Tagged: drew

Got you covered

A pair of terrific covers landed in my mailbox recently.

The first was from Drew Magazine, the dependably fine magazine from Drew University in New Jersey:

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You can’t tell from the digital facsimile, but the cover text is reverse embossed silver foil. The cover story is about the school’s most recent campaign, written as a narrative of an urgent and successful—yeah, yeah, spoiler—push to reverse a decline in the participation rate. Editor Renée Olsen followed with five short profiles of contributors. Then comes a 50-page honor roll of donors. Publishing campaign honor rolls is not an editorial practice that I endorse, but sometimes an editor’s gotta do what an editor’s gotta do.

The second cover was from Tufts Magazine:

tuftsbulletcover

The cover story is “Up in Arms,” a fascinating piece by Colin Woodard about how the current contention regarding gun laws derives from how North America was settled. When I first glanced at the magazine, I loved the cover but was not enthused about another gun control story, because I’ve grown sick of American society’s appalling inability to even conduct the conversation. But I started in on the story anyway, and I’m glad I did. Woodard, a Tufts alum, is the author of American Nations: A History of the Eleven Regional Cultures of North America (Penguin 2012), and this story is drawn from that work. His thesis is that the United States can be divided into 11 regions with distinct dominant cultures, and each region has a different attitude toward violence and gun culture, derived in part from who settled there. Woodard first summarizes the settlement and cultural characteristics of each of his 11 sub-nations, then discusses the correlations between patterns of violence and those delineations. He also explores the regional attitudes towards gun laws, self-defense laws, and capital punishment. It’s a fascinating piece.

Eight questions for Renée Olson

The long reach of UMagazinology extends to Madison, New Jersey to tap the shoulder of Renée Olson, bearer of a sexy accent aigu and Chief Editorial Drewid at Drew Magazine.

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.

Guest blogger: Claude Skelton

I have known designer Claude Skelton for nearly 20 years. My first job upon moving to Baltimore was with a local business magazine, and Claude was the art director. He has his own firm, Skelton Design, that has done work for many colleges and universities, including Colgate, Ball State, and Dickinson. (He designed an earlier incarnation of Johns Hopkins Magazine.) I invited Claude to examine a carton of university magazines and write a post about what he saw, as a designer. Mr. Skelton, you have the stage:

Over the weekend I perused a stack of 36 alumni magazines, hoping to end up with some kind of useful design critique. Needless to say, the quality of design and writing varied immensely as did the size and nature of the represented institutions. I started to wonder if there’s a correlation between good design and good content. It’s true, some of the best-looking magazines—from Drew, Kenyon, Dartmouth—are also well-written, but it’s also true that there are some good, compelling stories hidden in bland packaging. Some of this can be blamed on poor or mediocre graphic design, but there also seems to be reluctance—budget driven?—to allow stories or sections to breathe, as if white space or big images are a waste of precious space. If a designer, no matter how talented, is told to squeeze every word of a feature story into six pages when it deserves eight or 10 for maximum legibility and contrast with (also packed) news and notes sections, it’s tough to make an impact. After paging through issue after issue of wall-to-wall text, I came across NDSU Magazine (from North Dakota State) and it was a breath of fresh air. True, they don’t deal with ads or, for that matter, news sections or class notes. But the stories are well written, the photography and illustration is professional and well printed on dull-coated stock, design is understated and clean, and there’s an abundance of white space. It’s not perfect but it stands out in a crowd of alumni publications that are tending toward sameness.

The majority of university magazines are designed using the tried-and-true layout conventions of consumer magazines. Some of those design practices are useful, some are unnecessary since most alumni magazines are not sold on newsstands. There is evidence, however, that a hybrid style is evolving that better suits the unique nature and audiences of alumni magazines. None of the magazines I reviewed have achieved the perfect balance for what I’d consider the prototypical university or college magazine, but the one that comes closest may be Kenyon’s Alumni Bulletin. Although Kenyon borrows some useful devices from consumer publications—lots of “entry points” (callouts, short sidebars, punchy subheads, etc.) and feature story treatments that don’t always work with the magazine’s overall look—it still can’t be confused with a glossy commercial publication (it’s beautifully printed on heavy uncoated stock). I’ve noted below some things I’d like to see changed—in the interest of good design and the continuing evolution of alumni magazines.

Covers—Consumer magazines require the nameplate to be as large as possible and always placed at the top edge across the cover for maximum visibility on newsstands. With few exceptions (like UCLA, NDSU, Dartmouth) alumni magazines still adhere to this rule. I’d like to see more covers break the rules—maybe showcasing story titles or great art without having to compete for attention with the nameplate.

Features—Lots of consumer magazines spend big budgets on great photography and illustration and use bold, innovative typography-as-illustration to get maximum attention and compete with full page ads and departments. Lots of university magazines try to mimic this style, but are unsuccessful either because the editorial content simply isn’t appropriate for glitzy design or because designers are trying too hard with limited resources. The most successful magazines (at least in this batch) tend to have a consistent house style and stick to it—clean simplicity rather than over-designed, over-decorated clutter.

Photography—Sure, universities can’t afford to hire Annie Leibovitz, but there are lots of great photographers out there who, when they aren’t busy, will sometimes work within a limited editorial budget. It takes planning, and can even lead to an affordable contractual arrangement, and it’s always worth the investment. Too many alumni magazines are obviously making photography and illustration the lowest budget priority and assigning everything to staff photographers who specialize in event coverage, not creativity. Great images make just as much, if not more, impact as great writing. If the aim is to attract readers, visuals should be a bigger priority. And an important note—there are way too many smiling head shots in most of these magazines, usually a default solution to lack of artwork. It’s almost always better to find another way to illustrate the topic—spot illustration, object photography, even iStock. Keep those head shots to a minimum—and when they’re absolutely necessary make them small. I’m talking postage-stamp size.

Overall, it looks as if tight budgets are driving a lot of design decisions (understandably), but with a little creativity and planning—and possibly a slight reallocation of dollars—there’s room for improvement. It’s hard work to produce every one of these issues, and it takes a very specific kind of talent and discipline to pull it off successfully. Maybe an outsider’s perspective can help push some of these babies to the next level. Here’s to the next generation of UMags!

UMag inbox

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.”