It could be said that with more than 10 years under her belt as a reporter and features editor for the Grunion Gazette in Long Beach, Amy Bentley-Smith, the winner of the Exemplary Achievement Award at this year’s inaugural Staff Awards of Excellence, has the pulse on all the news that fit to print—or post —about California State University, Dominguez Hills.
“Covering events and city meetings, and writing profiles on local people for the Grunion taught me that it’s all about sharing, informing, and helping people feel connected with where they live,” she says. “They want to know about what’s going on or read about good things they or their neighbors are doing. In that way, you develop community in the truest sense of the word.”
Since becoming the media relations specialist for the university in 2007, Bentley-Smith has expanded the media presence of CSU Dominguez Hills in print press, radio, and television. Her work was a significant factor in presenting the university’s 50th anniversary to the public, during which she achieved approximately 400 media placements.
“I wish it had been more, in all honesty,” Bentley-Smith says of the coverage on CSU Dominguez Hills related to the 18-month celebration and its events. “Those who organized all the events associated with the anniversary really deserve the credit though, because they put on something worth promoting. I just assisted with getting the information out to the local community as best I could. However, I will say I am proud of the front-page coverage we got in the Daily Breeze during that time, such as our commencements, the opening of the nursing skills lab, and also that ABC-7 came out—with their helicopter—to cover the student flash mob dance.”
Bentley-Smith has also established the university’s presence on such social media sites as Facebook and Twitter. She says that social networking is not only an important tool for immediate communication with students, but also with a steadily growing number of alumni, prospective students, and the community-at-large. She notes that social media has enhanced the way that these contingents receive information from their university, as well as share their own stories and opinions.
“What is different about these platforms is the direct connection they allow a university to have with those constituents,” she says. “We’re also able to reach our audience and share our message immediately, and get feedback on what they think is important or where they think we need improvement just as quickly.”
Bentley-Smith says that while she has a working knowledge of what kinds of leads reporters and editors want, there is a certain finesse required to pitching a story on CSU Dominguez Hills.
“My experience as a reporter gives me some knowledge of what reporters’ daily workloads are like and how inundated they are with requests to cover this or that,” she says. “I won’t pretend to know exactly what reporters and editors want, but I do understand they need a good hook to the piece, a reason why the news I want to share matters to their readership. It should have a good local angle affecting a local or current issue, or feature someone interesting. Also having been on the news side of things, I understand their need to get the full story and verify information—usually on very tight deadlines. So another key part of getting our name out there is being responsive when reporters call.”
Bentley-Smith says that media placements that establish CSU Dominguez Hills as a leader adds to the success of the institution, its students, faculty, and alumni.
“It creates buzz, and people want to be a part of that,” she says. “Whenever a newspaper writes about an event we have on campus or something positive we’re doing toward student achievement, or features one of our alumni, or seeks the expert opinions of our faculty, it helps generate more pride in the university.”
Bentley-Smith is a native of Shreveport, La., and moved to Long Beach when she was in high school. She earned her Bachelor of Arts degree in English from CSU Long Beach. She enjoys travel, literature and running; she recently completed her third half marathon in June and is currently training for the Las Vegas Rock and Roll Half Marathon in December.
She says she was touched to receive the nominations for the Staff Awards of Excellence and even more so that the selection committee and the university president and cabinet also believed her work at CSU Dominguez was deserving of the Exemplary Achievement Award. But, she joked, that such an award raises the bar for her on the job.
“Winning this award is both a blessing and a curse, in a way,” she says. “It’s very nice to be recognized, although I shy away from the sort of thing normally. And the extra money is certainly appreciated.
“But in a way, it’s like, ‘How do I top this?’ That said, there’s always that next level.”