Tagged: cory leahy

UMag inbox

A random walk through the newish—defined as current sometime in the last seven or eight weeks—issues of alumni magazines turned up some things worthy of notice. Open, the magazine of the McCombs School of Business at the University of Texas at Austin, was clever with its letters page (click image to expand). Editor Cory Leahy ran two “letters” about an embarrassing typographical error in the previous issue; one of them reproduces exactly what the magazine received from a member of the Class of ’97, which was the offending page torn out and critiqued via a purple stickynote. Another reproduction tops the page, this one the image of a repurposed opt-out card—the correspondent altered the card so that instead of opting out of receiving the magazine he’s requesting two extra copies. Open also has a Tracy Mueller feature that takes 10 business “rules”—the customer is always right, you have to spend money to make money, etc.—and asks if they still obtain, or ever did. One of that story’s sections begins with what, so far, is my favorite sentence all day: “If a food truck doesn’t tweet, does it really exist?” This story also is part of a peculiar editorial harmonic convergence. More on that later.

LSA Magazine, from the University of Michigan College of Literature, Science, and the Arts, has a feature on copyright in the digital age, and I’ll stick my neck out by saying LSA is the first magazine in history to illustrate a copyright story with a photo titled “Zombie Bunny.” (If I read Mary Jean Babic’s story right, I could be sued for reproducing the opening spread here. Lara Zielin edits LSA, and I’m hoping she opts for a cease-and-desist letter first.)

College of Charleston Magazine‘s cover story “Rebel Without a Pause” was scribbled by editor Mark Berry, and it’s awfully good. The piece is a profile of writer Padgett Powell and opens with a well-wrought narrative recreation of Powell’s arrest in the parking lot of his high school for distributing an underground student news-paper titled Tough Shit, which ranks as one of the all-time great names for a newspaper, underground or otherwise. That episode set the tone for Powell’s academic and literary careers. The future novelist began as an English major at Charleston, until an English teacher gave him a D on a paper; Powell took one look at the graded paper and changed his major to chemistry. Clearly, Berry had a lot of good material with which to fashion a profile, and he brings it off with zest.

OK, so back to this harmonic convergence business. As already noted, Open from Texas has a feature that revisits, and questions the validity of, 10 business rules. The new issue of my own Johns Hopkins Magazine devotes part of its feature well to assistant editor Kristen Intlekofer’s round-up of 10 things that people do in the name of health that might actually be injurious to their health. Minor as coincidences go—10 business rules open for debate, 10 health practices open for debate—but wait, here’s where things get weird. Elsewhere in the Hopkins winter 2011 feature well is a long Mike Anft piece on contemporary neuroscience and memory, including help for people suffering from memory loss, plus a feature story on distraction in these digital days. Then I pick up the latest edition of Washington State Magazine and find in editor Tim Steury’s feature well a long piece by Steury about neuropsychologists helping people cope with memory loss, and a second feature, this one by Eric Sorensen, called “Attention!”, about the “poverty of attention” in these digital days.

After a long search for an explanation, I’ve settled on great minds think alike.

Texas reset: McCombs redesigns and renames

Texas, the biannual magazine of the McCombs School of Business at the University of Texas, is no more, replaced by a redesigned, rethought publication titled Open, or OPEN if you’re a stickler for following typographic treat-ments.

Editor Cory Leahy reports that the 10-year-old design of Texas—OK, OK, TEXAS—had become inflexible. “As we were pushing our envelope with story ideas and formats, the design wasn’t keeping up,” she says. “It felt stale and limiting. We had done some brainstorming exercises to clarify the magazine’s vision and personality, and the old design didn’t match what we came up with. We also wanted to visually emphasize that the publication seeks to be as much an objective, credible, interesting, and compelling magazine as any it’s competing with on the reader’s night table. In other words, banish any notion that it’s a glorified brochure in its look and feel.”

Leahy had always contracted out the design. For the redesign, she decided the magazine needed new eyes and new thinking. “It was a great opportunity for us to get some new perspective on our challenges. We’d worked with the same art director for a decade, and it was time for a change.” The job went to Austin-based Erin Mayes and Kate Iltis of EmDash LLC—EmDash did the great Denison revamp—who came up with the new name. Says Leahy, “The plan was for the magazine to be called McCombs Today, like our school news site. TEXAS never made sense to me. We’re not the alumni magazine for the entire university, just the business school. When the designers were sharing the initial round of cover concepts, OPEN was their curveball idea. They liked the idea of being ‘open for business’ as a key symbol for success in business. The idea is to have a different kind of ‘open’ sign on [the cover of] each issue. It’s visually interesting, familiar but in a fresh context. Also, our school has only been named McCombs for 10 years, so that as a name doesn’t necessarily have deep impact for most of our alumni.”

A redesign presents opportunity for more than a new suit of clothes. “We rethought everything: department names, story buckets, purpose, personality, story mix, even mission. Because we were creating two new online sites—a school news site, McCombs Today, and a business knowledge/research site, Texas Enterprise—at roughly the same time (oy vey!), we had new opportunities to imagine how content could work across different platforms. For example, we had always included months-old news briefs in the front of the book . . . yawn. With our revamped news site, we felt more confident that those news bits would get more attention online and wouldn’t need to be in the magazine. Instead, the new front-of-book could include things like infographics and big images and service journalism that used to be a challenge to fit in among the briefs.”

As any editor who has gone through this knows, the inaugural issue of a new design tells you a lot. “Overall we’re very happy with the first issue,” Leahy says. “But we’re still struggling a bit with how best to use the new buckets. For instance, the designers added some new callouts (‘Aha! Moment’ and ‘Takeaways’) based on our departments brainstorm. These are meant to provide a nugget that gets underneath the story, perhaps giving a bit of background or a tidbit about the story behind the story. It’s a fantastic idea, but it’s totally new to our way of thinking, so we’re looking forward to our sophomore issue (which has a much longer lead time) to play with these new content types. We also still need to get better at creating some less text-heavy stories, and we’re not convinced the layout of the cover lines is the best it can be. But, again, it’s a wonderful new set of challenges to confront.”

So, Ms. Leahy, with the hindsight of experience, which is worse? Redoing your magazine or redoing your kitchen? “Magazine. While we were incredibly lucky in not having hordes of people/administrators/higher-ups that needed to weigh in, the whole endeavor still felt to me like we were preparing to run naked through campus, leaving ourselves open to pointing, laughing, and ridicule.  This place can be a surprising mix of super stodgy and remarkably progressive.  It’s just hard to know who’s going to exhibit which traits on which day. Happily, the feedback we’ve received has been all positive.”

Good work: Tracy Mueller

Can’t believe I’ve read two life-affirming stories in the space of five days, but I have. The cover of Texas—The McCombs School of Business Magazine (Cory Leahy, editor) is a portrait of a scarred young man behind type that reads “This Man Should Be Dead.” Because I have a policy of always reading stories about people who should be dead, I turned to pg. 22 for “The Fall and Rise of Matt Miller” by Tracy Mueller. The photo opposite the first page of text is simultaneously arresting and gruesome, because in addition to a scarred face, Miller has hands that resemble fingerless clubs. What the hell happened to this guy?

Mueller’s story is a well-crafted account of a mountain climbing accident that, indeed, should have killed Miller. With is father, Miller was attempting to climb Pico de Orizaba, a volcano in Mexico that is that country’s highest summit. Miller’s father developed altitude sickness on the summit attempt and began falling. The second time, his son tried to catch him, and both men ended up sliding 3,000 feet down the mountain. It was miraculous that they didn’t slide off a precipice, but they were in mortal peril when they came to rest. Dennis Miller, the father, suffered a badly broken leg. Matt was in much worse shape. His 3,000-foot plunge had torn off his nose and nearly severed an ear. The two men had to spend a freezing night at 14,000 feet before a U.S. military helicopter could evacuate them from the mountain. In his delirium, Matt took off his gloves and boots, incurring the frostbite that later required amputation of his fingers. He ended up losing eight toes, as well.

Mueller does a superb job of pacing the narrative, provides the vivid detail that makes the story riveting, and avoids all the clichés that typically plague this kind of story. She passes up every opportunity to fall into sentimentality. All the emotion in this piece is earned. The gaze is unflinching. The details are right. Mueller does not put one foot wrong. She nails it.

Here’s just a taste, from the top of the story:

His eyes were swollen shut, but he peeled them open so he could see his father, Dennis, sprawled next to him on the ice. He wanted to say goodnight, to reminisce about their fly-fishing trips and baseball games. Most of all he wanted to tell his dad this wasn’t his fault.

They jokingly told each other, “See you in the morning,” knowing they’d never last that long. Then Matt folded his arms underneath his head and waited to die.

Jon Krakauer could not improve on that.