Today@Sam Celebrates 20th Anniversary
Sept. 10, 2015
SHSU Media Contact: Romney Thomas
On Sept. 10, 1995, the Communications Office at Sam Houston State University made its first post on the website that would become Today@Sam. The post was a news brief reporting various happenings around campus, including a 3 percent enrollment drop, a retirement affair and the College of Business Administration’s Homecoming Mixer.
It marked the humble beginning of the public relations tradition that SHSU carries on today.
“At that time, we were looking at what other universities were doing about their public relations efforts, but there wasn’t really anything like Today@Sam going on,” said Frank Krystyniak, current lecturer in the department of mass communication and former director of public relations for SHSU. “I think in some ways, we at Sam Houston were pioneers of this style of public relations, particularly in the university system.”
As he was beginning the news site, Krystyniak, who has an illustrious background in journalism and public relations, was concerned that the content on Today@Sam should be usable and easy for media outlets to access.
“We tried to start Today@Sam so that it would be a bit like an electronic newspaper or magazine,” said Krystyniak. “That format seemed to work fairly well, especially for media outlets, as they can tend to be fairly particular.
“News media very rarely ever come to an organization for information,” Krystyniak said. “So SHSU needed an effective tool to get our information out to those sources. At the time, the Internet was really beginning to take off, and we wanted to embrace that.”
At its inception, the website was essentially an archive of press releases, but as the Internet matured and the public relations office collaborated with IT, the website evolved in terms of visual layout and accessibility.
“Journalistically speaking, creating content was fairly simple, but constructing the website really was a challenge,” Krystyniak said. “Back then the programs that make web design easy didn’t really exist, so we had a lot of help from IT with coding and actually getting content online. In reality, Today@Sam and shsu.edu have grown up together.”
As Today@Sam matured and flourished, local media sources began to visit the site more frequently for news about the university, and the website eventually became a valuable recruiting tool for potential students and staff.
“The public relations dream really became a reality in our experts page,” Krystyniak said. “If a reporter is looking for an expert in any of the areas that Sam is especially strong, they are able to connect directly with that expert.”
In the past 20 years, Today@Sam has not only grown visibly, but it has changed behind the scenes as well. As online content has continued to expand, the Communications Office grown with it, adding full-time communications writer Tammy Parrett. The office has also been able to extend its hospitality to student workers, who help produce content and benefit from the chance to gain experience.
“We were fortunate to be able to allow students to refine their skills here,” Krystyniak said. “One notable person who initially showed her talent here as a student is Jennifer Gauntt, and over time she has worked alongside associate director of communications Julia May to become the communications manager and mentor her own student workers.”
One of several such students who have had the opportunity to grow with Today@Sam over the years is Marissa Nunez. A 2014 graduate, Nunez is currently a staff reporter for the Huntsville Item and reflects on the years she spent working for Today@Sam as an important stepping stone toward the work she does now.
“The guidance I received from Jennifer Gaunt and Julia May in terms of my writing is invaluable,” Nunez said. “The articles I wrote during my time at Today@Sam gave me true hands-on experience that I could solidly depend on when I graduated and began to work at the Item.”
Nunez reports on issues concerning education and city government in Huntsville. Attention to detail and the ability to quickly turn over a story are crucial for the news and feature stories she writes for the paper.
“I remember that for the first article I wrote for Today@Sam, I accompanied Jennifer for the interview that she conducted,” Nunez said. “Being able to work alongside a true professional and also gain experience around photography and videography gave me the confidence I needed to be successful for my work now. Especially when I think about the attention Julia and Jennifer paid to helping me develop as a writer, I’m very thankful for my time at Today@Sam.”
Another notable alumnus who gained valuable experience from working with Today@Sam is Steven Nelson, digital campaign analyst for Centro in New York City and one of Heritage magazine’s fall 2015 “13 Under 30.”
“I learned skills that went beyond the public relations profession from Today@Sam,” Nelson said. “Not only was I able to expand my writing and communication skills while working there, I gained practical knowledge about working in a professional environment that proved to be invaluable when it came time to take a leap of faith with my career.”
As the university has continued to expand, so did the channels through which students and alumni were reached. Today@Sam writers, to-date, have contributed to numerous important campus publications including Heritage magazine, capital campaign newsletters, alumni publications and countless others.
In addition to traditional publications, Today@Sam has become a home for multimedia journalism. Many stories featured on the SHSU main page, a more recent addition to the responsibilities of SHSU’s communication group, are accompanied by photography and videography to meet the changing demands of its readership.
“Journalism and mass communication are becoming more and more interdisciplinary, especially with concern to the Internet,” Krystyniak said. “Today@Sam is a good reflection of that, in that it incorporates pictures and videos that make our content even more appealing for our audiences. It keeps Sam Houston competitive and accelerates the manner in which we can really communicate with each other, and continue to grow and change within and outside of our organization.”
In order to reach an even broader audience, the Marketing and Communication departments at SHSU merged to become a single Marketing and Communications entity. With that merger Steven Keating, the assistant director of marketing, has been able to leverage the material Today@Sam produces to the web, further changing the way Today@Sam communicates which is especially critical in the event of a crisis.
“Today@Sam has had an undeniable impact on the way the university handles crisis communication,” May said. “Prior to establishing Today@Sam, when a crisis would arise, we would hold press conferences in order to best contact various media outlets. We are now able to use the website to distribute official university statements, and for that purpose, it is one of our most effective tools for reaching our audiences.”
With the way inaccurate information can be spread so quickly over social media, Today@Sam and the information it disseminates has never been more critical for communication efforts at SHSU.
“It’s more important now than it ever was before to get accurate news out to the public,” Krystyniak said. “With so many digital media outlets, it’s so easy for inaccurate news to be spread far and wide, so Today@Sam has, and will continue to do the best it can to always be honest and truthful, to get accurate information out to the public and to be transparent in order to best serve Sam Houston.”
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