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So long for now

I need to take a few moments to make formal what should already have been apparent—UMagazinology has been put on hiatus. Actually, I’m moving it from simple neglect to hiatus status. Two reasons. One, it has become increasingly hard for me to find the time to devote to doing the job properly. Second, I think I’ve said just about everything I have to say. If you’ve been a reader here, and read my posts on CUE over the years, and heard me speak at conferences like the Editors Forum…well, you’ve heard it. Heard it multiple times, I fear. I’m keen on not boring you and I’ve started to bore myself.

So I’m going to mothball this project for a bit while I ponder a way forward that does justice to all of your magazines and your work and is also feasible for me. If I find a method for continuing, I’ll resume the blog; nothing here will disappear, we’re not shuttering the place, but we are spreading sheets on the furniture and turning off the water so the pipes don’t corrode. Thank you for reading all these years, thank you for your contributions, and thank you for the good work you do. Bye for now.

Best letter ever

We at Johns Hopkins Magazine have begun to receive reader responses to our theme issue. To refresh your memory, that would be The Fun Issue. Best letter so far, and I can’t imagine receiving a better one in the days ahead:

To the editor,

I would like to say that the Johns Hopkins Magazine “The Fun Issue” was very funny. I have said that because usually I do not pick up or read any magazine even the monthly “Highlights.” I liked the uncertified gender snowman, the 21 banjo players, and the men in the pool suspected to be running away from the banjo club. There are a few more things that are a tiny bit funny, but those are the main ones.


Eric _______, age 8

We’re going to send that kid a T shirt, and an application for early admission.

Return of the expat


Wellesley Magazine‘s spring issue carries an essay worthy of your attention. “Not All Here” is foreign correspondent Paula Butturini’s graceful pondering of the experience of returning to the United States after 32 years abroad in London, Madrid, London, Rome, Warsaw, Berlin, Rome, and Paris.

“Lucky you,” people often respond when they ask where we’ve lived. I’m always the first to agree. But I never know how to answer when they follow up with the inevitable, “What’s it like to be home?”

My gut response—a puzzled-sounding “Home?”—tends not to go down well. But the fact is I haven’t felt at home since we moved back, and didn’t expect I would.

Butturini returns to a country much changed.

Perhaps it’s the sea changes in American life that explain my unease. Who sent our factory jobs to the developing world while I was gone, our secretarial and administrative jobs to customers’ home computers? When did poisonous party politics replace public discourse? Who canonized a new class of oligarchs and decreed that stratospheric wealth was a heavenly nod from the Creator? When did public civility and civic obligation become quaint? How can white police shootings of young black men be back in the news, half a century after Selma—the march, not the movie?

I like this paragraph, too, and am in the author’s debt for introducing me to a German term I immediately embraced:

My husband suggests that we may be missing what the Germans call Idiotenfreiheit, or the freedom enjoyed by idiots, the insane, a freedom that can apply to foreigners as well. Foreigners living outside their home country often enjoy a large measure of psychological freedom; they may be treated much the same way a country treats its own citizens who are not quite “all there.”

Idiotenfreiheit indeed.

I’m all for more essays in university magazines. We’re the perfect place for them. And Wellesley did something else I like here, which was use four pages for a two-page essay. The first two pages are devoted to a graphic opener — illustration on first page, head and deck on the second, the essay text on pages three and four. Would like to see more of that.


Editors Forum Bulletin #1

Interesting pre-conference session with social media expert Sree Sreenivasan. He advocates greater use of LinkedIn as a publishing platform, which he says is what they are striving to become. Post links to stories in the magazine, or even post the full text of the story itself. There are no length limits like on Twitter or Facebook.

A few other interesting bits:

— Regarding posts on Facebook or Twitter, from the late David Carr: Before you hit “send,” reread what you intend to post through your boss’ eyes, and through the eyes of your boss’ bosses.

— Do everything on social media with intentionality. These are serious professional tools, but you will not use them well if you do not have clear intent guiding your posts.

— Another reason to consider the above: Every Facebook post, every tweet, is an invitation to unfollow you. Do not waste people’s time or attention.

— Make connections now that you might need later. Do not make your first connection an ask—I need a favor, could you please do something, etc.

— Make use of Throwback Thursday on Facebook to link to past content.

— In significant ways, who follows you on Twitter is less important than who follows the people who follow you. You can achieve tremendous reach if an influential follower of yours RTs something or favorites it.

That’s all for now. Further bulletins as events warrant.


A toothsome challenge facing university magazine editors is how to keep it all moving forward. Lurching forward. Trundling along toward print-it-bind-it-box-it-mail-it. We don’t have populous staffs, we work with subjects who have no sense of urgency because their idea of a tight book deadline is six years down the road, we have to coordinate production of class notes and design and photography and illustration and proofing and, oh yeah, those damned stories from overcommitted writers.

I’ve been trying to figure out how to keep everyone on track to meet our print date without becoming a nag. My only progress on that project has been to become not a nag, just naggish. Not a great solution.

What feels like a semblance of a method is to concentrate on moving at least one part of the issue forward at least one step every day. That alone will not get you to the finish on time, but it will cut down on those days when you make no progress at all. Moving one thing forward one step might be a matter of making a single decision about a photo or assignment, conferring with one colleague about how a story is progressing or the layout on a feature spread, making a couple of calls to check on the status of an interview. Or it could be clearing six hours in the day and getting that feature edit done. At your university, the magazine will be the top priority of only one person—you. For everyone else, your magazine is way down their list of urgent concerns. So one step every day becomes important.

Recently there was a subreddit—I actually know what that means now—on productivity in creative work. Someone signed on as “Ryan” offered this awkwardly phrased but pungent bit of counsel:

Rule numero uno—there are no more zero days. What’s a zero day? A zero day is when you don’t do a single fucking thing towards whatever dream or goal or want or whatever that you got going on. No more zeros. I’m not saying you gotta bust an essay out every day, that’s not the point. The point I’m trying to make is that you have to make yourself, promise yourself, that the new SYSTEM you live in is a NON-ZERO system. Didn’t do anything all fucking day and it’s 11:58 PM? Write one sentence. One pushup. Read one page of that chapter. One. Because one is non-zero. You feel me? When you’re in the super vortex of being bummed your pattern of behavior is keeping the vortex going, that’s what you’re used to. Turning into productivity ultimate master of the universe doesn’t happen from the vortex. It happens from a massive string of CONSISTENT NON-ZEROS. That’s rule number one. Do not forget.

Have a non-zero day.