Category: Eight Questions

Eight questions for Margot Grisar

Margot Grisar is design director for a half-dozen magazines at Tufts University. Which does not explain how she had time to respond to the UMagazinology designer questionnaire. Just one more person more productive than me.

tuftspigHow long have you been in your present job?

I’ve been at Tufts for almost 16 years, and have worked exclusively on the university’s six alumni magazines for almost 10.

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

Being the lead designer was new to me when I came to Tufts. I had to create the vision for the magazines as well as guide other designers in the expression of that vision. I had wise design mentors and studied other magazines. For me it became about telling Tufts’ story. Creating a visual experience that gets across the tone and mood of each article, as well as creating an overall connection to the university are my principal goals.

What has proven to be your biggest frustration?

It’s been challenging working with minimal budgets, a lean staff and shifting timelines.

Is there a cover or story spread that you are particularly proud of?

beeI’m the most proud of the recent redesign of our family of magazines. (I collaborated with Kelly McMurray and her team at 2communiqué). A few examples are: The pig plate cover about sustainable cuisine is still my favorite cover of Tufts Magazine. This was the inaugural cover (Fall 1014), created by 2communiqué. This cover started a trend of creating stand-alone iconic, quirky, bright, and compelling images on Tufts Magazine covers. Another standout is the bee cover for the urban bee-keeping story. spreadThe concept came from Laura McFadden, illustration by Neil Webb. We also teased an animated version of the cover on social media. I’d also include the Tufts Magazine feature opener for a stunning profile about poet Patrick Mahoney coming back from a near fatal bicycle accident. Bay area photographer Timothy Archibald captured Patrick’s personality beautifully. The soda grenade cover on the latest issue of Tufts Nutrition magazine was a true collaboration among design, editorial and photography. The cover story, about the dangers of sugary beverages, generated many ideas.grenade Designer Betsy Hayes’ concept—a grenade made of sugar cubes—is the one we landed on. Editor-in-chief John Wolfson suggested changing it to a soda can grenade to emphasize consuming sugar in a drink. I worked closely with photographer Christopher Harting to bring our vision to life.

As a designer, what part of your magazine are you never quite satisfied with?

The back of the book gets filled with institutional news. Sometimes the section can get text heavy, interrupted only occasionally with rather staid images. It’s hard to keep it visually dynamic. I encourage the addition of lively short pieces and introduce white space and graphic elements when possible.

What other magazine, alumni or otherwise, do you admire for its design?

Nautilus is my new favorite science magazine. I am a longtime admirer of The New York Times Magazine, Texas Monthly, Uppercase, Vanity Fair, More . . . I could go on and on!

If you could hire for a story any illustrator in the world, who would it be? And photographer?

I am continually thrilled that I get to work with such bright, creative illustrators and photographers. A couple of illustrators I haven’t had the chance to work with yet are Eric Drooker and photo-illustrator Dan Saelinger.

If you were not a magazine art director, what would be your dream job?

As a lifelong book devourer, I find designing and art directing well-crafted prose to be a pretty sweet gig. But I’d love to be an illustrator, painter, or fabric designer. I studied printmaking and painting in art school and fell into design as a way to make a living.

 

Eight Questions for Leslie Stainton

findingsThe long-time editor of Findings, from the University of Michigan School of Public Health, responds to the UMagazinology questionnaire. Check the answer to the third question for a senior administrator we’d all kill for.

How long have you been in your job?

Seventeen years. I took the job because I was desperate to escape a corporate editorial gig, never dreaming I’d stay longer than a year or two. Despite its rather bland name, public health turns out to one of the most interesting fields there is — rarely a day goes by that it doesn’t make news somewhere. My husband says I can never quit  my job because if I did, what would he talk about at cocktail parties?

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

How to tease compelling stories from scientists who are inherently (and rightly) cautious about making big claims.

 What has been your best experience at the magazine?

Two things, really. More than a decade’s work with a terrific designer who’s smart, irreverent, curious, passionate, driven, deeply collaborative, and who shares my taste in scotch. The second is autonomy, of the sort few (I suspect) university magazine editors enjoy. Earlier this year I thanked my boss for the long leash she’s given me. “What leash?” she asked. It’s true.

 What has proven to be your biggest frustration?

A consistently paltry budget for freelance, coupled with no associate staff editors or writers. Our admins seem content with mostly one voice, mine.

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

The absence of a wide range of other voices in the magazine. (See “biggest frustration,” above.)

 What story are you proudest to have published?

A feature about a nurse, Elenita Congco, who was viciously attacked on the job by a psychiatric patient. During our interview, Elenita spoke at great length about the terrible ongoing impact of her trauma. The day after I finished drafting the story, I learned that she had died — most likely as a result of issues related to the attack. She was maybe 50. In effect, I’d gotten her last testament. What I didn’t know was that one of Elenita’s nieces was an SPH alumna. The niece wrote to us after we’d published the story to say how grateful she and her family were. Painful as the story was, without it they would not have known what Elenita was thinking and feeling in her last days. It’s hard to imagine our work getting much more important or meaningful than that.

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

Adam Gopnik (what can’t he write brilliantly about?).  Brian Doyle (imagine his spin on cardiovascular disease). Rebecca Solnit (few are better at speaking the truth to power).

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

I’d still like to work in the professional theater, probably as a dramaturg. I’m guessing that’s an option you haven’t heard before.

Eight questions for Dan Morrell

bulletin_cover_2014_septemberDan Morrell edits the fine HBA Alumni Bulletin out of the Harvard Business School. He’s also one-third of Dog Ear Consultants, with Maureen Harmon and Patrick Kirchner, and a participant in DogBlog, which is among my RSS feeds despite their irritating habit of publishing posts that I wish I’d written.

How long have you been in your job?

Two years in January.

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

That you have to work like there isn’t a ceiling. A lot of jobs have a definite endpoint, and that’s fine. But we’ve been able to pursue a number of things here—a redesign, tablet editions, multimedia production—in a short amount of time because we have the energy and the will to do so. This has a lot to do with an incredibly supportive management team, of course, who provide us with a net. (And who read this blog when they aren’t busy being the greatest bosses on the planet. Wink.)

It takes awhile to feel comfortable enough to push for those kinds of changes, of course. But living through a few awkward moments so you can make some real gains seems like a fine trade to me.

What has been your best experience at the magazine?

Making our first video. We’ve done some awesome stories, for sure. But video production was foreign to most of us on staff. So we invested some serious time to learning the form and using the equipment, and in a year or so—while still doing everything else that we have to do—we got to a point where we could produce a useful, 45-second video profile. (Note: This came after producing several slightly-less-useful 45-second videos.) This sounds incredibly small and the video won’t win any awards, but it was an eye-opening triumph for us. [Here’s one to gander.]

What has proven to be your biggest frustration?

Photo shoots. And perhaps it’s not fair to call it my frustration, because it’s mostly the frustration of our fantastic art directors (Erin Mayes and Kate Collins of EmDash). Because we shoot a lot of executives and executives have minders whose job it is to defend their calendars, our June issue had two photo shoots—both features, one a cover—for which we were given a combined total of 21 minutes to shoot. (Yes, we were given six minutes for one of them. Which, admittedly, is slightly better than five.) Then there’s the complexity: Recent cover shoots have forced us to navigate through territory in Nigeria controlled by Boko Haram and wait out stability in post-election Afghanistan. I always promise EmDash that the next cover will be an accountant in some sleepy American town, but that never seems to happen.

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

Front of the book. Specifically our news section. I don’t think we do ‘digestible’ well enough yet. Or service, for that matter.

What story are you proudest to have published?

There’s been two—one for personal reasons, one for professional. The first is a story I had been working on as a freelancer for a year or so before I came here, that I ended up publishing in the magazine. (Just happened that a key player in the story was an alum.) I felt like it was a really important story to tell about Big Pharma—this unassuming maverick who wanted to change the industry, and this little kid with a mortal disease who was the impetus for the whole movement. It wasn’t mission journalism, but I certainly wasn’t unhappy that the story resulted in some positive attention for the family of the ill child. The second was a story we did on two Nigerian alums who were working in agriculture and trying to fight Africa’s dependence on imported food. There are potentially huge implications for the global food crisis, and it was an ambitious topic to throw our arms around. But I think we did a decent job. Plus, the Nigerian ag minister requested “a few copies for his library,” which we thought was pretty cool.

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

William Langewiesche. But that fantasy would probably be best left a fantasy. He’d give me 50,000 words for a 1,500-word profile or come in weeks late, and then I’d get mad and throw out all of my William Langewiesche trading cards.

I guess I’ve grown a bit disenchanted with the longform movement, though. I told a friend recently that longform journalists are fast becoming the jazz artists of the ’70s—we’re like a year away from one of them declaring they are actually from the future or came to earth from a distant, funkier planet.

Mostly, I just want writers who have passion for the work. Hungry types. People who like to hunt and make those three extra phone calls because they know that is what it will take to make the story better. Francis Storrs of the Boston Globe magazine is a favorite. I’d love to work with my friend Sasha Issenberg someday, too. He’s always the smartest kid in the room, but not much into navel-gazing.

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

Burrito critic.

Eight questions for Jesse Tuel

vtbaldycoverJesse Tuel edits Virginia Tech Magazine, which makes him vulnerable to the UMagazinology questionnaire.

How long have you been in your job?

I started in February 2010, so nearly four years.

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

Weighing and responding to story ideas has been a learning experience. I moved from a smaller, regional university to an institution with global ambitions and the research dollars to match, and I still find the scale of activity to be mind-boggling. Cover story ideas have a way of waltzing in and grabbing an editor by the lapels and demanding coverage. In other words, cover stories, at least for me, seem to naturally rise to the top of the heap. In my previous position, the sifting was simpler because there were far fewer cover-worthy concepts walking through the door. Now I see them every single day. They line up at my door, agitated and shaking their fists, all with legitimate claims to in-depth features.

Developing a framework for story selection—factoring in editorial instincts, survey results, university priorities, the tiers of coverage from news briefs to features, and some semblance of balance across disciplines and topics—was paramount. The framework isn’t rigid, though. We have wiggle room for the cool stuff. When I heard that the university president punched the commandant of cadets in an 1878 faculty meeting, I knew we had a cover story on our hands.

What has been your best experience at the magazine?

feature3-football2Back in 2010, I wondered what happened to the air molecules inside a football when the ball was thrown or kicked, but the magazine didn’t have a way to field that question. So we launched a section called “How Tech Ticks,” investigating the inner workings of the university. A physics professor explained what happened inside the ball, and the football team’s legendary equipment manager described the life cycle of a single ball in a given season. Meanwhile, one of our photographers scoured the Internet for a sound trigger to set off his flashes, and we captured photos of a fully inflated football bending like a kidney bean around the starting kicker’s foot as the player blasted several dozen balls into the rafters of the darkened practice facility.

I’m equally as gratified by our analytics. In addition to our regular use of the CASE survey, we commissioned a professor to investigate reader behavior in the print and online environments. Published earlier this year in the Marketing Letters journal, the study finds that our print readers have greater prompted and unprompted recall of content. The findings complement the CASE survey’s indications of print vs. online preferences, because we’ve now quantified precisely how effective the investment in a print magazine can be.

What has proven to be your biggest frustration?

If I could change one thing, I’d have a dedicated line item in the budget for freelancing and travel expenses. Such requests are funded on a case-by-case basis out of the unit’s operations budget, and because we’re fortunate enough to have writers and photographers on campus and on staff, I’m more likely to rely on in-house talent. We still produce a quality magazine that resonates with readers—and survey results bear that out—but the funding too often influences editorial choices. Can a staff writer get to D.C. to profile an alumnus? Do we abandon a profile of an alumna on the West Coast because her submitted photographs are terrible?

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

For its versatility and creative potential, the aforementioned “How Tech Ticks” section is my favorite. At times, though, the execution falls a little flat. A piece on the logistics of commencement read as a recitation of facts rather than an investigation into, say, how much the black gown raises a graduate’s body temperature. Imagine the football-and-physics piece without the physics professor’s input. In other instances, we may have a good handle on the science, but the art doesn’t quite match what I first saw in my head.

vtspreadWhat story are you proudest to have published?

In the 1960s, a mechanical engineering professor invented an infant respirator that saved the lives of hundreds of newborns suffering from respiratory distress syndrome. In 1970, Life magazine captured one such newborn in her father’s arms. For the fall 2012 edition, we located her in Idaho and flew her back with her father for a reunion with the retired professor. Moreover, the professor’s ingenuity rubbed off on his students—one of whom is now a pediatrician and professor working with current undergraduates to create and commercialize medical devices for children. On the surface, the article stands on its own merits, which I take pride in. Secondarily, though, I’m also pleased that the story happens to touch upon all five of the university’s brand drivers in a subtle, organic fashion. I think university and alumni magazine editors often encounter the tension between literary-minded storytelling and the aims of marketing and fundraising—or, perhaps, perceive tension where it needn’t exist, in a nod to the spot-on assessment of several esteemed editors that pocketbooks follow hearts and minds—so I, for one, was delighted to present a story that covered all the bases.

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

That’s a doozy of a question. Do I have to pick one? Edward Abbey for anything outdoorsy. David Foster Wallace for his sentence structure. Tim Ferriss for his sense that anything’s possible. Studs Terkel for an alumni profile. Hunter S. Thompson for the power of his voice. I’m reading a lot of Grantland right now, so Zach Lowe for his snark and depth. Nikki Giovanni, because she’s on the faculty here and how in the world have I waited this long to ask her to write for the magazine?

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

I still like to pretend that I could train for a full year and land a spot on a semi-professional basketball team’s bench, but Benjamin Button and I are going in opposite directions . . . and then there’s my talent level. Other likely career paths, in no particular order: professor, novelist, architect, gym owner, nutrition expert, stay-at-home dad, world-traveler, professional dilettante. I probably ended up as a storyteller because I like to dabble and dream.

Eight questions for Laura Demanski

uchicoverLaura Demanski is coming up on her first anniversary as editor of The University of Chicago Magazine. We celebrate the occasion by getting her answers to the UMagazinology questionnaire, which she completed from her sickbed. Now that’s an alumni magazine trooper.

How long have you been in your job?

I’m a month shy of one year at the magazine. For seven years before that, I worked as a writer and editor of other alumni communications for the University of Chicago, including our twice-yearly college supplement, The Core.

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

Remembering to stop and think. On an eight-week cycle, the issue on deadline demands so much, and it’s tempting to give it every second you have. It feels like every five minutes of work you can put in will make it better in some concrete, measurable way. Meanwhile time spent chasing down a story idea for an issue to be published months away may be a dead end, but it has to be done. I’ve had to train myself to borrow time from the most immediate tasks to research potential story leads, read the alumni and faculty books that come in, and, sometimes, just sit and think.

What has been your best experience at the magazine?

No question, it’s coming in every day to work with a staff that’s highly invested in the publication and in each other. Everyone who works on the magazine is imaginative, smart, hard-working, and funny. We crack each other up. I love that.

What has proven to be your biggest frustration?

I’d like to write more. I’m hoping that the better I learn the job and the more stories we can lay in for future issues, the more I can contribute as a writer, especially features—and hoping I remember how. I also dislike turning down good work that isn’t right for us.

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

I’m not sure there’s any one section that consistently vexes us. I’d like to find more of a groove with the editor’s notes, which can be so inviting when done well. Tina Hay’s notes in The Penn Stater and our executive editor Mary Ruth Yoe’s notes when she edited the magazine are both models for me—poignant without hitting you over the head with it, easy to read, and funny. I always remember a line from Mary Ruth’s notes on jigsaw puzzles: “Some people—my younger daughter and I, for example—like to do jigsaws. Other people—my older daughter and the dog—don’t. ” How could you stop reading after that?

What story are you proudest to have published?

That’s a tough one, even with just five issues under my belt. I’m always proud to publish anything by our talented associate editors, Jason Kelly and Lydia Gibson—Jason’s profile of Martin Luther King Jr.’s mentor Benjamin Mays and Lydia’s story about investor William Browder and the murder of his lawyer Sergei Magnitsky stand out. I was also delighted with freelancer Michael Washburn’s profile of Caitlin Doughty and the attention it received, including on UMagazinology. But since I commissioned it, I’ll say an alumni essay by Jessica Burstein, “Academic Envy,” her first and hopefully not last piece for us. It struck a chord with many academics, among our alumni and beyond, and has a voice all its own.

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

I’m drawn to writers who glory in the details. John McPhee and Lawrence Weschler spring to mind.

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

Something with more numbers, but still with words too. I was a member of the National Puzzlers League for years, which trades mainly in word puzzles but is full of mathematicians. Since I can’t say editor of The New York Times crossword puzzle within the bounds of your question, I’ll go with puzzle constructor or formalist poet.