SHSU Houstonian newspaper turns 100
Former, current staff members reflect on experiences
Published: Monday, December 2, 2013
Updated: Tuesday, December 3, 2013 00:12
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.
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.
"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."
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.