Stop the Presses, Start the Scanners: Digitizing Baylor’s News Release Archive

Baylor University news releases from the 1930s

It’s hard to imagine given the pervasive nature of the media outlets available today – from the major broadcast networks, cable news networks, blogs, microblogs, social media avenues and more – but there was a time when the concept of a press release didn’t exist. The content readers found in their daily newspaper or heard over the air on their RCA radios came from journalists doing “shoe-leather” reporting, hitting the streets with steno pads and press passes, determined to get the scoop.

That began to change in the 1910s and 1920s with the advent of the field known as public relations. Early practitioners like Ivy Lee and Edward Bernays pioneered tactics like crisis communication and publicity via the media. As more and more corporate and public sector clients began to use tools like the press release, the idea of seeding the media with pre-packaged news items – professionally written, accurately worded, and unfailingly positive for their originators – became common practice.

Dating back to at least the 1920s, Baylor University embraced the notion of writing news items for distribution to the media outlets available around the country. Beginning with the University News Service and continuing to the present as the division of Marketing and Communications, skilled wordsmiths began writing stories and announcements that would expand the world’s awareness of the goings-on at the world’s oldest (and largest) Baptist university.

For many years, the Texas Collection kept vertical files of the press releases generated by the university, from the 1920s to the present. In 2011, the Digitization Projects Group began the process of digitizing these important original sources. Texas Collection staff and students spent hours pulling the press releases from their various holdings and condensing them into almost 50 bankers boxes. After months of slow but steady progress, a concentrated effort to finally put the press releases into chronological order was begun two weeks ago.

After 500 combined staff and student hours were spent on the project, the press releases have been sorted into chronological order and duplicates removed. Our rough estimate is that some 60,000+ pages of press releases will be digitized and placed online as part of a fully searchable collection documenting events major and minor in the history of the university.

Below are some photos of the painstaking process of sifting through more than 120,000 pages of documents that overtook the Riley Digitization Center in the past month. (The additional 60,000 pages were duplicates removed before scanning begins.) As digitization gets underway, we’ll update you on progress towards getting these invaluable resources online for everyone to access via the Baylor University Libraries Digital Collections.

In addition to staffers Darryl Stuhr, Allyson Riley and myself, the project received excellent efforts from a bevy of student workers:

  • Sarah Minott
  • Holly Tapley
  • Sierra Wilson
  • Leslie Zapata
  • Sannya Salim
  • Kaitlin Pleshko
  • Liz Haddad
  • Brooke Farmer
  • Macy Floyd
  • Jilli Floyd

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