After I exercised my adolescent sense of humor on Drew Magazine‘s new centerfold, editor Renée Olson alerted me to the interactive version of the painting on the magazine’s website. First click on the painting. Then enjoy all the pop-up windows that identify each plant and furry or winged creature. Nice.
For the second issue in a row, Baylor put football on the cover. OK, the first, Fall 2011, was technically a homecoming cover, but homecoming revolves around the football game, of course, and football players were part of the cover illustration. Winter 2011/12 featured Baylor’s new Heisman Trophy winner, Robert Griffin III. That makes four football or football-related covers in the last 14 issues. Can’t wait for the Spring 2012 cover—spring football practice! (Randy Morrison edits Baylor. By the way, RG3, as he’s known at the school, also made the cover of The Baylor Line. Yes, Baylor has two alumni magazines. It’s complicated.)
New redesign for CM, the magazine of the Commonwealth School in Boston. Editor Tristan Davies—you may recognize him as the CUE-L listserv majordomo—notes that the new biannual magazine consolidates the formerly annual alumni publication and two yearly newsletters. Davies says, “I’m an alumnus, and even before I came to work at Commonwealth, I had talked with people at the school about how old-fashioned its pieces seemed: loaded with dense text, almost no color, illustrated almost completely by student art that also printed in black and white, and not based on the standard periodical magazine. Once I started working at Commonwealth in July 2008, I started thinking more seriously about merging the three pieces into one. But I was also about to lead a complete redesign of our admissions materials, and so I put off a decision.” Then came last year’s Editors Forum. Davies got a critique from Middlebury’s Matt Jennings—hard to see how any good could come of that, but maybe it’s just me—and attended Tina Hay’s “Magazines 101” workshop. Says Davies, “On the Friday afternoon of the Forum I sat in my hotel room and mapped out the new magazine format.” Jeanne Abboud of Abboud Design had been doing the publications the last few years, and she did the new look, as well. “Yes, the same person did both the before and after,” Davies says, “which I think says quite a bit about how much we were holding her back.” The first issue of the new CM surely does look better, and includes a couple of fine pieces, Janetta Stringfellow’s “Unbreakable,” and Melissa Glenn Haber’s “Into the Words.” Now if only they’d stop employing the term “alumni/ae.”
Two other major redos: USC Trojan Family, from Southern Cal, and Drexel Magazine. First issue of the new USC magazine includes a letter from athletic director Patrick C. Haden detailing the violations of NCAA rules that led to sanctions against Souther Cal football, men’s basketball, and women’s tennis. The NCAA ordered publication of the letter, which is not exactly what you want appearing in your pretty new magazine. Sympathies to editor Lauren Clark.
Drexel’s previous design was hardly bad, but I thought the book looked more like a corporate report than a magazine. Editor Tim Hyland says, “Content-wise, the magazine was just fine when I arrived. And it looked pretty good, too. But my sense was that we really wanted to make sure that we achieved a sort of ‘cutting-edge’ look to this redesign, and to make sure the look of the magazine matched up with all of the exciting things that are happening here at Drexel today. It really does feel like a university on the move, and there’s a lot of energy here right now. I wanted the magazine to capture that.” He retained designer Emily Aldritch, who previously had designed Kenyon College Alumni Bulletin and Voice (Carleton). “She came for a campus visit, and within no time delivered two really interesting design directions. Both of them reflected the ideas we wanted to convey about Drexel—it’s urban location, it’s focus on experiential education, it’s fast-paced environment, etc. In the end, we ended up choosing a hybrid approach that borrowed from each of the design directions.” The new look makes use of bigger type and bigger art, and drops the dragon mascot from the nameplate. I was actually sort of fond of the dragon, but will concede that working your sports mascot into your nameplate is a bit lame. (Unless you are the University of California, Santa Cruz, in which case I want to see banana slugs all over your pages.) Says Hyland, “I think from a design perspective we are exactly where we want to be. Emily has done her part, and now I’d like to really focus on making the content as engaging and interesting as possible. I want our alumni to look forward to getting the magazine, and to reading it. I want to see more feedback and more letters to the editor. To get there, we need to churn out really interesting content. That’s on me as editor and on my team as well.”
Sad to say it, but the mail brought the last print edition of Endeavors, the axed research magazine at the University of North Caroline at Chapel Hill. Jason Smith’s fine publication lives on as a website, but it just ain’t the same. And it must be said of the Winter 2012 finale—Best Pig Cover Ever. Look at the penetrating gaze on that beast.
Finally, the latest Drew Magazine (Renée Olson, editor) has a centerfold. Yeah, yeah, yeah, not what you’re thinking, grow up already. It’s a double centerfold, actually, of a watercolor by Drew faculty member Roberto Osti of four seasons in Drew’s much-loved Forest. Look, it’s got birds and a chipmunk and a bunny. Now don’t you feel bad about where your mind went first?
How long have you been in your job?
Three and a half years.
What has proven to be the most significant thing you had to learn to do that job?
To loosen up and not be so ploddingly literal about content. In my ancient past, I was the editor-in-chief of School Library Journal, a combination of the nation’s largest children’s book review and a trade magazine for librarians who work with children. At SLJ, we were primarily in the business of putting out news and information, but at Drew, I’m creating a reflection of the university that relies much more on shared experiences and bonding. It calls for a more refined—and infinitely more imaginative—approach to chasing both text and images.
What has been your best experience at the magazine?
Redoing the magazine from top to bottom starting in 2007, and subsequently hearing the phrase, “I read it cover to cover.”
What has proven to be your biggest frustration?
This is a frustration, but also an opportunity: Imagining how to get the fullness and richness of a magazine to happen online when the gestalt there is still about atomizing content and letting it fall where it may. How does my magazine, minus the staples, shift to an environment that isn’t yet about wholeness and depth? At the same time, I’m totally psyched to have a platform that allows for audio and video.
What part of your magazine never quite satisfies you, despite everybody’s best effort?
The cover. We’ve had some good ones, even memorable ones, but I don’t feel that I’m capable of crystallizing the essence of whatever bubbles up as cover material so that Margaret Kiernan, our art director, can run with it. I’d like to think it’s not having enough time (I read that Texas Monthly considers up to 50 possible cover options for an issue), but I think it’s my brain.
What story are you proudest to have published?
There are two. Both are cover stories I’m proud of for the same reason; they both seemed to resonate with our readership because they brought Drewids to life. The first was a feature Q&A with three alumni serving in Iraq: a U.S. State Department officer, a hedge-fund manager in the reserves, and an Army chaplain from Ghana. Their experiences, I’m told, gave an on-the-ground view of the war. The second was also a feature Q&A with10 outstanding undergraduates, paired with three videos, called “I Am Drew.” I gnashed my teeth over this because I worried it would come off as a bland promotional piece, but my writer and videographer, Jenny Deller, did a great job of asking unexpected questions. But neither were eligible for the CASE Circle of Excellence awards—inexplicably, the Q&A format, which I adore, is banned.
If you could commission a story from any writer in the world, who would it be?
The first name that came to mind was Dale Keiger at Hopkins. But besides him, Mark Jacobson, who just wrote a riveting cover story for New York about a lampshade that may or may be not fashioned out of human skin from Buchenwald. Or Ian Frazier, whom Brian Doyle suggested I contact for a story about a 19th-century Theological Seminary student of ours, a Bulgarian mystic whose followers still gather annually there to dance in circles in a mountain valley.
If you weren’t an editor, what would your dream job be?
Curator of public art, like The Gates project in New York’s Central Park or the Tribute in Light at the World Trade Center after 9/11.
Consistently one of the best-designed university periodicals, 2010 CASE gold medalist Drew Magazine, from Drew University in New Jersey, does well again with its spring issue. Art director Margaret M. Kiernan has mastered the ability to throw a slew of graphic elements onto a spread yet keep it clean, coherent, and attractive. Particularly nice (and clever) is “The Drewid’s Guide to How to Do Everything Better.” The idea of collecting snippets of expert advice from faculty and alumni is not new—Dartmouth Alumni Magazine did it in the January/February 2009 issue, as just one example—but the various how-to’s are fun and the layout, featuring Leigh Wells’ illustrations, is exemplary. (Try to grab a copy of the magazine; the web version does not do the graphics justice.) Renée Olson edits the magazine.
I am an inveterate reader of notes on contributors. The July 2010 UCLA Magazine has five, including, “Jan Sonnenmair, who hit the road to photograph our tour of Bruin wineries . . .” Man, there’s a job I want someday. Deeper in the magazine, where they keep the long stories, Alison Hewitt asks around campus if digital technology is ruining human minds. From the answers I learned that UCLA students fight over a certain corner of a lecture hall because it has the strongest WiFi signal, UCLA professors have come across undergraduates who have never hunted down a book on a library shelf, students these days seem unable to focus on a single topic, and computers appear to stunt frontal-lobe development. OK, that’s it, stop reading this and go read a book. That you found at the library. Wendy Soderburg is managing editor.
The latest edition of The Penn Stater (c’mon, guys, get a magazine website, it looks like this whole Internet thing might catch on) is most notable for its photography. For the cover story . . . cover spread, it’s not really a story . . . editor Tina Hay and undergraduate photographer Andy Colwell ascended in a helicopter to snap some striking aerial photos of campus. I’m sure Hay, who is a shutterbug on the side, has a cogent editorial rationale, but she’s not fooling anybody. She just wanted to grab her Nikon and get airborne in a chopper. The second set of featured pictures are stunners from the recent eruption of Eyjafjallajökul in Iceland. (Yeah, I can pronounce it, I just don’t feel like it right now.) The writer of the accompanying text, Penn State alum Nancy Marie Brown, recounts riding in a jeep over a glacier to a spot west of the volcano’s crater for look at the initial, comparatively mild eruption. What Brown did not know was that her driver had parked directly over the underground lava pool. Ten days later, reports Brown, “the spot I’d been standing on was blasted 35,000 feet in the air.”