Tagged: clemson

Yeah, we’ve been there

ca736e_55ac5f31fe134871aef36c6e06839055Neil Caudle has been central to a pair of excellent university research magazines over the years, Endeavors from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, and Glimpse from Clemson. He has retired from that sort of thing, mostly to write fiction, apparently. But he also has a blog as part of his personal website, and a recent post describes a situation he found himself in as editor at Glimpse.

It was just a geeky science story, but a vice president was telling me not to write it. He was not my boss, but my sources reported to him and wouldn’t utter a peep without his say-so. The topic was toxic, he said.

I sat in his office and gaped at him, dumbfounded. Only in some alternate universe would the topic of wind turbines and power grids be toxic.

Patiently, the VP explained to me the alternate universe of South Carolina politics. According to doctrine in that realm, decent Americans pledge allegiance to fossil fuels and nukes. Only weirdo liberals truck with solar and wind.

So Clemson University could build and operate, in North Charleston, a fabulous new facility for testing wind turbines and simulating their use on the grid. And we could bank some big grants and contracts from the U.S. Department of Energy and companies such as General Electric to do the work. We just couldn’t write about it.

Caudle bided his time, the VP left, and the shrewd editor brought the story back, tuned up to dodge legislative wrath.

Insurgents afoot in an alternate universe rely on stealth. To save my boss a world of hurt, I would have to think like a native. And in South Carolina, the natives take pride in their history.

So I dug up some history. Three centuries ago, windmills designed by Dutch engineers powered the saws that cut the lumber that built a city called Charleston. The windmills also drained swamps and ground corn. So wind energy was nothing new. It was heritage, deeply rooted as indigo or rice. I had my lead.


You can find the story that ran here.

By the way, lest there be any question about Caudle’s motive, he has titled his blog An insurgence of words, with a subtitle: “In which we attempt to puncture the culture of spin.” Man after my own heart. And my first suggestion as a presenter at next year’s Editors Forum.

A glimpse of Glimpse

Around here, we always celebrate the birth of a new print magazine, so let’s have a round of applause for Glimpse, the new research magazine published by Clemson University, weighing in at 50 pages and edited by Neil Caudle. Caudle retired in 2010 from UNC Chapel Hill, where he had edited and designed the lamentably expired Endeavors (later edited by Jason Smith). He came out of retirement to work on the Clemson project last fall, chronicling his progress on Glimpse in a blog. (On said blog, Caudle refers to his new periodical as glimpse, but there’ll be no monkeying around with English capitalization rules around here, my friend. Not even for Bell Hooks or E.E. Cummings.) I can’t improve on his most recent post there, so I won’t try:

Even ordinary print retains an extraordinary power to provoke. The boss and I had a suspicion that Clemson was famished for a magazine, but I had no idea how much pent-up energy would erupt with the advent of glimpse. For several days now, I’ve been riding a psychic seesaw, hearing first from people thrilled with the first issue (“a home run,” “magnificent,” “just what Clemson needed”) and then from an angry mob indignant that they were not among the first to be featured. I don’t blame the angry ones. It’s one thing to have your work pumped into pixels, drifting about in the ether. It’s another to have it deemed worthy of a real commitment: print.

Universities that publish good magazines for years sometimes begin to take them for granted. Research divisions tend to measure success in quantitative terms—grant dollars and such—easy data to obtain. Magazines boost revenues only indirectly, mostly by helping to build the school’s reputation and the public’s support for research. But those intangibles are a lot harder to measure. So a new boss comes in, dumps the predecessor’s pet projects, and makes a big show of conspicuous frugality. Slashes the magazine’s printing budget to zero. Orders up a new marketing plan. Says, “Put the stuff online. Print is dead.”

Clemson knows better.

I’m guessing there’s a bite at UNC there for killing the excellent print edition of Endeavors. In the debut issue of Glimpse, vice president for research Gerald Sonnenfeld says all the right things:

We wanted to share this culture of discovery with people everywhere, to give them a glimpse of what goes on here. That’s why we chose to create a magazine, the first-ever campus-wide research magazine here at Clemson. Yes, we will continue to use the new tools of modern communication, including websites, digital publishing, and social media. But there is nothing like a magazine to capture, in tangible and enduring form, the spirit of a community. We believe that over time our magazine will help us enlarge our community, drawing new readers into the intellectual life of Clemson University. We will do this with good, true stories, not with bragging points and spin. And we will do it with our readers foremost in mind.

I don’t often find opportunity to sing the praises of senior administrators here, but . . . well said, sir, well said.

The first issue’s feature well includes meaty pieces on riparian environmental monitoring, the dangers of exporting supply chains (especially food supply chains), and Mongolian aquatic insects (they’re more important than you’d imagine). There’s a Q & A with novelist Keith Lee Morris, an encouraging sign that Glimpse means to expand its definition of research to other creative endeavors. Humanities scholarship gets its due, as well, with a story on a collection of South Caroline slave narratives. (All worthy stories, but a bit hard to read, not because of any fault in the prose. I usually veer away from criticism of specific magazines here, but I have to say the tiny body type of Glimpse‘s editorial content was tough on my middle-aged eyes.)

Caudle says the plan is to publish two issues per year, with the next one going up to 56 pages and perfect binding. “Response on campus has been more enthusiastic and positive than I expected. There’s been genuine excitement. The comment I got most often: ‘Clemson really needed this.’ If nothing else, the mag has provided a morale boost. People said they liked seeing their colleagues in print, and learning about the work of neighbors and friends, and they liked feeling proud of their school. I haven’t heard complaints yet about the decision to print. When I made the rounds on campus, I asked people what they wanted from the magazine, and they said more visibility and prestige for Clemson research. So I said, ‘If prestige is a factor, we should probably do this in print.’ No one disagreed. There are other reasons to use print, of course, but this one seems to work here.”

I asked Caudle, now that he can hold his newborn in his hands, what needs more work: “Absolutely everything in the magazine needs more work. I’ve found several typos, which drive me crazy; I need a team of hawk-eyed proofreaders like those at UNC. I had four months to produce a magazine from scratch, and it wasn’t enough, given the need to meet everybody, choose and vet a name and design, find a printer, and manage all the other start-up chores. I’m determined to spend much more time on content and layout for the fall, and to have enough stories on hand by the layout stage that I can kill stuff that doesn’t have good story value or arrive on time. Several spreads in the first issue came together in the final week, and it shows. Overall, the stories should dig deeper, risk more. There’s been a culture here of vetting absolutely everything through umpteen levels, so stories wind up too safe and too burdened with institutional overhead. I’m fighting that, and the VP has been backing me up, but it will take some time to persuade people to relax and let me do my job. And we’re just getting started on the Web version and social media stuff. It needs a lot of work.”

He added, “Clemson, which had never published a campus-level research magazine, was starved for recognition. Over the last decade or so we had made some bold moves in research, but people here felt that no one had noticed; we were still just a football school. When I go to a diner or bar around town, I carry a magazine with me because I will almost always meet a Clemson alum or employee who will go through the magazine with obvious pride. ‘I knew Clemson was a good school,’ they say, ‘but I didn’t know they were doing all of this.’ They seem truly grateful. I’ve had at least two dozen conversations like this, so far. It’s hard to know what that kind of reaction will mean to the university, but it means a lot to me.”

Good lord, a new magazine

Ah, yes, that new magazine smell. Magazine launches remain plentiful on newsstands, but you can’t say that about our category. So it’s cause for celebration that Clemson has decided to create a new research magazine, and that it has hired Neil Caudle to create it. Caudle spent 15 years editing and designing Endeavors, the excellent research periodical that was unwisely axed at UNC Chapel Hill (at least the print edition was axed, which to me means dead magazine). If all goes as planned, Clemson’s new publication, to be titled Glimpse, will debut in April.

When Caudle started work last October, he initiated a blog about putting together a magazine from scratch. His first post made me optimistic about how this new periodical might turn out.

Let’s make a magazine. A real magazine, with action, ambition, and edge. Let’s not make it stuffy and safe. Safe is not an option. Years ago, readers got bored with safe and stopped reading. Let’s get them back.

Let’s find surprises. Research is all about hatching surprises. Let’s go inside the labs and experiment stations and field sites and archives and studios. Let’s be around for the hatch.

Let’s find some readers. They won’t have to know very much about science. They will have an interest in Clemson, and they’ll want a good story that holds something new. Not the old stuff they should have learned in science class twenty years ago, and not a lecture packed with jargon. Let’s give them stories and pictures that crackle with new.

I mark that as a fine mission statement for any alumni magazine.

In a later post, Caudle wrote:

But a magazine is not, at its best, strictly a marketing piece that furthers a brand. A magazine’s job is to build a community devoted to the mission and ideals of the institution, which is a very good thing for many reasons, in addition to building the brand. If we over-apply the institutional playbook, no matter how good that playbook might be, will our voice seem institutional? Calculated and formulaic? Will it repel the very readers we’re hoping to woo?

If I choose a new magazine to read, and therefore a new framework for thinking about myself, I don’t want to feel as though I’m a customer being played for stock responses. When one of my favorite magazines lands in my mailbox, I feel a rush of pleasure; an old friend has dropped in for a visit, with a new set of stories to tell. Yes, I know that my old friend’s DNA probably carries some code from the publisher’s marketing department, but the code doesn’t show. The magazine lives and breathes for me, and frequently surprises me, with a candid, human voice. The voice makes me feel less like an obedient consumer and more like a competent, free-thinking, independent human being. That’s why I would read a new research magazine, to associate myself with the ideals of an institution that values knowledge, creativity, learning, and service.

Smart man, Neil Caudle.