s basketball.
“One was getting to document one of the biggest moments in SHSU athletics history—when the 2003 men's basketball team won the Southland Conference regular season and tournament championships and made the school's first-ever appearance in the NCAA tournament,” Stark said. “A former administrator helped us partially fund the trip to Tampa, Fla., to cover the Bearkats' opening round game against the Florida Gators. The Kats lost, but it was an amazing season, and I am proud to have had the opportunity to share it with the other students.”
Stark, who also worked for The Huntsville Item covering sports, said the other time was a basketball preview they produced the following year.
“We had a really good staff photographer named Matthew Norman who was a Photoshop guru,” he said. “I came up with this idea to take a picture of a real basketball and some of the players and make it appear that the players were sitting on the ball and leaning on the sides. Norman worked his magic and replaced the brand name on the ball with the headline I wanted. It looked like the headline was actually manufactured on the ball, and it really turned into awesome main art piece for the sports page. We got a lot of positive feedback on that preview. I still have a copy of it.”
|Houstonian alumna Jenna Jackson (above), with mentor and fellow Houstonian alumnus Dan Rather and (below) returning to the newsroom during a recent visit to SHSU. —Top, Acalde photo; below, by Brian Blalock|
Most recently, former CBS producer Jenna Jackson was selected as the Distinguished Young Alumna for SHSU. She worked for the paper in the late ‘90s before being selected for the Dan Rather Internship. Her experience there got her in touch with Rather who helped her get a job at the network.
But she said her experience working for the Houstonian was one of the best times of her life. She started at the Houstonian the second semester of her freshman year.
“I loved how much independence we had as the campus paper—I think you learn by doing, and the only way to become a good writer is to continually write,” Jackson said. “Between the Houstonian and my work at the Item, I got lots of practice. It was also energizing to be at the hub of the campus and know everything that was happening behind the scenes.”
Jackson also said her time as a reporter and editor aided her career path.
“I learned so much that has helped me immensely throughout my career—a strong foundation of how to write, how to tell a story, how to talk to people and put them at ease—and about how important it is to be in the position where people entrust you to tell their stories,” she said.
But the stories the students of the Houstonian write are the memories that stick with them the longest.
“One of the stories I remember most was also one of the hardest to write,” Jackson said. “A good friend and fellow staff member, Stephen Bassett, committed suicide while we were in school. I wrote a column in honor of him. It was very important to me that it do his memory justice. And it taught me that sometimes you're closer to the story emotionally than at other times—and that it's OK to be human and professional at the same time.”
One of the most important things that Rather wants anyone to take away is the importance of journalism and newspapers have in a democracy.
“The newspaper, the Houstonian, had rightly prided itself for many, many years as being independent. Completely independent. When I got there this had been the tradition of the paper,” he said. “Under Professor Hugh Cunningham, he emphasized this. To have an independent, truly independent, free press. Fiercely independent press when necessary. It is the red beating heart of a democracy.”
Hyde feels that even 60 years after Rather left his post.
“My first article for the Houstonian definitely shattered my previous thought that journalism is easy,” Hyde said. “Through the Houstonian I have learned journalistic ethics outside of the textbook and professor lectures. I've been faced with tackling breaking stories and features where I've been able to exercise and expand my writing abilities.”
Did you know?
The first seven named Houstonian editors were all women. Considering the era and the field (which is still dominated by men), many might be surprised to find women (and that many consecutive women) in that role. According to the American Society of News Editors, minorities accounted for only 12.32 percent of people in the newsroom (including women) in 2012. When reported, that number represented a continued decreased over the last three years.
The Houstonian's female leaders were:
Harris was born in February 1888, and after moving to Huntsville, she married Sam McKinney and lived here until she died in 1963. She is buried in the Oakwood Cemetery.
Brandon Scott, a staff reporter at the Huntsville Item, said the Houstonian is where his career interests started after joining the Houstonian due to a draw to write sports. But he learned more than that.
“Once I became a regular in the newsroom, however, I was exposed to the type of stories and discourse that really spelled out the thinking game that is generating ideas and storytelling,” Scott said. “I'm making a name for myself as beat reporter and I have a decent social media following. But I'm not here without my experience at the Houstonian.”
The learning laboratory that the Houstonian provides to its students, Rather said, teaches students not only about ethics and writing, but the passion that journalists must have.
“That’s one of the things he (Cunningham) tried to instill in every student he had,” he said. “The newspaper was to be a reflection of that. The Houstonian reports what it wants to report, when it wants to report it, how it wants to report it, and from time to time the administration and board of regents may not like it. But at Sam Houston, we are training journalists who understand the importance of the First Amendment, the importance of being independent even when it’s not popular.”
Rather eventually went on to work for KSAM, the Huntsville Item, the Associated Press, the Houston Chronicle, KTRK, KHOU, CBS, and now his own show “Dan Rather Reports” on AXS TV. The communication building was renamed in his honor on Oct. 21, 1994.
Since Rather’s helm at the Houstonian, the publication has continued to grow.
Now a member of the Associated Collegiate Press and Texas Intercollegiate Press Association, the paper has won many awards for advertisement design, writing, non-photo illustration, graphics, special editions, and much more. Last year, staff members took home the inaugural Director’s Trophy at TIPA last year, which put SHSU journalists up against much larger schools like University of Texas at Austin and Baylor University.
“Once again our journalism students faced a lot of great competition from universities all over Texas,” said Robin Johnson, the current Houstonian adviser. “Winning the first Director’s Trophy for overall on-site competition excellence throws down the gauntlet for future competitions. We are the university to beat.”
It was also selected as one of the top 100 newspapers for college journalists to work for by JournalismDegree.org.
As editor-in-chief, I have seen or worked in several professional newsrooms around Texas and would have been lost had it not been for my experience at the Houstonian. You learn a great deal about writing style, newsroom hierarchy. We all mess up, but it’s worth it in the long run because this is the place to do it. College is a time to experience and learn, both of which you can do while working for the Houstonian.
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