Tagged: dartmouth

Editors Forum 2017, Day Two

And on the second day, no rest for us. A full day of keynote presentations and elective sessions.

— From Evan Ratliff, co-founder of The Atavist and the Longform podcast (who was superb): “We’ve just experienced a radical failure of comprehension. You can’t fix that with hard news. You fix that with stories.”

— More from Ratliff: If you are ever describing your story to someone, notice the first thing you tell them about it. And never take that thing out of the written piece.

— And more: Stories, deep meaningful stories, are essential to our primary mission, to engaging an audience in the only way that matters—sustained reading. And what matters is not the digital media metrics. “You’re trying to reach people. Clicks are not people. Tweets are not people. Downloads are not people.”

— Kerry Temple, Notre Dame Magazine: “A Notre Dame education does not end when students graduate. Notre Dame Magazine extends continuing education to them.”

— Temple again: “When I say we cover the institution, we cover the institution. We are not a mouthpiece for the administration.”

— And again: In anticipation of controversy over a story you want to do, address the concerns of your bosses early in the process. “Don’t get too far out in front of your blockers.”

— And: “When readers get the magazine, I want them to feel like they’re having a visit to campus.”

— Kat Braz, Purdue Alumnus: Question the rules about what’s acceptable in magazine design; you might find that you want to break some.

— More Braz: “Crop [photos] like a mofo.”

— Sean Plottner and Wendy McMillan, Dartmouth Alumni Magazine: Stop shooting pictures of professors and students standing next to a globe, a bookshelf, or an open laptop.

— More McPlottner: Stop worrying about stealing. Stop running crappy headshots. Stop with the boring history. Stop being so serious with science stories. Stop with all the meetings. Stop running cutesy author’s bios. Stop running editor’s notes. And stop using semicolons.

— Richard Rhys, Wharton Magazine, and Renee Olsen, TCNJ Magazine: Casual conversations with senior administrators over lunch are much more fruitful than office meetings.

— Matt Jennings, Middlebury Magazine: “Recording an interview frees you up to notice things the digital device doesn’t. That doesn’t mean get lazy.”

— Jennings again: “Have a good plan [for an interview], but plan on deviating from your plan. The interview subject is driving the train.”

— Madeleine Baran, American Public Media and the podcast In the Dark: “Start [reporting] by assuming you’re wrong.” Continue reporting until you’ve run out of good arguments for being wrong. Only then are you probably right.

— Some more Baran: “It’s not just about knowing the facts of a place. It’s also important to know the feel of a place.”

Dartmouth’s war stories

Dartmouth Alumni Magazine devoted its entire Sept/Oct 2012 issue to “War Stories,” personal accounts by 48 Dartmouth alumni who have served in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Among them, they’ve amassed 65 tours of duty, four bronze stars, and two purple hearts. Half participated in Dartmouth’s ROTC program. Sixty-four percent hold graduate degrees. Eleven played rugby.

The issue devotes nearly 60 pages to the soldiers’ stories. Via an email exchange, editor Sean Plottner said, “We backed into this one, unlike other special issues we’ve published. The quick version is this: A young alum-vet in the military sent us a survey of currently serving alumni vets he’d found. We didn’t use the survey but it got senior editor Lisa Furlong thinking about doing our own interviews with the veterans, and any others we might come across . . . and things snowballed, slowly, from there.” He added, “We didn’t have a clear vision initially. We had all these interviews and thought they’d make a decent feature, but they turned out to be a launch pad into something bigger as we kept finding more veterans and their stories spurred more editorial ideas. Special issues we’ve done in the past were originally conceived of as full issues. This was a wilder, considerably different approach.”

That survey that prompted the project came into DAM back in 2009. “We spent some time dithering before we decided to pursue interviews,” Plottner said. “Lisa started pursuing them then, off and on, but in no deadline-driven way. After she had identified a number, she and I started talking about what we might do with the interviews, and that’s when we felt we could turn them into some sort of cover story. But I rarely schedule stories before they near completion, so we weren’t sure when we’d run anything. Then she found a few more that got us thinking about maybe packaging it all into some sort of special issue. Then she found more vets, and I think it was in January [2012] or thereabouts that we said let’s do it, and let’s shoot for the Sept/Oct issue. She spent the rest of the winter and all spring hunting them down, right up until the week we went to the printer the first week of August.”

Dartmouth opens every issue with two-page photo spreads that it calls “Big Picture.” As a reminder of the grim, dangerous reality that soldiers face in theaters of combat, the magazine devoted “Big Picture” this time to a pair of images by the superb combat photographer James Nachtwey, who also is a Dartmouth alumnus. The pictures are of the aftermath of an IED explosion in Afghanistan. The first shows a quartet of soldiers racing to a helicopter with a stretcher. On the stretcher is a US Marine who had just had his legs ripped apart by the bomb. The second is a heart-wrenching image of the soldier in flight, tended by medical personnel determined to keep him alive. The GI survived; his legs did not.

The magazine solicited brief, three-to-five-paragraph pieces from the vets and published them with photos. The authors are soldiers and former soldiers, not writers, so the quality of the prose varies. But there are some striking statements, such as this one from Colonel Rich Outzen, who served in Afghanistan:

Because Americans use the world’s dominant language, and we have a culture that has been internationalized and globalized, we think we’re in the dominant position. The truth is the reverse. Because we think in the English idiom the whole world has a window into how we think and who we are—they get us, but we don’t get them. We are an open book to the world, and the world is a closed book to us.

“They said it and we just packaged it,” Plottner said. “The ‘in their own words’ focus also served as a nice unifying element throughout the issue.”

The best stories are two long pieces. One, “The Loneliest Job in the World,” is an excerpt from the 2005 book One Bullet Away by Marine Corps vet and alum Nathaniel Fick. It recounts Fick’s experience as a young officer in the first week of the second Iraq war. The other feature-length story is about Jon Kuniholm, who lost an arm in Iraq and now applies his formidable intelligence and determination as an advocate for development of better prosthetic limbs. Writer Matthew Mosk, who reports for ABC News, did fine work profiling Kuniholm.

The magazine shot covers of four different vets and used them all. “Running four covers was gimmicky but fun. It also helped to indicate this was not an issue about a single individual.” The biggest reward, Plottner said, was “seeing all the elements of the issue come together so nicely at the end, and knowing as a staff, as it was printing, that we’d accomplished something, that all the overtime and sweat was worth it. Furlong deserves a medal. Art director Wendy McMillan went so far above and beyond in terms of assigning and finding art, making something useful out of dusty, in-theatre point-and-grins, and creating a nice, varied visual approach to a subject that can easily slip into one-note design doldrums. I was grateful to have such a strong senior editor and art director leading the way.”

Reading the magazine, I could not help thinking about how different are the times now, compared to when I was an undergraduate. I started college at Ohio University in the last year of the Vietnam War, or at least the last year of US combat operations. I could not imagine an alumni magazine in 1974 or 1976 running a special issue acknowledging  and implicitly honoring the service of alumni-veterans. Vietnam had been so divisive, and campuses had been the scenes of violent, even lethal clashes over the war. I asked Plottner about this, and he said, “We’ve received several letters from Vietnam vets who point out, sadly, how different things were for them. I can’t imagine anything such as ‘War Stories’ working in the Vietnam War era, not only because times were so different but also because alumni magazines were too. DAM was much, much more institutional back then, and its pages from those years are filled with on-campus anti-war sentiment from professors and students. Today we are a vastly more outward-looking magazine, with an emphasis on alums, which allows for a special issue like our recent one. And while today’s veterans are not vilified, they do seem forgotten by the public and lost in the media. That presented an opportunity for us.”

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

Until the Fall 2012 issue arrived in my mailbox yesterday, I had no idea that the annual magazine of Nicholls State University in Louisiana was exuberantly named Voilà! Because I am easily amused, I spent a few enjoyable moments imagining myself doing a story for it, announcing myself at the reception desk of an academic department as “Dale Keiger from Voilà!” with a dramatic flourish of the hand. Here are some other alumni magazines with quirky names:

Aurora (University of Alaska Fairbanks)

1300 Elmwood (Buffalo State College)

Think (Case Western Reserve)

Demo (Columbia College Chicago)

Pulteney Street (Hobart and William Smith Colleges)

Terp (University of Maryland)

Buzz (Metropolitan State University)

The Classic (Northwestern College)

Portraits (St. Anselm College)

Red (Seneca College)

The Extra Mile (Southern New Hampshire University)

Sawdust (Stephen F. Austin University)

The Alcalde (University of Texas)

Owl & Spade (Warren Wilson College)

I know the stories behind some of those names, but not all. To my knowledge, Terp is the only university magazine named after the sports teams nickname, unless you count Brown Bear, published by Brown University athletics. (Were the University of Akron to follow suit, its magazine might be named Zip!, which I actually like. Tufts would become Jumbo. Not a good idea.) It didn’t make my list above, but On Wisconsin is the only one titled after the school fight song. At least, I think it’s the only one.

The new issue of Dartmouth Alumni Magazine is entirely given over to Dartmouth alumni who are veterans of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, telling their own stories. More about that in a later installment of UMagazinology.

Temple University Magazine recently revamped its design, and in its latest edition published some of the reaction to the change and to the magazine overall. Ninety-two percent of those surveyed praised the magazine as “informative,” and 84 percent said it was “attractive.” Four percent described editorial content as “shallow,” and someone griped that the “Temple T” symbol was hidden on the back cover. Can’t please ’em all. For that last sourpuss, here ya go, compliments of the blog:

Finally, WIT from Wentworth Institute of Technology in Boston—hey, that one should have made my list up above!—did a clever bit of data presentation in the Summer 2012 issue. Students collected more than 17,000 pounds of recyclable material as part of a national effort called Recyclemania. The magazine broke down the numbers according to residence hall, then presented the stats in animal equivalents. Wit indeed:

UMag inbox

A quick sift of the inbox revealed chief executives incoming and outgoing at Western Carolina and the College of New Rochelle, respectively. Western Carolina‘s cover story on new chancellor David O. Belcher is notable for its evidence that high on the list of qualifications for the job is a willingness to don purple garments. Belcher is pictured in at least three different purple neckties, and wife Susan Belcher appears in an all-purple ensemble. While we’re on this subject, the summer issue of the magazine runs 44 pages, and purple appears on all but six. That’s a lot of purple. (The cover of the previous issue of WC was devoted to outgoing chancellor John Bardo, who in the cover portrait wears—yeah—a purple tie.) Bill Studenc edits the magazine.

Quarterly, the magazine from New Rochelle (editor Lenore Boytim Carpinelli), has surely set some kind of record for bestowing print-love on a departing senior administrator. Every page of the spring issue—every single page—is about Stephen J. Sweeney, the outgoing president. His visage appears on the cover and all but one page, by my count an astonishing 87 photos in a 36-page magazine. (By the way . . . at left? That’s Sweeney. You can tell he’s not the Western Carolina guy because he’s not wearing purple.)

While we’re on the subject of covers, from California to New Hampshire, great minds think alike: