Eight questions for Joseph Wakelee-Lynch

Joseph Wakelee-Lynch edits LMU, the graphically striking magazine at Loyola Marymount University in Los Angeles. And if you ask him politely, he’ll answer as many as eight questions.

How long have you been in your job?

I began working as editor at LMU in January 2006.

What has proven to be the most significant thing you had to learn to do that job?

My sister is a nun, and two of my aunts made the same choice with their lives. (In fact, a friend once introduced me this way: “This is my friend, Joe. He comes from a long line of nuns.”) So I can’t help caring about the religious ground on which LMU stands. Understanding how LMU is shaped by the mission of academic rigor and service to others of the three sponsoring religious orders of the university—the Jesuits, the nuns of the Religious of the Sacred Heart of Mary, and the Sisters of St. Joseph of Orange—really has been the most significant thing I’ve had to learn.

What has been your best experience at the magazine?

I was once a drummer in a rock band. The best part was not performing but the experience of playing with the other musicians. At LMU Magazine, the creative process involving Maureen Pacino, creative director, Jon Rou, photographer, and Kelly Fite, graphic designer, energizes me and sparks my most creative ideas. (I’m not their supervisor; we’re peers.) Working in that creative cauldron is the most satisfying part of my job.

What has proven to be your biggest frustration?

I’m not satisfied with the editorial strength of the magazine, in print and online. One big reason is the difficulty in giving the conceptualization stage the attention it deserves. Conceptualization is a process, but it’s intangible. The tangible things that must be done, however, resemble your dog that won’t stop barking till he’s fed. So your dog—which you love and, after all, are responsible for—gets fed. But to do it you spend conceptualization time, which, like money, is a limited resource. I suppose it all comes down to the many limits that restrict conceptualization.

What part of your magazine never quite satisfies you, despite everybody’s best effort?

The front of the magazine, which includes news stories. Those stories need to be framed creatively, just as features do. But because they are event-driven, they come into the process in later editorial stages, when many pressures seem to constrict the attention that we can give them.

What story are you proudest to have published?

In July 2010, we published a feature called “No One Left Behind,” about the university president’s decision in 1950 to refuse to play an away football game because the host university required Loyola to keep its African American players off the field. Most of the team’s players had passed away [by 2010], but with a lot of digging and the help of LMU’s database manager, we found enough alumni who could share their memories. The story appeared in our redesign’s launch issue and illustrated why a commitment to justice is important in education institutions as well as in individuals.

If you could commission a story from any writer in the world, who would it be?

Because I haven’t figured out how to reach Flannery O’Connor, Shusaku Endo, and Heinrich Böll, I’d invite Dennis Covington. A former New York Times reporter, he wrote “Salvation on Sand Mountain: Snake-Handling and Redemption in Southern Appalachia” in 1995. Covington sojourned into the religious backwoods of snake-handling Christians, who believe, based on Mark 16:18, that handling venomous serpents is proof of their faith. The book also becomes a diary of Covington’s journey into his own family history in Appalachia. I’d ask him to take a pilgrimage through Southern Catholicism and send me his journal.

If you weren’t an editor, what would your dream job be?

I’d be interviewing writers as host of a radio interview show. I did that for four years in the ’90s as a volunteer for a college radio station. One of the most satisfying compliments ever paid to me was from a guest who, near the end of our interview, said, “I can’t believe I’m telling you this.”

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