Tina Owen of Iowa Alumni Magazine steps up for the questionnaire, and teaches us all a great new derisive term: “pompous gits.”
How long have you been in your job?
What has proven to be the most significant thing you had to learn to do that job?
Getting my head around the concepts of alumni and their “relationship” with their alma mater. In England, where I’m from, most people don’t feel this sense of connection or school spirit. Maybe it’s because we don’t have organized, multimillion dollar student sports to foster this feeling; maybe it’s because—at least when I went to university—the government paid most/all of the tuition fees, so there wasn’t this sense of personal investment. Maybe it’s just because we Brits are so reserved! Whatever the reason, I still struggle to understand why so many American alumni care so passionately about their schools. Rah rah . . . huh?
What has been your best experience at the magazine?
Working with an incredible creative team to put out a publication that I’m proud to send to my mum. Interviewing amazing people who BLOW MY MIND with their work in art, science, and a wide range of other subjects. Being challenged and improving as an editor and writer in ways that I could never have imagined.
What has proven to be your biggest frustration?
Readers who demonize us (and the university) for being liberal extremists, when what they really hate is the fact that we don’t hate all the things and people they do. After one less-than-enamored grad called us “liberal pustules,” our art director came up with an image of a Pustule Poster Child. For a while, I had it as my FaceBook profile pic, until I realized that it was visible to the whole world, including alumni and administrators. Other frustrations (oh, I have many), include people who want to capitalize University as a stand-alone word in the middle of a sentence (perhaps not realizing it makes them sound like pompous gits), and people from other disciplines who think that writing and editing are easy and require no skill or experience. Oh, yeah, and office politics. Grrrrrrrrrrrrr.
What part of your magazine never quite satisfies you, despite everybody’s best effort?
All of it! Even though we work wonders with a fairly small staff and budget, and even though we take painstaking efforts, I still dread reading the magazine once it’s actually published. It’s like catching a glance of someone you know extremely well, but from an unusual angle or unflattering perspective—they just don’t look right. It’s like expecting the Mona Lisa and bumping into Picasso’s Dora Maar. Looking at each issue with 20/20 hindsight, I see all the things we did wrong, or at least not well enough. I find consolation by searching for mistakes in big-name publications—like The New York Times just the other day, which referred in its email digest to “ethic groups” when it meant “ethnic groups” (ha!).
What story are you proudest to have published?
The ones that caused some uproar (i.e. challenged people and actually made them think!), so that would be the stories on gay marriage, the medical use of marijuana (including the CASE award-winning smoking pot leaf on the cover), the poems from Guantanamo Bay prisoners, and, of course, the legendary tattoo photo essay.
If you could commission a story from any writer in the world, who would it be?
Anglophile and former Iowa native (but, alas, not a UI grad) Bill Bryson.
If you weren’t an editor, what would your dream job be?
An artist, painting cats and flowers from a seaside studio in Cornwall, England.