From Paper Copy to Blogging from Abroad: A Comprehensive History of The COMmunicator

Whether you’re reading The COMmunicator because you’ve worked on staff in the past, your friend or family member writes for it, or you just enjoy hearing updates on the department, have you ever wondered how it all began? Thanks to a few renowned professors, some dedicated students, and a lot of hard work, The COMmunicator has developed into one of the most valuable attributes of the PR, Advertising, and Mass Communication department. 

Professor Ed Downes 

Downes worked in the communication industry for 10 years, where part of his work included writing newsletters. Around 1998, when the Journalism and Film and Television departments at BU’s College of Communication already had a newsletter, the chairman at the time asked Downes if he would start one for the PR, Advertisement, and Mass Communication department. Thanks to Ed Downes, The COMmunicator was born – but it looked very different from the student-led website we know and love today.  

Professor Ed Downes

“It was just a paper newsletter – just a paper copy! It would come out maybe twice a year. It wasn’t a bad newsletter, it was a good newsletter… for the time!” Downes added humorously.  

Besides being a print source, Downes noted another major difference between today’s version of The COMmunicator and the one he started: Downes only worked with one student at a time each semester. Much like the way a graduate student works closely with a professor, one student was responsible for producing all of the stories in a semester, working with Downes as a mentor and editor. 

“The highlight was getting to work with one student, who gained a brilliant experience producing a newsletter,” Downes said. Today, The COMmunicator has about 35 members each semester and a comprehensive team of staff writers, editors, an editor-in-chief, a managing editor, photographers, vloggers, social media correspondents, and more: all eligible to receive school credit for their work. This list doesn’t even include the students who work on The COMmunicator as volunteers, meaning the staff is even larger at times. 

Professor Downes, 2012

Downes laid the incredible foundation for the success of this newsletter. In 2009, about 11 years after its start, it was time to switch things up and transition to the world of online publishing. It was in this year that Professor Dorothy Clark, a professor at BU since 1989 and Downes’ friend and colleague of 20 years, took over leadership and launched The COMmunicator online. 

The COMmunicator, print version

“What I did was good. It was solid. It was fine for the time. But of course, right now you need an updated presentation, and Dotty [Clark] has just done a magnificent job with that,” Downes noted. Since 2009, The COMmunicator has been an online newsletter and publication that has taken the PR, Advertisement, and Mass Communication department by storm. 

Professor Dorothy Clark

When she was first asked to take over The COMmunicator, Clark was hesitant. She knew that she would want to revamp the entire program and elevate its performance in ways it had never experienced before. But Downes noted that ever since taking over, Clark has had immense “enthusiasm, excitement, and commitment about it.”

“What is this, 1910? What are we doing!” Clark light-heartedly teased regarding the original print COMmunicator. But she didn’t manage to kick off the online newsletter entirely on her own. 

Professor Dorothy Clark

Clark noted two BU students in particular who applied their talent and passion to kickstart The COMmunicator into becoming what it is today. Puneet Sandhu, who now works as a PR director for content for tech brands in London, and DJ Capobianco, who Clark described as “a walking Google,” were major contributors.

Sandhu, the first editor-in-chief of The COMmunicator online, was a public relations major and BU graduate in 2010. Sandhu was a student of Clark’s and, as a dedicated and talented writer, she played an integral role in developing The COMmunicator. In fact, she vividly remembers anxiously waiting in an unused computer lab when it launched online for the first time.  

Puneet Sandhu, COM 2010

“After many long weeks of work, we were close to launching the online edition, and we were all feeling excited about seeing The COMmunicator in its new avatar soon. Some of us went out to celebrate with Professor Clark after that too!” Sandhu said. 

Clark inherited Sandhu as a student from Downes, as she was next in line to work one-on-one with him on the print publication. At this time, Clark was still only working with two students on The COMmunicator

“It was like one of those teenage plots where you see clips of friends getting together to talk about something,” Clark described, referring to her lunches, dinners, and brainstorming meetings she had with these two original students. 

A few years after the online launch, it became clear that this growing newsletter needed additional writers, editors, and leadership. Beyond Pandhu, there was only one managing editor and several students writing. Cultivating story ideas, writing, editing, planning, and posting was too demanding a job for the small team. 

DJ Capobianco, COM 2010

Around 2011, Clark added editors to the team, so that each editor would be responsible for a few writers. With the help of Sandhu and Capobianco, Clark pulled in several students from her BU writing classes to grow the team. This development of a diverse staff handling different items and the overall division of labor was a major change to The COMmunicator’s dynamic. 

The COMmunicator Today

For the roughly 11 years that Downes led The COMmunicator, the written content was a reflection of the Advertising, Mass Communication, and Public Relations department, just like it is today. However, during this time, there was a greater emphasis on publishing profiles of professors from the department. Today, the emphasis is on students. 

The COMmunicator has changed dramatically, but we still cover events, and profiles of people, even though it is more student-focused now,” Clark said. In addition to the more diverse profiles of alumni and notable students and events, Clark has also integrated photo essays, Q and A’s, podcasts, and social media posts. One of the most notable developments to The COMmunicator, however, is the Terriers Abroad segment of the website. 

“One of the first things I thought would be important to add was bloggers from abroad,” Clark added. Now called Terriers Abroad, this was one of the first additions Clark made to the online platform – allowing communication students to share the ins and outs of their study abroad experience. Tara Thompson, a former managing editor and 2019 COM graduate, specifically recalls the impact of the Terriers Abroad segment. 

“I recall several really fantastic abroad bloggers – who always made me laugh or feel hungry with their awesome photos,” Thompson said. Unfortunately, study abroad (and The COMmunicator’s coverage of it) has been on hold  since the COVID-19 outbreak. Despite the unfortunate circumstances, The COMmunicator has pivoted and continued to push out content. 

“We got more cozy and comfort food stories!” Clark said in regard to the current pandemic’s effect on coverage. Behind the scenes, the participants of The COMmunicator have worked hard to adapt to covering stories that normally would not be featured, while still maintaining the integrity of the publication and featuring COM related stories. 

“My goal has always been to be current, to be lively, and to use more and more multimedia,” Clark noted, alongside her belief of the importance of maintaining consistency year to year. And with stories like hot chocolate tours, recipes in quarantine, and podcasts, Clark and the writers have definitely met their goal to be lively and current, even in the midst of a global crisis. 

“Professor Clark has been a true and talented superstar developing the newsletter; truly, her insight and leadership on it – after I passed it along to her many years ago – have been phenomenal,” Downes noted, beaming about his friend. This beloved professor, director, and friend to many, alongside Downes and the hundreds of students who have been involved, are the reason The COMmunicator holds such value to this day. 

“She’s served our department, COM, and beyond through her vision, making the newsletter a glowing representation of our department – and, in doing so, has given the wonderful gift of her leadership to so many students who, through their hard work, helped to develop The COMmunicator,” Downes said.

Greta Holtzman, Staff Writer

Greta Holtzman grew up in St. Louis, Missouri and is now a sophomore studying public relations. As someone who has always enjoyed writing, she is thrilled to be involved in the COMmunicator. In her free time, Greta loves doing ballet, developing her knowledge in makeup and skincare, and trying new restaurants in Boston!

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