Tagged: endeavors

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.

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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.

Eight questions for Mark W. Derewicz

endeavorsMark W. Derewicz scribbles fine work for Endeavors, the research magazine out of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. UNC killed the print edition some time ago, a decision that was derided here, but the magazine still has digital life. UMagazinology remains proudly printcentric, but would be foolish to ignore the purely digital, which we might all be before I retire. So a pixel-stained wretch responds to the UMag questionnaire.

How long have you been a writer?

Professionally? Let’s see. Aside from a hiatus here and there, 18 years. Geez. It’s really been that long? I began as a reporter at a small weekly newspaper, The Free Press, in Quakertown Pennsylvania.

Of all the things you have to do to produce a story in the magazine, what do you enjoy the most?

Constructing a unique story arc. When I’m allowed to let the word count climb past 2,000—or heaven forbid, 4,000—I really enjoy crafting a story in a way that others might not have pursued. I don’t always do a great job. I might not be as creative as I could be. But I enjoy that the most. That, and getting lost in a conversation with a source.

What has proven to be your biggest challenge?

Grammar and bureaucrats and procrastination. And grammar.

For interviews, notepad or recorder? For writing, legal pad, typewriter, or computer?

I use a digital recorder, but I do take a few notes. For me, recording the interview allows the conversation to be as genuine and free flowing as possible. Sometimes I don’t even need the recording. But I like to know I have it, especially after interviewing scientists. For writing, I use a computer.

What do you wish you were better at?

Oh just about everything. If I had to pick one I guess it would be sentence construction. I didn’t go to school to become a writer; I often feel less than confident. Frankly, without guidance from former Endeavors editor Neil Caudle and current editor Jason Smith, I’d still be extremely limited as a writer as opposed to merely limited. Yet, I haven’t gone the extra mile to learn how to construct more complex, intriguing sentences and paragraphs. (I’m sure my copy editor would’ve preferred a different answer, but what can I say other than copy editing is for copy editors.)

What story are you proudest to have written?

Because I have problems with Islamophobia, fundamentalists, and snarky atheists, I think I’m proudest of “People of the Book,” a story I wrote based on the research of UNC’s Carl Ernst. His book, How to Read the Qur’an, includes a section about the construction of some Qur’anic chapters—how various verses within a chapter frame a central idea. A lot of the time the central theme happens to be the establishment of unity within a community of people who have disparate beliefs. Pretty fascinating stuff. Of all the stories I wrote, this will be the one I drag out of the closet to show my kids and grandkids.

Who among writers have been your exemplars?

Strange as this might sound: Michael Lewis, Jon Krakauer, and Elizabeth Gilbert. As a former employee of Baseball America magazine, I understand the arguments against the concept of moneyball, but I love the way Lewis tells his stories. He might write with too much certainty and hyperbole, but I still love it. Krakauer: man, I could read Into the Wild over and over again. His narrative style is gripping and his research, unparalleled. I envy him. As for Gilbert, I haven’t read Eat, Pray, Love. But her book, The Last American Man, is wonderful. She perfectly contextualized the life of Eustace Conway, and tells his story with an endearing and uncompromising truth.

If you weren’t a writer, what would your dream job be?

I had a fleeting notion, before I realized I was way too stupid, that I could be a pretty good history professor. Of course, if that would’ve come to pass I’m fairly certain I would’ve ignored my students and spent all my time writing books.

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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?

Requiem for a fine research magazine

RIP Endeavors, 1984–2011. The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill will cease publication of its magazine of “research and creative activity” two issues hence. The state budget’s spreadsheet, like those of so many states, looks like something from the inside back cover of the old MAD magazine, and the office that produces Endeavors has endured the loss of something like a quarter of its funds. The magazine will live on, sort of, as a website. But the print publication, ably edited by Jason Smith, has been first rate and it’s sad to witness its demise.

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The most impressive magazine to land in my inbox the last week or so was the Winter 2010 issue of Endeavors, a research magazine out of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill published by that school’s Office of the Vice Chancellor for Research and Economic Development. First, I think the publication looks great. Striking cover photo of Aaron Copland composing by candlelight, sleek design on the feature spreads, good art. I don’t share the magazine’s fondness for sans-serif type, but eh, editor Jason Smith might rightly tell me to go write another story.

Where Endeavors shines is its content. Copland graces the winter cover because of”Songs as Bullets, Music as Bombs,” Mark Derewicz’s fascinating story about how the U.S. government, during the Second World War, commissioned new classical compositions from great composers—Copland, Samuel Barber, Elliot Carter, Henry Cowell, even German-born Kurt Weill—because it thought music was important to the war effort. Here is a bit of Derewicz’s story:

In a letter to radio journalist and composer Deems Taylor, an anonymous soldier wrote: “I know that I express the feelings of thousands who perhaps don’t have the time to sit down and write to you. We who are busy seven days a week training and fighting for our ultimate victory want and need good music. We need it because it clears our minds and gives us relaxation; we need it because it gives us purpose, courage, and hope in the cause for which we are fighting.”

Great stuff, and I knew none of it before reading Derewicz’s piece. Can you imagine the hue and cry if the federal government proposed funding a new piece from Philip Glass for our fighting men and women in Iraq or Afghanistan? Boggles the mind.

Another nice piece is “Cold-called,” a short feature from Alex Raines on researcher Carol Otey. Raines’ opening paragraphs demonstrate how you write a narrative research story:

When her phone rang in 2004, Carol Otey had no idea it would chage the course of her research. The call was from a stranger, Teri Brentnall at the University of Washington. Brentnall had done a genetic analysis of a Washington State family, referred to by researchers as Family X, that had an extremely high rate of pancreatic cancer.

Seven members of Family X had already chosen to have their pancreases removed—giving them instant diabetes—to prevent this deadly cancer. Brentnall knew generally where the mutation was that was causing their disease, but that left about 250 candidate genes. Number twenty on the list was palladin.

Otey had discovered palladin years before. Now a stranger from across the country was calling to ask whether she thought it was possible that a mutation in palladin could be causing pancreatic cancer in Family X. Otey hesitated. A cold call like this is rare in science, where competition for funding and publications discourages tipping one’s hand.

Go ahead, stop reading after an opening like that. Great stuff.