Tagged: auburn

UMag Inbox

cover_2 copyDigging through the tottering stack, your intrepid umagazinologist liked this cover very much, from Wellesley. So you know, that’s a red knot. (Go ahead and click the bird. You know you want to.)

Auburn Magazine had my favorite bio-in-the-deck, for profile subject Cynthia Hill: Walmart pharmacist and Peabody Award–winning filmmaker. Well, of course. One runs into those every day around here.

TCNJ Magazine from the College of New Jersey does a cool thing with their inside front cover and first page, a recurring bit called Up Front. A recent one reported the answers to the question, “What was your favorite campus concert?” and I will never understand Vanilla Ice outpolling Bruce Springsteen. That’s incomprehensible.

upfront

Nice piece from Pomona College Magazine about playwright George C. Wolfe’s contribution to the National Center for Civil and Human Rights in Atlanta. Writer Mark Wood opens this way:

Grab a stool at the old-fashioned lunch counter. Slip on a pair of earphones and press your palms to the hand outlines on the countertop. Close your eyes if you dare. A soothing Southern voice murmurs in your ear, “This your first time, right? So far, so good. You’ll be all right.” But then you hear the mob coming, surrounding you, jeering at you. “Git up!” A vicious jolt as if a ghost has kicked your stool. “If you don’t git up, boy, I’m gonna kill you.” The voice moves around you, so close you can almost feel the breath on your ear. Dishes shatter. Silverware jangles off walls. Sirens rise in the distance. Your stool is jostled again and again as the shouting engulfs you. “Kill him!” “Stomp his face!”

After 90 seconds, the chaos subsides, replaced by a woman’s voice: “What you’ve just experienced was created to honor the brave men and women who participated in the American civil rights sit-in movement.”

Playing on nostalgia for campus does not mapwork for everyone. For example, it is the rare Johns Hopkins University alumnus who looks back at his or her undergraduate years with a warm feeling of “those were the best four years of my life.” Hopkins just isn’t that sort of place. When Johns Hopkins Magazine tried to do a feature story on campus traditions in 2006, we had to scour every division and every campus and still came up so short we made up a few just to fill out the spread. All of which is a long intro to something clever in the Spring ’15 Oregon Quarterly, in which the magazine staff discovers campus plaques they’d never noticed until they starting looking for them, and explains the story behind them. They even lobby for a plaque that doesn’t exist, but ought to.

Valedictory eight questions for Betsy Robertson

Recently the alumni magazine world was stunned to learn that Betsy Robertson was stepping down as editor of Auburn Magazine to join Lane Press. OK, that’s daubing it on a bit thick, but many of us were saddened to learn that she would be departing our ranks, and if Auburn has any sense  it knows what it’s losing. Before she swept her stuff into a box and stepped away from her editor’s desk, I prevailed upon her to answer the UMagazinology questions. Best of luck, Betsy. You will be missed.

How long were you in your job?

Seven years, 10 months.

What proved to be the most significant thing you learned on the job?

Patience! When I accepted the job as editor, I wanted to knock the ball out of the park on the very first issue with better writing and story selection, artful photography, sophisticated design, and a more intuitive architecture. I brought to the table a background in higher-education publications and news media—but because I wasn’t an Auburn alumna, I needed time to study the campus culture, the staff, and the alumni audience in order to make changes that would resonate not only with the CASE competition judges but also with our most important constituency, the readers. It took nearly four years before I felt our team had truly lifted the magazine to the next level.

What was your best experience at the magazine?

Privately, I always thought that if we could break into that elite group of alumni mags that were always winning national CASE Circle of Excellence awards, then we’d know for sure we had arrived. In 2009, I was notified that we’d won not one but two silver awards for writing; two years later we were winning golds for both writing and publishing improvement. That was my Sally-Field-at-the-Academy-Awards moment. At the same time, we were receiving ever more effusive praise for our efforts from alumni (as documented in our quarterly readership surveys). I think the whole team was proud that both the readers and our professional peers had validated our hard work.

What proved to be your biggest frustration?

Lack of focus. Over the years, my job had become less about publishing a great alumni magazine and more about online content generation and revenue streams. Understand this: In college, I majored in publication management and minored in business; I have no beef with the need to increase ad sales or deliver alumni magazines in some sort of electronic format for the small percentage of readers who say they want to receive their alumni publication online only. But I oppose the increasingly prevalent notion that the Internet is the solution to every communication need (because it’s free!!!). Done on a shoestring, these new delivery methods come with hidden costs, most notably in the area of storytelling. I’m convinced that “shiny object syndrome” (we need a blog! we need an app!! we need a Facebook page!!!) keeps communications staffs from communicating in authentic, meaningful ways, and keeps alumni magazines from being the best they can be.

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

Hmmm . . .well, of course, I always wished we had the money to hire seasoned narrative nonfiction writers to provide original reporting/writing (as opposed to repurposed news releases) for every section. Barring that, I would like to have published more provocative, well-written essays in our regular back-of-the-book department, “The Last Word.” I think those one-page essay sections are a great place to introduce thoughtful commentary on social issues designed to spark debate among alumni, but we typically settled for mundane columns that simply recounted readers’ campus memories. I should have been more aggressive about choosing courageous topics and soliciting strong writing from faculty and alumni for that part of the book.

What story are you proudest to have published?

A couple of years ago we sent one of our best freelancers, as well as our chief campus photographer, to Haiti for a profile on an alumnus who is trying to establish a tilapia-production industry that he believes will bring that country’s people out of poverty. Our readers continue to reference “The Fish Farmer’s Story” as a feature that sticks in their minds. We could not have done justice to the alumnus’ work had we tried to shortcut the reporting with a phone interview and a few stock images.

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

Back in 2010, when Auburn’s football team was headed for the BCS National Championship, I actually tried to hire Sports Illustrated‘s Gary Smith on a freelance basis to write the cover story for the issue that immediately followed the game. He wasn’t able to do it, but I was pretty proud of myself for having the nerve to pursue him for the job.

If you weren’t an editor, what would your dream job be? (You are absolved from the need to say “account executive at Lane Press.”)

Ha! OK, going completely off the grid: If I were any good at math, I’d go back to school for an architecture degree. I’m fascinated by architecture, especially the way in which the built environment influences individuals’ emotions and social behavior.

Guest blogger Claude Skelton on editorial illustration

My long-time friend and Baltimore colleague Claude Skelton has written some of the most-read blog posts in UMagazinology‘s brief lifespan. Today he offers some thoughts on illustration.

A good illustration can do what a photograph can’t. For communicating difficult and abstract concepts, drawn art says more with a single image than a collection of photographs can. Illustration can be technical, serious, quirky, or silly, depending on the tone of the piece. A really good conceptual illustrator can interpret a story in ways that surprise and delight, and in the best cases, introduce a whole new spin. Take a look at these Bloomberg Businessweek covers, for example. Could a photograph demand as much immediate attention or communicate so effectively? Not likely. [Throughout the post, you can click on the images to view them larger.]

Bloomberg Businessweek cover credits: Bernanke: David Parkins (after Milton Glaser); King of Vegas Real Estate Scams: Barry Falls; Coke in Africa: Nick White; Crisis in Japan: Noma Barr; creative director: Richard Turley.

So how do you find and work with illustrators to get innovative, thoughtful results? First, familiarize yourself with the talent that’s out there. Look for great work. Don’t limit yourself to local or regional illustrators (another advantage of illustration is that artists don’t need to be on location; almost all work electronically). Use the best, most professional illustrators you can afford. Amateur or mediocre illustration reflects badly on your magazine and ultimately on your institution. Look at sites such as drawger.com, illoz.com, picturemechanics.com, or theispot.com, all of which can connect you to individual artists or artist’s reps. Another approach is to notice illustrations that grab your attention in publications you read; start a reference file with names and samples as you find art that impresses you.

As you plan a story lineup, consider illustration as part of the mix. If you’re profiling a professor or an alum, the natural default solution is to commission a photograph. An illustrated portrait, like this drawing of a disabled war veteran from Dartmouth Magazine, can add style and substance to an otherwise run-of-the-mill profile. If the work or activity of the profiled person is more to the point, illustrating that idea or topic is an effective approach. The full page image below, from Cambridge Alumni Magazine, illustrates a complex essay by a neuroscientist on movement and the brain—a far more intriguing and informative solution than a portrait of the author.

Illustration and text combine in a pop-inspired spread (above) by Design Army, Washington DC, from Kogod Now, the American University Kogod School of Business’ magazine. The article, on targeted food marketing to minority populations, is original, eye-catching, and unexpected in the context of a business school publication.

When you’re ready to choose an illustrator, think about the tone and emotion you want the story to communicate and find illustrators whose styles best fit what’s in your mind. You’ll need to be confident of the illustrator’s track record and ability to translate an idea into art. And you’ll need to sell a working concept, knowing that the illustrator will be bringing additional thinking and visual interpretation to the table.

This is a very subjective process and should never be attempted by committee. It’s a matter of trust—between publisher and editor, between editor and creative director, between creative director and artist. If approval from “above” is necessary before hiring an illustrator, you’ll be forced to justify your choice with nothing more than your idea and samples from the artist’s portfolio. It could be hard for an administrator to visualize the outcome, therefore the need for trust.

Art directors: it’s usually best to communicate a general concept and supply a draft of the story to illustrators, then wait and see what they come up with before making suggestions or over-directing. It’s your job to inspire creativity, not solve the problem. Trust your illustrator to find a solution that fits the assignment and suits his or her style. It rarely works to force a pre-conceived vision on an artist; be open to surprise and innovation and you’ll almost always get the best results.

A word on stock illustration: it is a less expensive alternative, but generally too generic to properly illustrate a feature story. Spots can liven up a news or class notes section, and stock can be a good substitute for those bland head shots that show up in faculty or alumni profiles—better to illustrate what they do (with symbol or icon) rather than what they look like (do readers care?). If stock isn’t available, original illustration can be cost effective for simple spots, drawing attention to complex, text-heavy pages (see news spread from Auburn Magazine, above).

Illustrated covers can be both challenging and satisfying. You have two big challenges: Finding the right artist for the job, and getting approval of concept, style, and budget. Then it’s working with the illustrator through sketches, revised sketches, more approvals, adjusted deadlines, and the holding of breath before the final artwork arrives. It’s the rare (and lucky) editorial staff or art director that has enough autonomy to move ahead through this process with no roadblocks. It’s the not knowing until it’s finished that can make you uneasy. What if it’s a disaster? What if readers are offended and cancel subscriptions? What if it’s just not quite what you had in mind? What if you hate it? These are the questions and fears that might keep you from taking a risk in the first place. But when that finished, original art finally appears, and your cover sings, it’s so worth it.

To illustrate my point, a few covers that sing (all very different tunes):

UMag inbox

Told you we were back.

First, congratulations to editor Amy Braverman Puma, executive editor Mary Ruth Yoe, and The University of Chicago Magazine for being the newest recipients of the Robert Sibley Award as alumni magazine of the year. I find this hard to believe, but according to my list from CASE this is Chicago‘s first Sibley since 1957. (Third overall.) Congratulations also to Cathy Shufro, who scribbled the article of the year, “The Bird-filled World of Richard Prum” for Yale Alumni Magazine.

Betsy Robertson’s crew at Auburn Magazine had some fun with their 100th anniversary issue. Love the retro cover, and a class note from the first issue a century before that recorded the hiring of alum J.M. Moore to organize “pig clubs” around the state. I’ve been to a few pig clubs, but I’ve a feeling it meant something different in this context.

Wake Forest Magazine (Cherin C. Poovey, managing editor) made its summer issue all about writing. The school counts among its literary alumni Maya Angelou and A.R. Ammons. Laura Elliott, author of young-adult historical novels,  is quoted as saying, “The fun part about being a writer is you get to pretend all the time.” Yes, you do. You get to pretend that someone, somewhere is paying attention to you, and pretend that you’re making money.

Swell cover illustration from Concordia University Magazine. Howard Bokser edits.

And while we’re on covers, a couple of killer designs from Sarah Lawrence Magazine and Middlebury Magazine. Yum.

UMag inbox—The White Album

Hi there. Were you to look, you would note that this is the first post to UMagazinology since September 22. There is good reason for that. September 22 is also the date that my 90-year-old father, who lives by himself 500 miles away in Cincinnati, fell and broke his hip. A few days later, Johns Hopkins Magazine editor Catherine Pierre gave birth to her second child (welcome to the world, Baby Olive), which meant I became interim editor of the magazine. So, shuttling back and forth to Ohio, working to care for my pop, and taking the helm of the magazine have left me more than a little dazed and confused. To work in a gratuitous Led Zeppelin reference.

Meanwhile, all of you just kept churning out magazines, damn you, creating a dangerously canted stack of neglected issues on my desk. Really, you might have been more considerate.

A quick sift of those issues reveals that the autumn of 2011 may go down in the annals of alumni magazine publishing as The Time of the White Cover. You’ve got Auburn Magazine:

You’ve got Georgetown Law:

And Rochester Review:

Plus Smith Alumnae Quarterly:

A few words about those last two. First, Rochester. Around the friendly confines of Hopkins Magazine, we like to say, “Babies are cheating.” That is, putting an infant cutie on your cover is just way too easy. C’mon, where’s the challenge? On the other hand, just look at that kid. Hell, I want to hug the magazine, much less the child. But—and I’m looking at you, editor Scott Hauser—Rochester Review really did cheat by posting four alternate covers online. Totally shameless. I would never resort to such a ploy on, say, an alumni magazine blog.

Go ahead, click on the tykes to see larger cover images. I’ll wait. (The children, by the way, are fraternal twins Oliver and Clara Bender, age 11 months.)

Regarding Smith, editor John MacMillan’s latest offering shows off the magazine’s design overhaul. The most striking change is to the cover, as you can see (that’s the last of the old design, at right). The design of the inside pages opens them up with a bit more white space and some new type treatments, but is not a radical departure from what the magazine had been doing. MacMillan has had some out-of-town responsibilities in the last day or so and could not respond to questions about his magazine’s new look, but he can add comments next week, particularly about how budget cuts factored into the redesign.

WAIT, WAIT, THIS JUST IN!

My god, it has spread to Middlebury:

And more! Williams: