Tagged: case

Vicki Glembocki II

Part II of my brief email exchange with Vicki Glembocki about her upcoming CASE Editors Forum presentation  “Are You ‘Just Another Alumni Magazine?’” If you missed the first part, scroll down and read that first.

Dale Keiger: I have noticed that a strange reluctance to assert the individual character of the school extends to the admissions office. I think your test of blocking out identifying magazine text and then trying to guess the identity of the school would yield the same results if applied to so much of what our admissions people send out. Every school wants to look like an idyllic sanctuary for the pursuit of knowledge set somewhere on 500 pastoral acres with well-tended ivy and a generic student body. Why do you think colleges and universities are so timid about establishing a distinct identity?

Vicki Glembocki: I don’t claim to know what’s going on in the minds of those admissions people. But I actually think the problem might be that the people who are “selling” the school just don’t spend enough time really thinking through what their identity actually is. They think about what they want to be. Or what will look appeal to the broadest audience. Or what will appeal to the audience of their biggest competitor. And, let’s face it—it’s so . . . much . . . easier to just do what the other guy does. And safer. And institutional-er. But admissions offices and alumni magazines have totally different customers, so to speak. We aren’t selling an unknown quantity like they are. We’re selling a known quantity. So we need to really know that quantity. In fact, I’d argue that we need to know it better, even, than the admissions people if we want our readers to open the magazine (and their check books . . . because let’s be real here . . . )

DK: Can you cite examples of alumni magazines that work counter to this blandness?That in your view do a better job of being distinctly reflective of their unique institutions? [I can hunt down some digital examples of what you cite and link to them.]

VG: I see what you’re doing here . . . trying to get some insider, pre-show deets on my presentation. Not happening, hot stuff. Get your red pens to San Antonio if you want to see if Johns Hopkins is on the nice list or the naughty list.

DK: Am I right that you are advocating something beyond the sort of standard appeals to nostalgia that are a staple of many university publications?

VG: Well, “standard appeals to nostalgia” work for a lot of schools. But “appealing to nostalgia” is not a “brand attribute” for an alumni mag. All mags, to some degree, can claim that. It’s just not specific enough. The million-dollar question is: what is unique about your school?

Vicki Glembocki on the blanding of university magazines

I have known Vicki Glembocki, writer-at-large for Philadelphia Magazine, for a long time, going back to her time on the staff of The Penn Stater. She is an acute and astute observer of our publishing niche and often has tart commentary about our shortcomings. Next month at the CASE Editors Forum, she will deliver a presentation titled “Are You ‘Just Another Alumni Magazine?'” and I’m telling you now that you should attend. If you’re already registered for the conference, go to this session. If you’re not already registered, go do that now, because it’s going to be a terrific conference. Here is the official summary of Glembocki’s presentation:

If you blacked out the name on the cover of your magazine, would we be able to tell what school it belonged to? Is your news section called something generic like Campus Currents? Can you actually see your institution in your pages? Does opening your mag transport alums back to that special, unique club that is your school? So often, alumni magazines decide that being “great” means becoming something else—uber-intellectual, or general interest-y, or newsstand-worthy, or writerly, or exactly like that last Sibley Award winner. But being like everyone else—or even being like anyone else—is the worst strategy for an alumni magazine. Your greatness comes from being distinct, from being exclusive, from capitalizing on your magazine’s unique personality-your brand.

Glembocki agreed to an email exchange with me about her session, and here’s the first part. Stay tuned for more in the days to come.

vgDale Keiger: So The Dale interviews the The Vic. Let’s not dawdle on how long we’ve known each other and just dive right in here. The first line of the description of your session reads: “If you blacked out the name on the cover of your magazine, would we be able to tell what school it belonged to?” Did this idea come out of how frequently you found that your answer to that question was “no”?

Vicki Glembocki: Yes and no. I mean yes, the answer was generally, “no, I could not tell which school it belonged to.” But, more so, the issue was that, when I blocked out the name of the school, the magazines all looked the same. There was no personality. None. At all. It was like that time right before my high school reunion, when I pulled out my yearbook as a refresher course. If I blocked out the names, I couldn’t really identify which guy belonged to which mullet, which girl belonged to which “claw of bangs.” We all thought we were super cool and individuals and unique but, in reality, we were just a sea of indistinguishable hair. That’s what it felt like looking at the alumni mags.

DK: What sort of homogeneity were you noticing?

VG: One big, vague cover line that could literally be on any magazine in the stack. An image that relates to it. Several smaller three to five–word vague subheads that also could be on any magazine. And cliches. Oh, Lord almighty, the cliches!

DK: What do you think accounts for it?

VG: I’m not sure, but I think that it’s possible that editors look too far outside of their schools for inspiration. We look at newsstand mags. We look at other alumni magazines. We look at the Sibley Award winners. And we decide, “I want us to be like that.” And then we work really hard at it. Sure, it’s smart to get ideas from people who do what we do well. But I think that we often skip a really important step that should come first: figuring out what makes us “us.” What defines us? What defines our school, its personality, its brand? How does our magazine embody that personality and recreate it so that every time a reader gets our magazine in their mailbox they’re immediately reminded of their feelings about their alma mater? Because that’s the money, right there.

 

JUDGED AND FOUND WANTING

I suspect that many people read the CASE Circle of Excellence judges’ reports only if they’ve won a medal. It’s sort of like reading fan mail. But the reports are worth reading under any circumstances, because they are a sort of informed critique of the contest entries. The judges for general excellence in the mid-circulation small-circulation category were pithy:

13 Reasons Magazines were Unanimously Dismissed from Medal Consideration: Tepid writing; busy design; uninspired storytelling; difficult navigation; riddled with clichés; more of a brochure than a magazine; more advertorial than editorial; uninspired headlines and decks; shockingly wasteful, dated, awful photography; 36 head shots in one 32-page issue; utter lack of photo editing.

Headlines We Saw More Than Once (And Wish Would Be Banished Forever): “Putting Students First,” “Charting Their Own Path,” “Making a Difference,” “Planning for the Future”

Most Head-Scratching Comment From Submission Form: “Several staff members edit the publication before the printing process begins.”

Yep…what they said.

Editors Forum Bulletin #4

Back in Baltimore, back in my editorial office, and really, really back from the fun of the conference. How do I know? First note in my email inbox was a reader taking me to task for what she considers an inexcusable grammatical error in my latest editor’s note. Her last line: “Maybe you need an editor.”

The best Thursday afternoon session I attended was the reprise of the visual storytelling presentation by Linda Angrilli and Alex Joseph of Hue, from the Fashion Institute of Technology. I say reprise because they made the same presentation last year; I only caught part of that in New Orleans and wanted the full experience this time. They stressed sussing out your school’s visual DNA—places, objects, symbols—and using them as visual assets in your magazine. Strive for deep images that convey a lot of information. If you have actual art at your institution—sculpture, paintings, murals—use it as art in the magazine. Complex processes may lend themselves to visual storytelling; their example was a step-by-step photo story about the making of a shirt. (Pretty nice shirt, too—one of their staffers was wearing it.)

Listening to them, I was reminded again of David Remnick’s comments about readers picking up The New Yorker at different points in the week and taking in different content—Thursday night might be just for the cartoons, Sunday afternoon for a long feature read. The sort of visual presentation Angrilli and Joseph discussed can make for sections of the magazine that readers will turn to if they have a short bit of time after dinner; the long features will get attention on the weekend. If we don’t have some of that quick-bite content, when readers do pick us up late on a weeknight, they’ll just put us right down again, maybe for good.

Oh, and the Hue crew noted that they have a unique editorial policy at the Fashion Institute—only one drag queen per issue. I mentioned this in a report to my VP, and he wrote back, “Don’t we have a drag queen policy?”

On Friday, Joel Lovell spoke. Talk about a guy with a great job—he’s an editor at This American Life, and editor at Serial (no, he did not reveal the subject of the new season), and an editor at The Atavist, the digital magazine that publishes one long (10,000 words and up) story per month. I found his presentation to be something of a ramble as he talked about various tools at our disposal to add to the emotional power of stories. He discussed how The New York Times took several tries before they got digital adornment right, starting with the well-publicized, little-read “Snowfall” story that was a massive project in terms of people and money. His work with projects like that and the digital storytelling platform developed by Atavist has taught him that it’s all too easy to add video and motion graphics and audio and slide shows and god knows what else to a story, without sufficient consideration for whether you’re adding anything of value. He now says his starting point, as an editor, is, We don’t need anything more here. Let the text work whenever possible and keep a lid on the natural impulse to load up on distracting digital elements. But use them when they add to a piece’s emotional power.

Oh, and he startled the audience—well, he startled me, at least—by saying he believes the Times is headed toward publishing a large, omnibus edition on weekends only, with the rest of the week delivering on digital platforms only.

There was a lot more, of course, but these were some of the things that stood out to me. I’m trying some new personal calendar management to increase the frequency of UMagazinology posts, having been shamed by how many people approached me at the conference to say how much they value the blog. I need more day. But don’t we all?

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.