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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.


One More and We’ve Got Ourselves a Trend

Aquatic covers from Richmond and Northwestern.

richmond    nw

The spring/summer issue of University of Richmond Magazine really exploits the great redesign that debuted with the previous issue, especially with an eight-page photo feature on students’ artistic pursuits by photographer Cade Martin. I’d show you some of it but don’t have a scanner big enough to scan two-page spreads from the oversized magazine, and the website is being overhauled so I can’t grab images from that. But trust me, it looks great.

Editor Matt Dewald devotes his editor’s note to all those readers not hip enough, or old enough, to realize that a headline—”The Kids Are Alright”—was an allusion to the 1979 album by The Who and not an example of editorial illiteracy. On the positive side, Dewald points out that his magazine has been getting more letters lately. Well alright alright alright.

I say! some fine essays

If you love the essay form as I do, you’ll want to turn to the current issue of Notre Dame Magazine. I believe I have already mentioned Mel Livatino’s superb “Dogged by the Dark,” but I’m going to promote it again, because it is so good. Livatino is coping with his wife’s dementia, and one way a writer copes is by writing. Here’s a sample:

One morning each week I wake up alone. On that day—typically a Wednesday—my wife is with her daughter, who takes her for a day and a half each week. Kathy has advanced dementia. She no longer knows my name or her full name; she forgets she has children and grandchildren; she does not know where we live; she no longer knows the names for such common things as kitchen, refrigerator, bedroom, grass, sky, sun. And of course she is no longer capable of conversation. So while I miss her for that day and a half, I am also glad for the time alone to think and write and read.

Those mornings when I’m alone start much the same. The room is dark when I awaken. I do not want to be awake yet, but I am, so I lie on my back and look into the dark space above the bed. That’s when the hurt begins. The hurt is brought on by a sense of aloneness. It has grown since my retirement from teaching nine years ago, which coincided with the onset of my wife’s dementia. I know as I look into the dark space of the room that this hurt will weave itself into everything I do that day. It may go undetected while I’m concentrating on something—shopping, driving, cooking, writing, reading or talking to someone—but it will be there beneath the surface. And when the day goes slack, the hurt will become palpable again.

The whole thing is that good. I am not a spiritual person—seriously, the closest I come to religious faith is the occasional diversionary joke about being a Buddhagnostic, and spiritual concerns cross my mind about as often as I wonder about the latest jai-alai scores—and “Dogged by the Dark” is a meditation on God’s love. But the quality of Livatino’s mind and prose carried me past all resistance to pondering faith.

Also worthy of your attention is “How Far We Have Come” by Art Busse. A taste:

For hundreds of thousands of years our species has evolved. Millennium upon millennium of gradual shifting in response to the ebb and flow of the natural world. A hundred thousand years of living this way, a hundred thousand years of living that way, etching patterns into our genetic codes, imprinting the attributes of generation after generation of the winners of the race to survive and the battle to breed. What effect can the last few thousand years of history have on that?

Yet here we stand on the thin ice of civilization dismissing all that dark water beneath our feet as if it didn’t exist, as if we weren’t carrying the instincts of our animal ancestry into the future in every cell of our bodies. We are the beings who came down out of the trees with rudimentary tools in our hands, fanning out from Africa to populate a world and threaten it with extinction. We’re monkeys in suits, pushing buttons, telling ourselves stories that we take to be real, inventing new weapons with which to club and hack at each other, smug in the moral delusions of culture.

We’re clever little creatures, but not clever enough to do much more with that intelligence than leverage the effects of our bad habits through technology. What they still do with clubs and knives in Africa, we in the civilized world have learned to do with gas chambers, nuclear bombs and spreadsheets, imagining wrongs that will allow us to use our cherished instruments to right.

While I’m singing Notre Dame‘s praises, I’ll mention how terrific its website looks. (Click on the image.)

And last, while on the subject of essayists, Portland‘s editor Brian Doyle has a new gig at The American Scholar. He will contribute an essay to the magazine’s website each Friday, as part of “The Daily Scholar.” (He is taking Michael Dirda’s place.) His first contribution is an introduction called “Storycatcher.” After noting some of the other Brian Doyle’s who are about in the world, he writes:

This Brian Doyle, whom I have known for 50 years, is addled by stories, and that’s what he would like to write about in this space. That’s it. He thinks stories are wild and holy and necessary and crucial and hilarious and heartbreaking and the food of our souls and our national idea. He thinks all stories with humor and substance are steps toward a world of peace and joy and all stories with greed and lies in them are slimy retreats. He’s riveted by the way people tell and speak and sing their stories, and he thinks that often the very best pieces of writing are the ones where the writer leaps out of the way of a story as it passes from teller to listener.

I too am addled and riveted by stories. I suspect we all are. It’s what keeps us in this business that promises little in the way of remuneration, esteem, or groupies. Storycatchers, indeed.

Well done, UVA

Alumni magazines are house organs, by and large, and nothing presents a challenge for editors and writers like the house in an uproar. Last June, the Board of Visitors of the University of Virginia (apparently UVA’s version of a board of trustees) peremptorily fired university president Theresa Sullivan. (Technically, Sullivan resigned, but not because she wanted to.) Within days, pretty much everyone in the university community—faculty, staff, students, alumni—rose in revolt sufficient to force the board to reverse itself and reinstate Sullivan. As institutional messes go, this one does not rank with Penn State’s child sexual abuse scandal, but still it generated a lot of news coverage of the sort no university wants.

Many of us wondered what The University of Virginia Magazine would do with the story. The answer came with the magazine’s fall issue: Virginia did the right thing. The magazine devoted its entire feature well to “17 Days in June: From Resignation to Reinstatement,” and thoroughly reported what had ensued with integrity as well as laudable thoroughness, candor, and neutrality.

In 36 pages, Virginia recounted  the events of June 10 to June 29 (OK, a day or two more than 17, but I think the editors were counting the days from Sullian’s resignation to the board’s reinstatement of her.) The magazine published a sampling of the protest signs, a photo spread of the turmoil, a page of analysis of the school’s financial situation (which played a role in the aborted dismissal of the president), a think piece on what public universities are struggling to cope with these days by former Chronicle of Higher Education staffer Elyse Ashburn, and an octet of essays by faculty members, the executive vice president and provost, a student, and an alum. (The Penn Stater and Virginia may now have established a spectrum of essays as the editorial method for dealing with big institutional controversies.) The magazine also gave the principal antagonists in this story, President Sullivan and Helen Dragas, rector of the board, two pages each for their statements; Sullivan penned a two-page perspective and Dragas submitted to a Q&A.

Like Harvard, Johns Hopkins, and other similar periodicals, Virginia takes a sober, earnest approach to making a magazine. So there’s not much here that conveys the emotional heat of those troubling days on the UVA campus. But that’s a quibble. I think the top of Virginia‘s masthead—Robert Viccellio, Sierra Bellows, and Molly Minturn—deserve credit for the magazine they put out.